HAMPDEN — Coach Ray Wood was all business when shouting out instructions to his Hampden-Brewer wrestling team at practice this week.
“On the whistle … quickness … nice … simulate that wrist control … don’t stand straight up … good job …”
Of course he’s all business. After all, he is Ray “All Business” Wood, Maine’s mixed martial arts featherweight champion.
Ask him about his new gig this winter and you can sense his excitement.
“It’s a blast, a lot of work, but it’s great to get back to my wrestling roots,” said Wood. “I idolized my high school coaches and always wanted to get into the teaching part. This is my way to give back.”
Long before he became an MMA fighter, Wood was a state wrestling champion at Bucksport High, where he also played football and baseball.
In July, Wood won his fourth consecutive pro fight as a headliner for an outdoor show in Bangor. He did not realize until a few weeks later than he tore the ACL in his knee during the fight. That meant surgery, rehab and the time to coach a team made up of about 12 kids from Hampden Academy and Brewer High.
Dylan Frost, a 132-pound sophomore, loves his new coach.
“My older brother and his friends are really into MMA. I knew (Coach Wood) was a great fighter and when I found out he was going to be my coach, I was excited.”
Wood hopes to fight again this summer. In the meantime he’s the first to admit there’s a world of difference between MMA and high school wrestling. No guillotine choke holds in high school, but Wood also admits everything he does as a pro fighter begins with his wrestling background.
“I call wrestlers the gatekeepers of the MMA world. All of the top guys have a wrestling or judo base, something that creates good hips. I know every time I get in trouble in a fight I go back to my wrestling roots.”
Those wrestling roots include moves called singles and tosses, and Frost said he’s trying to learn all he can.
“Coach likes the low singles (arms grabbing the feet). He’s done a lot of tosses (grabbing the arms and throwing the opponent). He’s a great teacher.”
Wood is also trying to teach something else about wrestling. It has to do with the public perception of the sport.
“People get the wrong impression of wrestlers. Most think they are just big, tough kids that just want to fight. Wrestling is a sport. It’s a chess match for us. Not a lot of people see that.”
AFTER LOSING on opening night to Messalonskee, Bangor won five consecutive boys’ hockey games to move to the top in Eastern Class A. The Rams, who outscored opponents 33-11 in the streak, will be home Monday night against Falmouth.
Kyle Bouchard, a junior, reached 1,000 career points Thursday night as Houlton (8-0) beat Caribou. Houlton sits atop Eastern Class C with almost twice as many Heal points as second-ranked Calais.