Lewiston, Maine (June 16, 2016) – As the only girl in a rough-and-tumble household with three older brothers in Mexico, Maine, Nicole Burgess learned how to fight for pride, for respect, sometimes even just for fun.
Sometimes such sibling rivalries are a challenge and burden. In Nicole’s case, however, the arrangement furnished three built-in fans and best friends. And the closest bond of all naturally formed with the family’s youngest boy, Ryan, exactly one year and three days older than his sister.
“We were born pretty much back-to-back,” said Ryan Burgess, the pride becoming perceptible in his voice. “She’s always been tough. She’s really strong, just very athletic.”
Ryan, 22, has backed up his three high school championships as a wrestler with a pair of impressive mixed martial arts wins and the New England Fights amateur flyweight title.
Not to be outdone, multi-sport athlete Nicole, 21, finished fourth against primarily male competition in the state wrestling meet her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. She has carved out a successful college field hockey career at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
Similarly accomplished, so close in age, rarely seen apart from one another in childhood, Ryan and Nicole’s athletic and life stories remain intertwined as young adults. Nicole will follow her brother into the NEF cage on Saturday, June 18, making her debut against Alex Walker (0-1) in a 115-pound women’s bout at “NEF 24: Promised Land.”
Anybody who grew up with a brother or a sister probably can imagine the good-natured ribbing that has taken place in training camp.
“He thinks I’m probably going to want to throw up,” Nicole said with a laugh.
Ryan, who will defend his strap on the same card against Dustin Veinott in a rematch of their split-decision title tilt from November 2015, knows there is no substitute for experience in the cage.
Although he was one of the most accomplished wrestlers in the history of his proud community, Ryan discovered in his first two cage confrontations that the variety of skills and size of the crowd at an MMA event demanded a quantum leap.
“You don’t know what to expect,” he said. “Before my debut, I had never been in a fight in my life. I thought I had, but I really hadn’t. I told myself ‘It’s just another wrestling match,’ but it’s not.”
Burgess stuck with what he knew best and ground out a unanimous decision over Justin Witham in June 2015.
He was introduced as an independent. His studies at Kennebec Valley Community College interfered with his training schedule, and Burgess’ coaches at Berserkers MMA didn’t want him representing the stable until he spent a full cycle under their watchful eyes.
The same night, he scouted out Veinott’s win over Norman “Sleepy” Fox and felt that he compared favorably to both fighters. He proved it in a championship setting five months later, albeit by an on-paper verdict that most cage-side observers felt could have gone either way.
After struggling to find an opponent worthy for the title shot in his weight class, Burgess was eager to extend Veinott (4-4) a second chance.
“I’ve already been in the cage 18 minutes, which is more fight time than a lot of guys who’ve been in four of five fights can say they’ve had,” Ryan said. “I’m completely confident now with the venue, the fans. The only person I hear now is my coach.”
He doesn’t even hear Nicole, although little sister was so enamored with the environment as a spectator that she couldn’t wait to resume her own combat sports career.
“I always watched UFC and stuff like that,” she said. “I actually started boxing before Ryan even got into it.”
Nicole donned the gloves in high school after giving up softball. In sixth grade, she made a similar transition from basketball to wrestling after waiting for a ride home, watching one of Ryan’s grueling mat practices and deciding that it looked fun.
“It was weird at first. I didn’t want to touch the guys,” Nicole said. “Then you heard things like, ‘Oh, it’s just a girl.’ Often times the guys would be stronger, but I had good technique.”
Walker brings experience, in the form of a loss to Randi Beth Boyington, and a tough stand-up game.
Speaking with the typical subtlety of a big brother, Ryan said that Nicole “should be OK as long as she doesn’t get kicked in the head.”
He quickly noted that she has the poise and talent to enjoy a successful debut if she can shake off the requisite whirlwind of emotions.
“As long as she can put together everything she’s learned. You have to overcome the nerves and the adrenaline dump,” Ryan said. “I remember that from my debut. It stunk.”
Nicole said she would like to end the fight early but predicted that it probably will go the distance.
Her brother aims for his first stoppage and forecasts that his improved striking will catch Veinott and everyone else by surprise.
“Up until now, I was focused on school, just graduating in May, and trying to get my career started,” Ryan said. “I was working 40 hours a week for free as an internship and working 20 more hours on the weekend trying to make ends meet. Dustin is going to see a completely different fighter this time.”
The opening bell on June 18 is set for 7 p.m. The current docket includes five pro boxing fights, four pro MMA bouts and eight amateur MMA skirmishes. Tickets for “NEF 24: Promised Land” start at $25 and are available atwww.TheColisee.com or by calling the Colisee box office at 207.783.2009, extension 525.
For more information on the events and fight card updates, please visit the promotion’s website at www.NewEnglandFights.com. In addition, you can watch NEF videos at www.youtube.com/NEFMMA, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”
About New England Fights
New England Fights (“NEF”) is a fight events promotions company. NEF’s mission is to create the highest quality events for Maine’s fighters and fans alike. NEF’s executive team has extensive experience in combat sports management, events production, media relations, marketing, legal and advertising.