Meet Calvin Kattar, Rob Font, and Tyson Chartier of The New England Cartel, Boston’s Fifth Team
“We’re a small group of people with a like-minded vision, putting in the time. We’re going out there every day proving our system can work.” -Tyson Chartier
Boston has been a part of more championship seasons, more great teams, more legacies than any other sports city in the country. In Boston, “The City of Champions” title is never taken lightly or for granted.
Whether it’s the systems put in place by Red Auerbach’s Celtics, the grit and determination of the 21stcentury Red Sox, the will of the early 70’s Bruins, or the Patriots 20-year run as the greatest franchise in NFL history each of the four major teams have resembled the work ethic and fight of the city they play for.
With the rise and explosion of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and its premier league the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), Boston, with its storied history in competitive fighting, was bound to emerge as a hotbed for the burgeoning sport.
MMA like other competitions, is a team effort. Even though the actual fight is one man (or woman) against another in the cage, the prep work and build up to “Fight Night” is always a collaborative endeavor. Like the Big Four major teams in basketball, baseball, hockey and football, building a dynasty takes a cohesive effort from members of a unit, a team -all pursuing a common goal- in order to produce championship glory.
Calvin Kattar, Rob Font, and Tyson Chartier of The New England Cartel, are poised to soon be bringing UFC gold to Boston, the next in the great line of “The City of Champions” as “Boston’s Fifth Team.”
In the Beginning
By all accounts, MMA is still a sport relatively in its infancy. As an “organized” competition, it wasn’t until 1993 that it was first introduced to audiences in the United States.
Even then, the popularity of the sport did not begin to really take off until weight classes and increased rules were put in place; and the first season of the UFC’s reality show, TUF (The Ultimate Fighter) aired to a mainstream audience in 2005.
For Chartier, a retired fighter and now the head coach of The Cartel (as well as its eldest member), he remembers those early days well:
“For one of my early fights, I showed up and made weight not knowing who my opponent was. After getting off the scale, the promoter looked around and said ‘Alright, you’re fighting this guy.’ Those were wild times for sure.”
Kattar, (22-4) currently ranked #6 in the UFC Featherweight division (145 lbs) reflects on one of his early fights as well:
“I was 18 years old and fighting a 34-year old man. I guess he didn’t realize how young I was and before the fight came up to me and said ‘I don’t want to fight a kid’.. That really angered me. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to knock this guy out!’ I remember hitting him flush early on and then was like ‘oh crap, I think I just pissed him off..’ I ended up getting the 2ndround TKO though.”
Meanwhile Font, (17-4) ranked #9 in the UFC Bantamweight division (135 lbs) may have the most fun story on how his interest was sparked in MMA:
“I was working pizza delivery in Tampa and dropped off an order at someone’s house. All of these guys were rolling around on mats in the garage and I asked what it was. They told me it was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and invited me to join. I was hooked immediately!”
Here Comes the Boom
Eventually, Font moved up north to Woburn with his girlfriend Kathryn (whom he celebrated his anniversary with this October) and he and Chartier began training together in 2010 at Sityodtong in Sommerville.
A year later, in 2011 Chartier and Kattar (although being well aware of who each other were) finally met on the set of Kevin James Boston based MMA movie Here Comes the Boom.
It didn’t take long for Font and Kattar to quickly establish themselves as two of the best in New England. Font was the CES (Classic Entertainment and Sports) champion and Kattar, likewise, was putting away every challenger in front of him. Both fighters were on a tear and local promoters were salivating for a Font v. Kattar super-fight in the region.
Chartier, by now retired as a fighter and concentrating on coaching and management full time, wouldn’t let the showdown happen, however.
“Everyone wanted to see that fight,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t right though. I knew both of these guys (Kattar and Font) could get to the big stage (UFC). It just didn’t make sense for them to fight on a regional card when they could eventually do bigger things together.”
Forming a Brotherhood
In September 2015, Chartier and Font invited Kattar to come in and train with them, and the three instantaneously began forming a bond.
By October 2016, Kattar was asked to come be part of “Fight Week” for Font’s bout at UFC Manchester UK, and the pieces were in motion for what is now a life-long brotherhood.
“I showed up and put in the work, and gravitated towards Rob,” Kattar reflected. “He’s the number one training partner in my life and one of the most influential people I’ve ever been around.”
Font echoes the sentiment: “I’ve never had a training partner or teammate like Calvin. He pushes me day in and day out and would do anything for me, as I would for him.”
Chartier added: “You have to be very careful who you bring to Fight Week. It can ruin the whole vibe if things don’t go right. It was a huge deal that it went well with Calvin flying in to be with Rob in the UK. It set the cards for everything we have been able to build since.”
The Sweetest Feeling
With both fighters continuing to pick up momentum and climb their respective division ladders within the UFC, everything was heading towards showdowns in their own backyard for January 2018 at UFC Boston at the TD Garden.
The tasks were not going to be easy, however.
Font was matched against Thomas Almedia, fighting out of Brazil’s legendary Chute Box camp, and sporting a sparkling (22-2) record coming into the bout. Although fighting in front of his home fans, Font knew he was coming in as a considerable underdog.
You wouldn’t have known by the way he fought though. After a big overhand right, followed by a head kick and combination of uppercuts and hammer fists, Almedia laid motionless on the canvas looking up at The Garden’s championship banners.
And Rob Font had a 2nd-round TKO and the biggest win of his career.
Next up was Kattar. Standing in his way was Shane Burgos, a rugged striker out of New York sporting a spotless (10-0) record, which included a TKO stoppage over another Boston based fighter the previous spring, Charles Rosa.
Early in the 3rdround, Kattar put away a game Burgos with a beautiful straight cross that stumbled the New Yorker forward, before finishing him off with consecutive uppercuts and finally some ground strikes for good measure.
“We were like, did that just happen?” Font says describing the experience.
It did. And Boston noticed. The city was overjoyed with the heart, grit, and performances by its two hometown fighters.
With calls, texts, and celebratory messages pouring in the duo couldn’t sleep that night, so finally at 5:30am they went for a walk along the Charles River to continue to soak it all in.
“It was just the sweetest feeling,” Kattar says with a smile. “That morning we had the best water… the best waffles.. we were on cloud nine.”
“We were just laughing and enjoying the moment,” Font adds. “It was almost like we got away with something we weren’t supposed to do.”
“And that was my favorite night in MMA,” remarks the man who was slowly putting it all together, head coach, Tyson Chartier.
Birth of the Cartel
In June 2019 at UFC 238 in Chicago, Kattar and Font were unwinding and celebrating a little after another Kattar TKO finish, this one of Ricardo Lamas in the first round.
“We were listening to some old ass Rick Ross CDs,” Font remembers with a laugh. “And Rick Ross kept shouting out the Carol City Cartel. I jumped up and looked at Calvin and said ‘Yo, that’s us! We’re the New England Cartel!”
To Kattar, fresh off the highlight reel finish, it sounded perfect to him. And just like that, the trio of Kattar, Font, and Chartier had an official name: The New England Cartel were born.
The Brotherhood and family vibe of The Cartel extends past the three of them, it’s about, well, their actual families as well.
Being a smaller camp requires a strong support system from all around. And The New England Cartel certainly have that with those closest to them.
“I can call my mom, brother, sister for anything,” Font says. “Whatever the job is, we’re all in this together.”
Kattar adds: “Family is why we do this. The most dangerous fighter is a fighter fighting for a purpose. What good is all of the success if we can’t share it?”
For Chartier, the sacrifices he makes, he also recognizes his family is making with him:
“I’ve given up a lot of time with my personal family for my professional family. My wife has seen me evolve as a fighter to where I am now. I want to build something that my kids can be proud of.”
In 2020, it is rare for homegrown fighters to stay committed to a local gym or camp the way The New England Cartel have.
The typical course of action is for a fighter to establish himself on the local circuit, and then to “move on” to one of the half dozen or so “super camps” throughout the country with the theory being that training in a bigger gym, with more coaches, and more fighters at or around his/her skillset will fast track them to a UFC championship.
“That’s not what we want,” Chartier explains. “We want a fluid camp with a small team. We’re going out there every day proving our system can work. It’s not power in numbers, it’s power in the right team.”
Perhaps, slightly under the radar, Chartier has been more recently recognized in carving out a name for himself as one of the premier coaches in MMA. With this is coming the national attention he rightfully deserves. Besides his success with The Cartel, Cartier has also led various fighters to victory on the UFC Contenders series while continuing to develop a host of talent from coast to coast.
In addition to Chartier as the head coach, The Cartel also have John Dupree as their wrestling coach, Jake Mainini as the muay thai coach, and Sean Farley as boxing coach.
Chartier spends hours and hours dissecting opponents fight films and putting together fight plans.
Depending on who the opponent or what they are working on, they will also bring in other coaches or sparring partners from other gyms to help sharpen various skills.
Among them, boxing legend Irish Micky Ward, who’s own gym in Lowell is not too far from where The Cartel primarily work out of in Haverhill.
“He (Micky Ward) has really helped me,” Kattar, who is considered one of the best boxers in MMA, acknowledges. “He has answered a lot of questions for me and Rob and I still train with him to this day.”
Fighting During Covid – Boston’s Fifth Team
As the Covid-19 shutdown swept the world, a lot of the aforementioned “super camps” were shut down with it. The UFC and President Dana White (Boston’s own) were leaders in the sports industry in finding solutions for creating a blueprint to help bring sports back.
And because of the tight system they follow The New England Cartel were prepared and ready to go when called upon.
“That’s the advantage of our system,” Chartier quips. “For Calvin’s fight against Jeremy Stephens (UFC 249 on May 9th) we had the whole thing mapped out within three hours of getting the call.”
The result? Kattar smashed a trash-talking Stephens with a vicious 2ndround elbow resulting in a KO.
“I saw this (fighting during covid) as a big opportunity,” Kattar remarks. “I’m a fan of going out there and earning it. To me, this pandemic was a chance to move up the ranks. With less distractions and everything shut down, we just took the time to get better and wait for that next call.”
Kattar didn’t have to wait long for his next call. Two months later, in July, The Cartel were out on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi for Kattar’s main event matchup on ESPN against Dan Ige, a well fought five round unanimous nod for Kattar.
It was here on Fight Island that UFC announcer and Boston native Jon Anik, in observing the team cohesiveness and swagger of The New England Cartel, was reminded of championship teams of yesteryear of many Boston greats.
“That’s Boston’s Fifth Team,” Anik exclaimed. “Tyson Chartier deserves a lot of credit for being a unifying force and the foundation upon which this team was built. But you still have to have championship-level talent and for me, as a UFC play-by-play announcer and Bostonian, that is what is most encouraging for me right now…that we have two guys in Cal and Rob who could legitimately realize a world championship and get those duck boats going again for the greatest sports city in the world. I’m wicked excited for the future and the possibility of a Massachusetts native bringing a UFC title home.”
And while Font’s first crack at a bout in 2020 will be coming up this December, he has stayed as sharp as ever waiting to get his call.
“I’m ready to go, I’ve been active this entire time, working with Cal and just doing whatever I have to do,” he enthusiastically states.
Outside the Cage
During any down time the New England Cartel have they all like to partake in various activities to keep themselves going.
Not ones to rest, Chartier finds himself playing indoor soccer with his sisters on Wednesday evenings. (“I try not to look at my Apple Watch too often during the games,” he admits.)
Kattar likes to get out and golf with his family and friends as often as he can as well as bicycle riding (he swears for pleasure and not training) and other outdoor activities.
Font is game to try absolutely anything. Golf, basketball, batting cages, fishing… he’s done it all. “I may even try hunting,” he ponders. “I love trying new things!”
With the popularity of The New England Cartel growing, new business ventures are on the horizon as well. The team just signed a deal with a new suit company and are working on a distribution with The Label, Boston’s premier luxury streetwear.
Chartier continues to grow his management firm, Top Game Management and Font is potentially interested in launching his own podcast. Kattar will also be looking to re-engage his own regional MMA promotion, Combat Zone, at some point in 2021.
But maybe most important, all three admit to being foodies.
When the training schedule permits, The New England Cartel loves a good meal. Among their favorites is Ralphie’s in Salem, NH (where BostonMan Magazine first met with Chartier as well), where the pasta cutlet is a favorite of the team.
Another time, a few years ago, Kattar was craving some late night wings and stopped by Lincoln Tavern in South Boston only to be told the kitchen was closed. Moments later, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola of the Patriots came in to be led to a roped off private section with a massive plate overflowing with fresh wings for them.
The moment left an impression on Kattar:
“I was like damn, that’s the level I want to be at. I want to get to that championship level so places will still want to make me wings even after the kitchen has closed.”
Championship Gold in the Future
For both Kattar and Font, the immediate plan is to keep taking fights and to keep winning.
Font has a very formidable opponent ahead of him in Marlon Moraes in December. A competitor who has shared the octagon with the likes of UFC legends Jose Aldo and Henry Cejudo.
Kattar is ready for anybody in the top 5, with rumors swirling that a fight with UFC legend Max Holloway could be in the works.
“If you’re aiming for a title shot, what better way than to take out one of the best ever in the division (Holloway)?”
Count none other than Julian Edelman among those who believe Kattar doesn’t have too much longer to get there:
“Calvin’s fight to get where he’s at is unmatched.” Edelman says. “Years and years of bouts, injuries, and a lot of hard work, he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves. This city loves an underdog, especially one who refuses to give up. His path has been a long one, but all those defeats make him that much easier to root for. And you know everyone loves a fighting Irishman, especially one from Boston.”
With praise like that, it’s safe to say The New England Cartel have established themselves as “Boston’s Fifth Team” in this great “City of Champions.”
And with that comes plenty of wings to go around.