New England Fights’ first foray into historic, ceremonious Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, coincided with a rookie voyage into the mixed martial arts cage for Tyler Smythe.
It was shorter than a guitar solo or violin interlude. Smythe slapped a rear naked choke on Clifford Redman in 47 seconds for the first of his seven ammy victories against only three defeats and a draw, with all but one of those bouts in a 525-day span.
“It was a good night,” Smythe recalled. “It was a lot of hard work to get there. It wasn’t easy. I’m just excited to be back. I don’t think they’ve had events there since, so I’m excited.”
The 125-pound dynamo known as “Butter Knife” out of Evolution Athletix in nearby Saco has sliced through the professional ranks with a pair of choke-out victories in the new year.
Smythe (2-1) will attempt to bounce back from his initial pro defeat when he moves up to the bantamweight limit of 135 to take on Florida’s Paul Walters (0-1) in “NEF 53: American Valor,” a return engagement at Merrill on Saturday, July 8.
“I just got done fighting last weekend,” Smythe said in an interview shortly after Memorial Day. “We try to stay as active as we can. I’m just getting back in the gym this week training to fight for July. I’m usually in the gym every day twice a day when I’m in camp.”
On short notice, Smythe’s undefeated record took a ding from hometown favorite Mitch Raposo at a May 27 card in Massachusetts.
Raposo floored Smythe in 49 seconds and won for the eighth time against only one loss in what amounted to a live-and-learn scenario for his victim.
“He was the No. 1 ranked flyweight in New England,” Smythe said. “I bumped up in competition because I lost my opponent, and it just didn’t go my way. He rocked me pretty quick and got me out of there pretty quick as well. I didn’t get to showcase my skill set and didn’t get to show New England my level of fighting.”
Asked if he regrets accepting the late change of plans or retrospectively realizes that it might have been too much, too soon, Smythe would hear none of it.
“I’m definitely glad. He’s a guy that I’ve had my eye on, and I wanted that spot as the No. 1 flyweight in New England,” Smythe said. “It sucks that it went the way it did, but I’ve got to rebuild, work my way back up the ladder and get it back.”
Every loss is a lesson learned, as evidenced by the authority with which Smythe bounced back from each of his three amateur defeats with an immediate victory, including two by submission.
Smythe will be sharper and hungrier for the experience when he attempts to right the ship against Walters.
“He caught me with my hands down. That’s really it. Just keep my hands up next time, Like I said, I didn’t really get to showcase anything, so it’s definitely disappointing,” Smythe said. “Mostly I’m just itching to fight again, put the hurting on the next guy. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. I’m ready to put it on somebody.”
While being careful to respect every opponent, Smythe is honest when comparing Walters to Raposo and clear about his intentions.
“I don’t think this guy is anywhere on my level,” Smythe said. “It’s definitely not my ideal opponent, but he signed the contract. He’s the only one who would sign the contract, so fair play to him. I respect that. He obviously thinks he can beat me, but it’s not gonna be a good night for him.”
Smythe’s smothering track record of quick submissions puts Matt Peterson’s abilities as a matchmaker to the test.
It has been more than a year since Smythe appeared under the promotion’s banner, taking down Caleb Austin and Ryan Burgess on consecutive cards in November 2021 and February 2022.
“There’s a lot of guys out here, especially the local level, that pick and choose their fights to protect their record,” Smythe said. “That’s just something I don’t like doing, just not a fan of. I like testing myself every fight. I like fighting the best guys. I’m not out here trying to fight shit cans to get my record up.”
Smythe and his team at Evolution employ a different approach.
“You see a lot of these guys that do pad their record. They might have awesome records. They might be 7-1 or this and that, but when they get to that next level where everyone wants to go, they get completely destroyed,” Smythe said. “So kind of the way our team looks at it is if we fight guys all the way up to the big leagues, then we’re gonna be ready no matter what. It’s nothing we haven’t seen.”
Combat sports have been on the radar for Smythe, 25, since he was the age many boys gravitate to tee ball or flag football.
“I remember the first day I got the wrestling flyer when I was a little kid at school,” Smythe said. “I brought it right home to my dad, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wrestled as a little kid all the way up until my freshman year. That’s all I did. I obsessed about it. I just wanted to be the best.
“Then school and life got hold of me. I couldn’t really compete as I got older. I was always looking to find a fight gym near me and start in martial arts. Evolution came across my Google feed a couple times, so I stopped in, and I haven’t left since.”
The level of instruction at Evolution instilled Smythe with the conviction that he was ready for Raposo or that he can handle anyone else who emerges as a threat to his growing reputation.
“Definitely my head coach, the owner of the gym, Nate Libby. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t be in the spot I’m in,” Smythe said. “I put all my trust, all my faith into Nate as a coach. If he thinks I’m ready, that just boosts my confidence even more. Nate’s taught me everything I know, and the same with all the other coaches in the gym. We’re pretty close here.”
A mason by trade, Smythe is excited about the chance to build upon his other professional foundation against an appreciative home crowd at Merrill.
“I love fighting at home. It’s been a long time,” Smythe said. “I just feel like this is my moment. This is the team’s moment to show out and showcase what we’re all about. Any time I can get on a card with my teammates in Portland, I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”
As for the specifics of mounting up for battle at Merrill, Smythe admittedly doesn’t recall much about his breeze through Redman when NEF first graced the hallowed stage of an edifice that debuted in 1912, the same year as both Fenway Park and the ill-fated Titanic.
The pandemic struck a month later, rendering Smythe and most other fighters on his developmental level inactive for 17 months.
“It’s been so long. That fight was over pretty quickly, and I was off to the bars,” Smythe said. “I’m ready for the same thing. It’s not getting out of the first round. I’ll give him two minutes max to survive, but that’s about it. As soon as that bell rings, I’m going to be walking forward and throwing hands until he’s sleeping.”
Smythe isn’t given to trash talking under normal circumstances, so it’s nothing personal against Walters.
Timing is everything, and any opponent on the planet might be in a tough spot against a rising star hellbent on competing with himself.
“I think just wanting more. Just not wanting to be average. Just wanting to be the best,” Smythe said of the reasons for his escalated tone. “I just want my respect. I want a better life. Fighting’s definitely helped me in multiple ways, and it’s just gonna keep coming.”
Smythe wants to hear himself described in simple terms that stand pat win or lose.
“He’s down no matter what. He’s gonna show up when he says he’s gonna show up, and he’s gonna fight no matter what,” Smythe said before shifting from that third-person perspective back to his own words. “I know what I’m capable of. I think a lot of people in New England doubt me. I just want to prove them wrong, prove my team right and prove myself right.”
From his first appearance at Merrill to the impending encore, Smythe has never lost sight of a dream that would take him from a concert hall to the coliseum.
“Definitely UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). That’s the goal. That’s been the goal since the first day I fought for NEF at Merrill,” Smythe said. “UFC’s the goal, and I’m not stopping until I get there. I don’t care what obstacles you put in front of me. I don’t care what I’ve gotta go through. I’m getting there.”
Smythe welcomes the roar of a Portland crowd watching what he believes will be another short highlight film in that rapid ascent.
“Just be prepared to see me with my hand raised and taking another step towards my goal and working my way up the ladder,” he said.
“NEF 53: American Valor” is scheduled for this Saturday, July 8 with an opening bell time of 7 p.m. as the blood, sweat and adrenaline of mixed martial arts take center stage where classical music, opera, contemporary dance and Broadway theater have long reigned supreme. Tickets are available at www.porttix.com.