The UFC comes to Maine for the first time Saturday, and three Mainers have their own stories from the major league of mixed martial arts
Even after 15 fights, Marcus Davis admits there was a sting once his UFC career came to an end.
But the former professional mixed martial arts fighter from Bangor is not about to trash his former employer, Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“Every MMA fighter should thank God that the UFC is the biggest show in the world,” said Davis, 40, a professional boxer before switching to MMA.
“No one has ever been able to contend with UFC. What that does is keep (the sport) out of the hands of (promoters like) the Don Kings and Bob Arums, the guys who could literally ruin the sport.”
Mike Brown of Standish said the UFC is like “a snowball” and “the equivalent of the NFL or the NBA for our sport.
“Very quickly they are expanding to different countries and those markets are growing really fast,” said Brown, a UFC fighter who is recovering from a knee injury.
The UFC snowball rolls into Bangor on Saturday night, making its first appearance in Maine. The 10-fight card at the Cross Insurance Center includes a bout between Lincolnville native Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch and Brad Tavares.
A GLOBAL IMPACT
Across the world there are dozens, if not hundreds, of mixed martial arts promotions. According to Sherdog.com, this weekend alone 21 MMA organizations will hold fights in six countries, including traditional martial arts strongholds Japan and Brazil.
None come close to the UFC in terms of global reach.
With pay-per-view for its top shows, its own online pay site called FightPass and a seven-year broadcast agreement with Fox Sports, the UFC reaches 175 countries, according to its president, Dana White.
In 2014, the UFC is scheduled to stage 41 shows, not including its reality TV series “The Ultimate Fighter,” bringing a staff and production crew of more than 300 to each stop, White said. Nineteen shows will be outside the United States in 13 countries, with two in China.
Not bad for a sport once famously decried as “human cock-fighting,” by Sen. John McCain, and an organization that was on life-support before, even several years after White became its president in 2001.
The UFC is owned by White (Hermon High, class of 1987) and casino-owning brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.
“First of all, Dana White is an MMA genius and he’s surrounded himself with business geniuses,” Davis said. “They’ve taken a sport that was at extinction and taken it into the fastest-growing sport in the world. In Europe people aren’t watching baseball but they watch the UFC. Every country watches the UFC in some way, some how.”
Which makes the UFC the ultimate step for the fighters such as Davis, Brown, Boetsch and two-time former heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia of Ellsworth, who last fought in the UFC in 2008.
LOOKING OUT FOR THE FIGHTERS
Davis said one of the greatest benefits for fighters is the UFC uses a set pay formula. Each fighter is guaranteed a negotiated wage to fight. If they win, that amount is doubled. In addition there are cash bonuses for participating in the Fight of the Night, or scoring the Submission or Knockout of the Night.
Davis said his best payday was over $100,000 for a win with two bonuses in Ireland.
“And I didn’t have to worry about that check clearing,” Davis said, noting that wasn’t always the case in his pre-UFC days.
Brown’s top one-match earning was $60,000, he said.
“But then you make money for endorsements and stuff like that,” Brown said. “I’m not a millionaire but I’ve paid my bills.”
Both fighters said UFC’s top stars make $1 million in a single fight, plus a percentage of pay-per-view revenue.
In recent years the UFC also has supplied fighters with free accident and injury insurance. Brown said he’d like to see the organization do more to prepare fighters for retirement, and the insurance doesn’t help much for routine medical expenses.
“But it sure helps with surgeries. When I had my neck surgery, one bill was $50,000 and my deductible was $1,000,” Brown said.
To achieve at a high level means making a total commitment, he said.
“You have to be selfish to be successful in this sport,” Brown said. “Everything has to focus around you getting better and being the best.”
A GLANCE BEHIND
Like any sport, the end of a career can seem cold and heartless. Be less than your best too often and the UFC will find somebody else from an ever-growing group of fighters.
Boetsch (9-6 in the UFC) is in the danger zone, losing three of his last four fights.
“Tim’s job is on the line,” said Davis, who is training Boetsch. “If he loses this fight (the UFC is) not going to hold him. There’s no reason to hold him.”
Davis knows the drill first-hand. As the UFC was exploding in popularity in 2007 and 2008, he was one of its most dynamic fighters and a crowd favorite.
But a 1-4 run led to his dismissal in 2011. Davis said he understood the decision at the time.
“It was after I got let go and I saw guys with a worse losing streak staying or other things that were happening that didn’t make any sense, and that kind of bugged me,” Davis said.
Sylvia, who now lives in Iowa, could not be reached for comment. The former heavyweight champ expressed similar sentiments about UFC’s hiring practices during a recent New England Fights podcast.
Sylvia will be fighting for the Lewiston-based promotion’s Maine State Super Heavyweight title Sept. 6 at The Androscoggin Bank Colisee. What he really wanted was one last UFC fight in Bangor.
“Put me and Frank Mir on the card and it would be a hell of a fight,” Sylvia said, according to the NEF press release. “A lot of Mainers deserve that. They deserve to see me fight in the UFC again in the state of Maine.”
White said Sylvia’s 0-3 record with one no-contest over the past two years didn’t warrant a return to the UFC.
On the other hand, White did bring former Sylvia rival Andrei Arlovski back into the UFC fold.
“It seems like every month, every other month they’re doing something just to entice me or to piss me off and say, ‘Ha ha, look what we’re doing now and you’re still not welcome back,’ ” Sylvia said.
While Sylvia lobs incendiary comments at his former employer and Brown tries to mend his tired body for one last fight before retiring, Davis looks back fondly at his UFC days.
“There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t remember working and fighting for the UFC, and I’m absolutely thankful that the UFC was there to fulfill my dream,” he said.