This Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Bangor will far and away be the biggest mixed martial arts show ever held in Maine.
UFC President, Dana White, brought his show to Bangor because of his connection to Maine (Hermon High grad; summer home). But he also recognized the increased appetite for the sport that combines multiple forms of fighting, including boxing, kickboxing, judo, wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“One of the great things that’s happening in Maine right now is that MMA is exploding,” White said.
The MMA pump has been primed over the last 21/2 years by the Lewiston-based New England Fights (NEF). Next weekend a new promotion will try to get in on the action.
In a span of 22 days, three MMA cards will be held in Maine. First and foremost is the UFC at the Cross Insurance Center (Saturday 8 p.m., start; live on Fox Sports1 at 10 p.m.).
Then a new entity called King of the Beach Fights will bring a combination MMA, grappling, arm-wrestling and bikini contest to The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach on Aug. 23. It’s the first fight show staged by the partnership of two Biddeford natives and childhood friends, Allen Berube and Marty Adams.
“It’s a whole-day event,” Berube said. “We’re trying to add in different elements to draw people who might not have gone to an MMA fight before.”
On Sept. 6, NEF XIV will be held at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Co-directed by matchmaker Matt Peterson and promoter Nick DiSalvo, NEF has drawn over 3,000 fans to previous shows at the Colisee. Its most recent show drew around 2,000 fans.
“We’re on pace to do one of our really big gates,” DiSalvo said. “That’s because of the quality of our fight card. I’ve never seen a card this strong before.”
NEF has worked to build its brand. At NEF I, most fights were amateur bouts. Now for NEF XIV, 10 fights will be professional bouts with most featuring in-state fighters who have matured in NEF, notably Ray Wood of Bucksport and Ryan Sanders of Bangor.
“We do think these are guys with real next-level potential,” Peterson said.
Peterson said one of the next steps for NEF is to land a network deal to televise a show. Several NEF fighters were on a Bellator MMA show in March 2013 that was held in Lewiston and co-promoted by NEF. Bellator is an international promotion with a regular presence on Spike TV.
“We’ve looked at different (TV) things that we thought wouldn’t work out and that’s why we’re still fishing,” Peterson said.
Peterson is excited about having the UFC come to Maine, as a fan and a promoter.
“NEF fans and fighters are fertilizing the marketplace to make these international events able to come to the state,” Peterson said.
Having a new grassroots competitor, King of the Beach, is a different matter.
“We wish them luck,” Peterson said, adding it “remains to be seen,” if the state’s fan base will support two locally produced shows.
“This is the first time we’re going to have three shows in four weekends,” Peterson said. “This will be a litmus test, I think; a good gauge of what the interest is and what the appetite is for more events.”
Finding enough fighters for separate promotions also can be difficult, as Berube has discovered.
NEF asks participants not to fight 30 to 60 days before a scheduled bout, DiSalvo said, to lessen the chance of a fighter being injured or suspended and having to withdraw from the scheduled fights.
The state-sanctioning body, called the Combat Sports Authority of Maine, suspends fighters for 60 days after a knockout and 30 days after a technical knockout.
“It’s not a situation where we tell them not to fight for another promotion but if you want to fight for us, we can’t guarantee you a spot if you have a fight 30 days out in front,” DiSalvo said.
Berube said he had to go out of state to find fighters to fill his card.
Currently, professional Josh Watson of Portland and unbeaten amateur Andrew Tripp of North Waterboro are the only Mainers fighting at King of the Beach.
“There’s room for everyone,” Berube said. “Honestly, the promotions should be working together. Spread the shows out and work together.”
NoteS: Peterson said he had to cancel the Maine super heavyweight title bout Sept. 6 between Tim Sylvia, a former UFC heavyweight champ and Ellsworth native, and Christian Morecroft. In a span of two hours he was notified that Morecroft (back) and Sylvia (knee) were both injured.
“I was on the phone with Tim’s manager letting him know and telling him we would do everything we could to find him an opponent, and he told me Tim was getting his knee checked out,” Peterson said. “Two hours later they called back and said he couldn’t fight.” Sylvia is planning to attend the show, Peterson said.