New England’s Next: Tom Pagliarulo: “In a year, I’ll be a top-five guy in New England.”

Tom Pagliarulo celebrates his amateur NEF title victory. Credit: James Allen Walker, NEF.

The self-titled “New England Cartel” is making moves.

Manager and coach Tyson Chartier’s featherweight contender Calvin Kattar is set to face former champion Max Holloway, and bantamweight staple Rob Font makes his much-anticipated return against top contender Marlon Moraes.

Another member of the infamous cartel is on the rise as well, you just may not know it yet.

Enter NEF and Combat Zone amateur featherweight champion Tom Pagliarulo, a prodigy of Rob Font who started with private training sessions and turned into so much more.

“It all started with some private sessions,” Pagliarulo told MMA-Prospects. “We kept up with it and it turned into Rob [Font] becoming my head coach. I saw the opportunity: he was looking to take me in, and I had the chance to train with two of the best guys in the world.

“It really excelled my career,” Pagliarulo continued. “In the beginning, I thought it was crazy seeing these guys every day, [but] now it all feels normal.”

Currently 5-1 as an amateur, Pagliarulo began his career once his high school wrestling season ended when he was just 18 years of age. Now 23 years old and training with some of the top talents in the sport, the Massachusetts native is looking to make his professional debut as soon as the COVID-19 era we live in allows the opportunity.

“I had that competitive drive from wrestling season,” Pagliarulo said. “My friend was getting into it, and I asked how to get into this. He brought me to a gym, and man, I caught that bug. Here I am now. It’s pretty much my life now.”

Since, Pagliarulo has turned his passion into a budding career. Pagliarulo believes thanks to Font seeing his competitive drive, he has become a full-blown member of the New England Cartel.

Although not a professional yet, Pagliarulo has been competing under the NEF and Combat Zone banners since 2017, compiling a 5-1 amateur record replete with two knockouts and a submission.

“I had my 6 ammy fights while I was in school,” Pagliarulo said. “I was supposed to make my pro debut, the only thing holding me back is [the] coronavirus,” Pagliarulo continued.

Pagliarulo began his career as a wrestler, dating back to his time in high school. Now, since he’s working with two top-notch strikers, Pagliarulo feels many may forget his wrestling background.

“Tyson is working real hard behind the scenes, so I’ve been ready man, doing every camp with Calvin and Rob. I’ll be ready on two days’ notice — just need the call.”

Being a prospect in today’s world is tougher than it has ever been. With most regional promotions essentially shut down and gyms having strict restrictions on the number of members allowed and frequency of training, finding a fight has never been harder for a fighter. But with the wise words of his two mentors, Pagliarulo only worries about what he can control.

“Calvin always tells me, ‘Keep doing what you are doing,'” Pagliarulo stated. “‘They will come find you,’ he and Rob tell me. ‘Don’t get there too early, then you are learning on the job, [and] that isn’t good.’ They want me to learn outside of the UFC and earn everything; keep winning fights and keep earning it all.”

When asked what he believes makes him different from other fighters chasing the same dream, Pagliarulo believes his mindset is his best attribute.

“I’m willing to die in there,” Pagliarulo explained. “I’ll take it to that dark place. This sport, it’s not a football game. It can be life or death. The mindset I bring is just different from these other dudes. I sacrifice. The work I put it in… You can do all the training in the world, but it only helps if it is the right training.”

As for what the next year holds for the New Englander, Pagliarulo hopes for an undefeated record with a lot of eyes on him. But with wise words from his mentors fresh in his mind, he wants to earn every second of it.

“A handful of professional fights, no losses,” Pagliarulo said of his plans for next year. “I won’t be one of those guys who is 3-0 and begs for a Contender Series shot. Calvin and Rob always tell me ‘We don’t beg for that sh*t, we keep doing what we are doing.’ Right now, I’m a nobody; I need to earn it all. In a year, I’ll be a top-five guy in New England.”