PORTLAND — The Mixed Martial Arts era in Maine has officially arrived. And with big success.
A sold-out crowd of more than 2,000 people packed into the Stevens Avenue Armory for the first sanctioned MMA event in state history Saturday night. “The Maine Event” was co-promoted by Massachusetts-based Cage Fighting Xtreme and Brewer’s Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Brewer’s Jim Parent, admissions director for Team Irish. “This is step one, and it’s only going to get bigger and better from here.”
Six amateur and five professional fights filled out the card, down from 17 fights scheduled just days earlier.
“The fights that fell through (due to injuries) are very unfortunate, but that’s what happens. That’s part of the business,” said former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and current Maximum Fighting Championship (MFC) fighter Marcus Davis of Bangor, who owns Team Irish.
Team Irish was well represented in the cage with four amateurs and one professional. The quintet emerged 2-3 on the evening. Many fans backed the Maine-based fighters, cheering them louder than out-of-state fighters.
Amateurs fought in three, three-minute rounds and were equipped with six-ounce gloves and shin guards. They could not strike the head with knees or elbows. Pros fought three, five-minute rounds with four-ounce gloves, no shin guards and no elbow or knee restrictions.
Pat Walsh forced Ryan Fortune to tap out, 1 minute, 37 seconds into the first round of the first amateur match.
Team Irish’s Trevor Kell, of South Portland, defeated John Brooks in the first round after the referee stopped the fight, producing a technical knockout via punches.
“My coach just put me through 10 weeks of hell,” said Kell. “I’ve been training hard and it all paid off.”
In the other amateur fights, Josh Bellows forced Portland’s Ryan Jean of Team Irish to tap out after locking in a choke, 1:18 into the second round.
In just his second fight, Team Irish’s Tommy Balsano earned a unanimous decision over Anthony Carmenatty.
Kevin Youngmen stopped Greg Armstrong early in the second round with punches, forcing a TKO.
George Wilson earned a unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27) victory over Team Irish’s Steve Desjardins of Brewer, much to the crowd’s displeasure.
In the first professional fight, Brewer’s Bruce Boyington knocked out fellow Mainer Andrew Robertson in the first round.
“I knew it was a matter of time before I passed his guard and once I was there, I was dropping punches,” said Boyington, who fought as an independent although he lives within walking distance of Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy.
“I feel blessed to have that opportunity (to win the first sanctioned professional fight in Maine history),” said Boyington. “One of my best friends passed away a few weeks ago, (Old Town native) Corey Morin, he was my inspiration tonight.”
Mike Filippone got on top of Tony Woodman in the next pro fight and kept punching until the referee stopped it in the first round.
Adam Tousaint forced Josh Parker to tap out via armbar in the second round.
Crowd favorite Ryan Sanders, of Etna, was able to recover from an early second-round set back and locked in a headlock on Anthony Kaponis to force a tap out.
The main event ended nearly as quickly as it began.
Burgess MMA’s Ryan Scheiding caught Team Irish’s Colby Brown, of Bangor, with a guillotine choke early in the first, forcing a tap out.
Davis, who is fighting 25-year-old Richie Whitson (11-1) in his next MFC fight on June 10 in Edmonton, Canada, was happy with how the event turned out.
“I thought the event was a huge success,” said Davis. “It wouldn’t have been if the people of Maine had decided to stay home tonight. They came out, they packed this place, they cheered on the fighters. They left without starting fights and causing a huge ruckus. Any time something like this happens and it’s peaceful and everybody has a good time and nobody gets seriously hurt, it’s a success, man. I love it.”
CFX president, CEO and promoter Linda Shields was also very pleased.
“This event was unbelievable,” said Shields. “People are always talking about how MMA is so barbaric. It is so not. This is the epitome of what MMA is and it shows.”
Team Irish member Scott Lavoie of Bangor hoped the event would dispel some of prejudice against MMA.
“This isn’t a brutal, violent sport as everyone paints it to be,” said Lavoie. “It’s a true competition, it’s a regulated competition, it’s a professional competition. Once they see it’s not just backyard brawling, it takes a little bit of the stigma away and turns it to something more appropriate and more professional.”
Getting events north of Portland is a goal of Team Irish.
“We’re looking forward to the Bangor area,” said Parent. “We’d love to be at the Bangor Auditorium. We know that (Hollywood Slots) is right there. It’s a great spot to have fights because casinos and fights go hand-in-hand.
“We’d like to get into the northern part of the state (as well),” Parent continued. “We’d like to court the Canadians. Up in Canada, MMA is huge.”
Fans won’t have to wait long for the next show in Maine as the Bellum Combat Association, with the Global Fighting League, has an event set for the Portland Expo Center on Friday.
Bellum Combat Association expected the event to be sold out by Wednesday. The premium seats in the first three rows are already sold out.
The first MMA event has been almost a year in the making with the biggest hurdle being the creation of Maine’s Mixed-Martial Arts Authority to oversee events like this one.
The Maine Legislature legalized the sport two years ago after Rumford Rep. Matthew Peterson sponsored a bill to legalize MMA in Maine as a way to spur economic development and boost tourism.
The Maine Event marked the first time organized fighting has been allowed in the state after Maine Athletic Commission, which oversaw boxing, was abolished by lawmakers as a cost-saving measure in 2007.
“Boxing isn’t even legal in Maine anymore,” said Parent. “MMA is, but boxing isn’t.”