August 17, 2013

UFC chief with ties to Maine has overseen fight to the top

The sport is growing under the eyes of its de facto commissioner, who grew up near Bangor.

By Steve Craig scraig@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

President of the UFC White
click image to enlarge

Dana White took over the UFC in 2001 when he bought it with other investors for a reported $2 million.

File photo/Reuters

Nate Diaz, Dana White
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Dana White, right, has overseen the rise of professional mixed martial arts from his upbringing in Maine to his role as UFC president.

File photo/The Associated Press

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In Maine, Peterson and DiSalvo will promote seven shows this year, six under the New England Fights banner, including NEF X at the Colisee in Lewiston on Sept. 21. NEF also co-promoted and made several of the matches on last March's nationally televised Bellator MMA show at the Colisee. Bellator is generally regarded as the world's second-largest professional MMA organization behind UFC.

The fight cards in Lewiston have drawn an average of 3,000 fans. Other shows have sold out the Biddeford Ice Arena. This summer NEF put on its first outdoor show on the Bangor waterfront.

NEF highlights have appeared nationally on the AXS TV's "Inside MMA" and Spike TV's "MMA Live."

"I believe they are one of the big three (MMA organizations) in the Northeast," said Denny Siggins, a rival promoter and operator of the website NortheastMMA.net. "Their crowds are good. They market well. They spend money on marketing and advertising and they really try to put on good fights that Maine people are interested in. And, they put on an event."

Even White is impressed with the growth in his home state.

"Seven MMA shows in Maine? That blows my mind," he said. "It's so huge. It's great for the state."

MAINE'S UP-AND-COMERS

DiSalvo, 36, said New England Fights hopes to see three growth steps in the next year.

The first is having an NEF-groomed fighter sign with Bellator or UFC. Right now the most likely candidate is Wood, who is 4-0 as a pro after a 5-1 amateur mark.

"With Ray, I'm confident within his next three fights he'll be at the next level," said Ernie Fitch, Wood's manager.

Second would be taking the promotion out of state, perhaps even out of New England. Third, and perhaps most important, is getting signed by a national network for a TV show, similar to "Friday Night Fights" boxing.

Peterson added a fourth key: To continue to be active with promotions to give the growing legion of Maine fighters a place to perform.

White reiterated on Tuesday that he's trying to get the UFC even closer to home for Maine's fight fans. Earlier this summer he said he would like to put a show in the new 8,000-seat Cross Insurance Center in Bangor if he can find supporting sponsors.

"I have set costs. Whether it's a Fight Night on television or pay-per-view, my costs are my costs. I have to offset some of my costs to make it work," White said Tuesday. "I'm really trying to make Bangor happen because it's personal to me. And if I can make it work in Bangor, I can definitely do it in Portland."

And if those shows arrive, there will be Maine fighters ready to put their names alongside Davis, Brown, Boetsch and other top competitors. At Young's MMA in Brewer, where Wood trains, 14 fighters have been submitted for consideration for NEF X. A little more than a year ago, the gym was still operating out of a basement.

For years Davis was an outlier, a Bangor native who stayed in Maine and made it to the top of the MMA ranks. He participated in the UFC's organization-saving reality show "The Ultimate Fighter," and parlayed that exposure and subsequent victories around the globe into a 14-fight career in the sport's biggest cage.

Davis will turn 40 on Aug. 24 and is still an active fighter. He will be in Bellator's Lightweight tournament beginning Sept. 27 in Portland, Ore. He is also owner of two Team Irish Gyms with 17 active fighters training in the Brewer location and another "eight or nine" working out in Westbrook.

"I started training guys in 2005 and had only eight students total," Davis said. "Absolutely it's grown and it's grown in such a way where it's not even just the hard-core people. I've got another 50 students that are just trying to get in shape, or do something different, or change lifestyles. I've got 20 little 8- to 12-year-olds involved and a teenage class. It really has become this sport, like any other sport, where people will do MMA.

"They aren't necessarily taking punches. I like to say, they like to get fit without getting hit."

Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at:

scraig@mainetoday.com

Twitter:@SteveCCraig

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