FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Lewiston, Maine (June 12, 2017) – There are wink-and-nudge undertones when 38-year-old Rafael Velado declares “I’m the young guy, for once” as he contemplates his New England Fights amateur lightweight title defense on Saturday, June 17. Then again, he is, by nearly a decade-and-a-half.
It’s a disservice to label hall of fame competitor and coach Pat Kelly a sentimental favorite in his quest to win the 155-pound strap. Yet the 52-year-old assuredly is, as evidenced by at least one internet poll that shows him as the clear people’s choice to win the fight.
Velado vs. Kelly is a bundle of contradictions, an intriguing mix of styles, perhaps even a pairing that defies logic. It’s certainly a spotlight neither man would have predicted for himself five years ago. It’s also a clash of undefeated warriors that promises to rock the house at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
“You can buy a ticket for this fight, but I truly believe you’re only going to need the edge of your seat,” Kelly, an amateur wrestling legend from the Camden-Rockport region. “I think we’re going to light the place up.”
“Everybody seems excited, and wouldn’t that be a cool story? If I end up saying later on, ‘I fought a guy when he was 52, and he beat my butt,’ the moral of the story is don’t ever count anybody out,” Velado said.
Just to clarify, Velado (4-0) doesn’t expect that to happen. A black belt in jiu-jitsu fighting out of First Class MMA of Brunswick, he looks to extend his winning streak over fighters from Young’s MMA of Bangor.
Velado claimed the vacant crown with a first-round demolition of Jimmy Jackson last September. Prior to that, Mike Peitersen took Velado the distance in his toughest test to date.
“It makes sense from a record standpoint, but I’ve fought four times since the last time Pat did, and two of those were against his training partners,” Velado said. “If you look at strength of opposition, I don’t know that it’s that close. I’m not saying that means it won’t be a good match. I just don’t think it’s very comparable. But we all know the MMA magic can happen.”
Due to lengthy rehabilitation from a knee injury, Kelly (3-0) hasn’t fought since June 15, 2015 at “NEF 18: Made in America,” when he won by technical knockout over Steve Bang Sr. He beat Bang’s son and namesake in the same manner and also defeated Frank Dellasala in his debut, which came at welterweight.
The champion wrestler (University of Maine) and coach (Camden Hills High School, where he mentored now-UFC star Tim Boetsch) weighed in at over 200 pounds before he began the three-hour round trip to and from Bangor, four times each week.
“I’m an amateur’s amateur,” Kelly said. “I got into this four years ago to stay in shape, make contacts, make new friends and enjoy the experience. When they asked me if I’d like to try getting in the cage, it was, ‘Yeah, I’ll give that a shot.’
Kelly said he was welcomed with open arms, then “beaten to a pulp,” by the likes of Bruce Boyington, Ryan Sanders and Aaron Lacey – all accomplished pro fighters from the Bangor gym.
It wasn’t long, predictably, before he fell in love with the concepts of competition and self-discipline all over again.
“There’s a bold truth to this sport,” Kelly said. “It’s one-on-one, locked in a cage with the other guy, and what are you going to do to survive? I love that feeling.”
Conventional wisdom dictates that the fight will go to the ground quickly. Then it’s a case of which fighter can assert his will and expertise.
Velado doesn’t lack for training partners who test his mettle every day. Six of them are scheduled to appear in the same cage at NEF 29. First Class owner John Raio also mirrors Kelly in terms of size and decorated wrestling background.
“Pat and I have been in (combat sports) a long time. We’ve both won against some excellent people and some not-so-excellent people,” Velado said. “The road to winning against me, a guy has to be better in two disciplines and also have a better game plan.”
Interesting choice of words, when you consider Kelly’s admission that he is more inclined to fly by the seat of his pants.
“My coaches talk about a game plan, but I don’t know if I’m a game plan kind of guy. I go right back to how I know to survive. That’s the warrior in me,” Kelly said. “What you have are two guys who are not going to give up. I think that’s part of the interest. That’s what makes it a good fight.
“Raf is experienced,” he continued. “He’s undefeated. He’s the champion. I’m the old guy coming in and trying to knock him off. There are a number of parallels that make this a fascinating fight.”
The combatants’ thoughtful words in separate interviews even followed the same wavelength.
Velado graciously said he understands the fans’ desire to see Kelly keep turning back time, extend his own record as the oldest winner in NEF history and add the distinction of oldest champion to that list.
“I actually am a fan of Pat,” Velado said. “The MMA fan in me is rooting for him. I’d like to see him have whatever level of success is just short of winning. Mentally it wouldn’t wreck me if I lost the fight.”
Likewise, Kelly is prepared for the possibility that the outcome won’t go his way.
“I don’t ever train to lose, but often times winning comes in unique ways,” he said.
If his four children perceive the merits of his commitment to MMA as more than a midlife crisis, Kelly believes he has already won the greatest battle of all.
“Yes, of course you want to win, but I also want them to see that when you have a personal goal, you can’t just say you want it. You have to go get it,” he said. “When I spend all that time driving back and forth, whether I’m talking to myself to thinking or listening to music, most of the time when I’m chasing this thing, I’m on my own. And I know my kids and students can see that.”
The June 17 card tentatively features four professional MMA fights, four pro boxing matches, and seven amateur skirmishes in the cage. Tickets to “NEF 29: Stars & Stripes” start at $25 and are available by calling (207) 783-2009 ext. 525 or at thecolisee.com.
For more information on the event 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.