BANGOR, Maine — Ray “All Business” Wood has moved steadily up the Northeast’s amateur mixed martial arts ladder by winning four of his first five fights.
But just as the former three-sport athlete from Bucksport High School approaches a crossroads in his young career — and a likely move to the professional ranks — comes his toughest test to date.
Wood, ranked third by NortheastMMA.net among featherweights (145 pounds), will take on top-ranked and undefeated Sophanarith “Soap” Am of Braintree, Mass., as part of the Fight Night IV card being hosted by New England Fights on Sept. 8 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
“There were so many promotions in New England vying for this fight,” said NEF co-owner and promoter Nick DiSalvo. “Thanks to a lot of cooperation between [their] two camps we were able to make this fight in Lewiston. It’s really a major coup for the MMA scene in central Maine. The Maine fans are going to get to watch a bout that the fans in every corner of New England wanted to see happen in their backyard.”
Am (3-0) is coming off a stunning first-round knockout of Cory Pickering at Mansfield, Mass., on April 13.
“He’s been on a tear win-wise,” said Wood of Am. “He took on the No. 2 amateur in the Northeast and knocked him out in 11 seconds, so this is a great opportunity for me being ranked No. 3 to take on No. 1 to see who is the best.”
Based out of Young’s MMA in Bangor, Wood has been idle since suffering his only loss, a unanimous decision to Shane Manley of Cortland, N.Y., at Fight Night II in Biddeford on April 14.
Wood, who normally competes at 145 pounds, had to fight up at 150 against Manley, who came down from 155 pounds.
“After that loss I realized there were things I had to work on, so I went right back to the gym,” said Wood. “I knew then there were some holes in my game, but this fight will give me the chance to show that I’ve done the work to fix them.”
Wood and Am are of similar physical stature, both about 5 feet, 9 inches tall. Am is based out of Lynn, Mass.’ Team Pradal Serey, a school practicing the ancient Cambodian martial art of pradal serey centering on striking from elusive fight stances.
“This will be like nothing else Ray has ever faced in the cage,” said NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson. “For a while there, it was Ray Wood and Cory Pickering at the top of the amateur featherweight rankings. The two were pretty dominant in those positions until Soap Am burst onto the scene this past spring. His appearance changed everything.”
Wood anticipates a tactical fight between competitors with several common fighting characteristics.
“He’s very well-rounded, he’s good on the ground, he’s good with submissions,” said Wood. “He has a Muay Thai background and I think that’s a strength for him because he throws a lot of leg kicks.”
“We’re of similar size and similar builds and we have kind of the same style, so it should be a good matchup.”
It also may mark Wood’s final amateur contest, though he said a final decision on that possibility has not yet been made.
“There’s talk of a Bangor card in the fall,” said Wood, “and that would be the perfect opportunity for me to make my pro debut.”