BANGOR, Maine — “The” Ryan Sanders was a fixture on New England Fights’ five martial arts cards in Maine during 2012.
His bouts — including a challenge for the promotion’s inaugural welterweight championship — proved competitive and entertaining to the degree that NEF matchmaker Matt Peterson not only kept asking Sanders back but saw the Brewer resident as capable of taking his skills to a higher level.
That opportunity will come for Sanders on Thursday, March 21, when he takes on unbeaten Michael “Venom” Page in a nationally televised bout when Bellator MMA makes its Maine debut at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
The main events of that card will be broadcast live starting at 10 p.m. on Spike TV, while preliminary matches will be streamed live and free on Spike.com starting at 8 p.m.
“We’ve been behind Ryan since the beginning,” said Peterson, whose organization is working with Bellator in a promotional capacity for the Lewiston show. “He appeared in either the main event or co-main event in all five of our events in 2012. He’s proven he has the drive, discipline and focus to punch through to the next level in his career. It’s easy to stand behind a guy like that and we couldn’t be more excited for him to make his Bellator debut.”
Sanders, who fights out of Young’s MMA in Bangor, will bring a 4-3 professional record into that 170-pound bout.
“This is what every fighter hopes to do, to have the chance to move up and make it to the big stage and that’s what’s happening for me,” he said. “It kind of came out of nowhere. I thought I had a chance to get on the card, but to be in one of the main events and to be fighting on national TV is something I didn’t expect.”
Sanders’ presence on the Bellator card also is an example of Peterson and fellow NEF co-owner Nick DiSalvo’s efforts to create new opportunities for local competitors in the sport.
“Ryan Sanders signing a contract with Bellator is one of the main reasons Nick and I began this promotion — to launch Maine athletes to the next level in their careers,” Peterson said. “We want to open doors for guys like Ryan who are willing to put in the hard work to hone their craft and evolve as not just fighters but as human beings as a whole.”
The deal Sanders signed with Bellator this week is for three fights, but with only the March 21 bout against Page guaranteed. The promotion then has the option to bring Sanders back for one or two additional bouts.
Sanders had been training for a March 1 bout in Salem, N.H., against Cody Anderson of Billerica, Mass., but he’s pulled out of that fight to focus on his Bellator debut.
“I’ve been training really hard for the last three weeks, but now the game has changed because this is definitely a huge opportunity for me,” he said. “Now I’ll get together with my coaches and my team to do everything I can to prepare myself for this fight and then I’ll go out and try to implement the game plan.”
The London-based Page is 3-0 in his professional MMA career after making the transition from kickboxing, a discipline in which he is a 10-time world champion beginning at age 12.
“They’re comparing him to [UFC middleweight champion] Anderson Silva,” said Sanders. “His strikes are considered unorthodox for MMA, but they work for him.”
Sanders knows he will be considered the underdog against Page, but it’s a position he doesn’t mind.
“I’m coming in as the local guy that’s being fed to him because they’re building him up as the next big thing. But I thrive in these situations. I love proving people wrong.
“There’s nothing better than going into a fight as the underdog and coming out with my hands raised.”
Among other main event fights on the Bellator card are the return of former UFC competitor and Bangor resident Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis to the cage in his home state as well as the $100,000 final of the Season 8 Bellator MMA Welterweight Tournament.
Davis will be competing in Maine for the second time in his MMA career, having defeated Travis Coyle via first-round submission (guillotine choke) as the main event in a Sept. 23, 2011, Global Fight League card held in Portland.
Davis’ opponent for his Bellator debut has yet to be named.
The principals in the Bellator MMA Welterweight Tournament will be determined Feb. 21 when the semifinals are held at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah. Bryan Baker will face “The Phenom” Douglas Lima while Ben “Killa B” Saunders takes on Raul Amaya for the chance to advance to the final in Lewiston.
The welterweight semifinals also will be televised live by Spike TV.
Wood set for March 1 bout in N.H.
Another Young’s MMA fighter, Ray “All Business” Wood, is among several Mainers scheduled to participate in CZ 43, a card being hosted by the Combat Zone promotion at 8 p.m. Friday, March 1, at Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H.
Wood, 1-0 as a professional after being ranked No. 1 among featherweight (145-pound) amateurs in the Northeast by NortheastMMA.net, is scheduled to face Walter Smith Cotito (1-1) of Milford, N.H.
Wood is coming off a second-round technical knockout victory over John “First Class” Raio in his pro debut at Fight Night V last Nov. 17 in Lewiston.
Cotito, 3-0 as an amateur before turning professional in January 2012, last fought Sept. 7, when he earned a split-decision win over Anthony Loycano at CZ 42, also at Rockingham Park.
Other Maine fighters on the CZ 43 card are Steven Bang (1-1) of Auburn, Tollison Lewis (2-4) of Gorham, Josh Parker (4-5) of Skowhegan and Ben Raven (0-2) of Calais. Bang and Parker are coming off victories at Fight Night VI in Lewiston on Feb. 2, while Lewis and Raven dropped matches on the same card.