LEWISTON, Maine — Mixed martial arts and road racing seem like strange athletic bedfellows, but the combination of those two contrasting disciplines helped provide Rumford’s Jesse Peterson the stamina he needed to become a champion.
Peterson, put on the defensive early in his match against Cody Lightfoot of South Berwick for the New England Fights Maine state middleweight (185-pound) crown, used a stunning turnaround late in the second round to win the title belt in the main event of Saturday night’s Fight Night IV before 3,200 fans at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
“There’s no two ways around the fact that he kicked the crap out of me for pretty much every second of that fight until the end,” said Peterson. “But you just can never give up.”
The bout was one of two NEF championship fights headlining that promotion’s fourth fight card of the year in Maine, with Brazilian Gil de Freitas winning its Maine state welterweight (170-pound) crown with a unanimous decision over “The” Ryan Sanders of Brewer.
Peterson (7-2) and Lightfoot (6-4) had a competitive history that dated to their days a decade ago as high school wrestlers in the same weight class, Peterson at Mountain Valley of Rumford and Lightfoot at Marshwood of South Berwick.
So it was no surprise when their MMA title bout almost immediately went to the mat, with Lightfoot controlling most of the action through the first of five scheduled 5-minute rounds and into the second round.
But Peterson, the brother of NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson, maintained his composure and used his fitness to stay ready to take advantage of any opportunity that might arise — a tribute not only to his background in boxing, wrestling and ju-jitsu, but also to a more recent commitment to running.
“I took it upon myself to run some 5K races this year,” he said, “and I got my weight down so I didn’t have to cut a lot of weight like I have in the past. It helped, for sure.”
Peterson’s opportunity came late in the second round, when he used the cage to sweep from a position on his back to a full mount. When Lightfoot reacted, Peterson saw an opening and quickly applied a rear naked choke that forced his opponent to tap out with 13 seconds left in the period.
“Going into the fight I knew it was going to be extremely tough and it was,” said Peterson. “But I didn’t want to walk out of this fight thinking, ‘Good fight, but I could have done this or I could have done that,’ so I never gave up.
“Then finally I saw the chance for a choke and I just squeezed with everything I had.”
A late replacement in the NEF welterweight title bout for Ricardo Funch, a former UFC competitor who was injured in a motorcycle accident, de Freitas proved to be too strong for Sanders.
The taller and leaner Sanders (4-2) hoped to wear down de Freitas over the course of the match, but that never happened as the more experienced Brazilian fighter (14-5) worked successfully from the top throughout the bout and won all five rounds on two of the three judges’ scorecards.
“He was tough as nails,” said Sanders. “His ground game was a lot stronger, and I didn’t stick to our game plan. I didn’t move, I stood right in front of him per usual.
“But it’s a learning curve. That guy had a lot of experience, he had as many losses as I had fights total. It’s just a minor setback, I’ll go back to the drawing board and I’ll bounce back.”
The 21-fight card, which lasted nearly six hours, featured four other professional bouts as well as 15 amateur matches.
Windham native Jamie Harrison defeated Josh Parker of Littlefield’s Gym in Oakland by rear naked choke 1:35 into the first round of their NEF lightweight (155-pound) elimination match, while Dez “The Predator” Green of Team Bombsquad in Ithaca, N.Y., ended the three-match winning streak of Brewer’s Bruce Boyington — a teammate of Sanders’ at Young’s MMA in Bangor — with a head-and-arm choke good for a second-round tapout victory in their lightweight clash.
Another Team Bombsquad fighter, Darrius Heylinger, scored a second-round victory via unanswered strikes over Josh Bellows of Littlefield’s Gym, while Jon Lemke of Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy in Brewer made a successful pro debut with a unanimous decision over Nate Oses of Boston in a 155-pound bout staged nearly entirely off the mat.
“My goal was to stick and move,” said Lemke. “I kind of knew he wanted to stand up and had heard he was a banger, so I wanted to stick and move and not just stand there and trade with him.”
Lemke’s Team Irish teammate, Andrew Hughes, improved his amateur record to 4-1 by applying an arm bar that forced Tim Tucker to tap out just 20 seconds into their welterweight matchup.
“I went out there throwing some punches and I let him get a little too close to me, and he ended up getting me down on the ground,” said Hughes. “But he left his arm down there and I just snapped it up and immediately went for the win. I don’t hold anything back.”
Team Irish stablemates Greg Morse, Will McCall and Kris Kramer also were victorious in their amateur bouts.
And John “First Class” Raio, the popular postal worker from Topsham, scored his fourth straight win with a hard-fought unanimous decision over Damon Owens of Young’s MMA. Raio used his strength to take the match to the ground during the first two rounds, then shook off a game striking effort by Owens over the final three minutes to remain unbeaten.