AUBURN – For the longest time, Marcus Davis felt he had to be two different people.
In the cage, the mixed martial arts fighter gained international recognition as The Irish Hand Grenade, capable of exploding fists and kicks into an opponent’s face at a moment’s notice.
At home he fought hard to suppress — or at least hide — the fighter within. No fights on the TV, no gloves around the house, not a single picture or poster on the walls. Nothing that would indicate the lifelong Maine resident, father and 1992 graduate of Bangor High School was among the top competitors in a brutal combat sport rapidly gaining a chokehold on the nation’s consciousness.
On Thursday night, there will be no hiding it. The man considered the premier MMA fighter to come from Maine will put those skills on display for fans in Lewiston and television viewers around the country. Davis, who still lives in Bangor, brings a 21-9 career record into the cage against Waachiim Spiritwolf (9-11-1) in a welterweight fight as part of the Bellator MMA show at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
Limited tickets, ranging from $40 to $125, were still available Tuesday. Three of the bouts — including Davis against Spiritwolf — will be broadcast live on Spike TV, starting at 10 p.m.
Davis, who competed on The Ultimate Fighter 2 reality show in 2005, will have a clear goal when he enters the cage, but that has not always been the case.
“At one point I had a split personality,” Davis said. “I felt I had to be somebody else than the Irish Hand Grenade.”
Once he realized the duality was counter-productive, Davis said he took another step in what he terms his evolution.
He accepted the truth.
“I was born to be a fighter,” Davis said.
COULDA BEEN A UFC CONTENDER
Starting in 2006, Davis had 14 consecutive fights in the UFC — Ultimate Fighting Championships, considered the top league of MMA — including six straight wins to start and wins in eight of his first nine fights. At his peak, he was ranked eighth in the world. He lost four of his final five fights in the UFC and was given his release after being knocked out in the third round by Jeremy Stephens on New Year’s Day 2011.
“I was probably one or two more wins away from a title fight,” Davis said. “Some people would look at that and it would eat them up. I don’t look at it that way because I can’t control what happened in the past. I can only control how I respond to it.
“Rather than think of it as a negative experience, I think of it as one of the greatest things ever to happen to me because it’s opened up doors.”
Davis, who turns 40 in August, is married to his third wife and has four children. He earned his reputation fighting in UFC, and when he was contacted by Bellator to take part in a show in his home state, he didn’t hesitate.
“Bellator is the second biggest organization in the world, in my opinion anyway,” Davis said. “The fact that they were coming to Maine obviously piques my interest even more. If they’re coming to Maine once, they’re probably coming again and I would like to be involved with anything they’re doing here, or actually anything that’s happening in Maine that’s MMA involved.”
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said that once his organization decided to put on a show in Maine he knew he needed Davis.
“Marcus is the biggest star in the state. He’s well known. He’s charismatic,” Rebney said. “If Marcus does well we would love to keep working with him.”
Rebney added that Spiritwolf, despite his losing record, “is a wickedly exciting fighter who has fought some of the top names and this is by no means a walkover fight.”
The 10-fight card begins at 8 p.m., with preliminary bouts available on spiketv.com.
ADDICTED TO GLOVES
Davis boxed both as an amateur and professional, compiling a 17-1-2 professional record, primarily as a junior middleweight, before starting his MMA career. He has fought in nine different countries, adding Sweden to the list last October in his most recent bout, a victory by decision.
“For me (fighting is) almost an addiction. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I started when I was 8 years old and here I am 40 this year,” Davis said. “It’s become part of me and what I do. I go a couple of days and if I’m not doing something fighting related I have almost withdrawals.”
He owns and operates two Team Irish MMA training facilities, one in Brewer, the other in Portland. He is a personal trainer for 15 private clients, about half of whom are aspiring or current fighters. He said he has a book deal on MMA training techniques in the works.
It’s been quite a trip, Davis said, particularly when he thinks about his youth as a “troubled kid,” with “a huge problem” with male authority figures. He ended up being placed in the Maine Youth Center at the age of 15.
“Fighting has done so much … for me and my family and it’s helped me grow as a person,” Davis said.
In Davis’ corner tonight will be Jorge Gurgel. The two met as cast members of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality show often credited with thrusting the sport to national attention.
Getting off a hotel elevator on Tuesday, Davis said, “reality shows are the worst,” but agreed it was a tremendous boost to his MMA career.
It also created a strong bond between Davis and Gurgel.
Gurgel, like Davis both a fighter and trainer, recalled their early days together on The Ultimate Fighter.
“Marcus, he wanted to be done with the sport,” Gurgel said. “I’m the one who kept him in it. I told him, ‘You are a true fighter. You’re one of the true gut fighters. You are not even close to being done in this sport.’“
It turned out Davis’ friend was correct.
Now a new door, with a new MMA organization, is about to open.
For Davis it’s a chance to reclaim a bit of the spotlight.
More important, it’s a chance to do what he feels he was meant to do.
Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at: