BANGOR, Maine – Ray “All Business” Wood would have been content merely with the chance to display his mixed martial arts skills before a hometown crowd.
The 24-year-old Wood, who competed in wrestling, football and baseball while a student at Bucksport High School, has developed a significant following during his young MMA career, but all of his previous fights have been in Lewiston or farther south.
Those road trips have proven fruitful, however, with the 145-pound Wood going 5-1 and earning recognition as the top amateur lightweight in the region by NortheastMMA.net before turning professional last November.
He’s now 3-0 as a pro, with two wins by technical knockout and his most recent victory over New Yorker Ahsan Abdullah by a second-round armbar tapout on May 18 in Lewiston.
On Friday night Wood not only will finally get a true home game when he headlines Bangor’s first-ever mixed martial arts card, he also be fighting for his first championship.
Wood is scheduled to take on Lenny “The Show Stealer” Wheeler of Cornwall, Prince Edward Island, for the New England Fights state featherweight title as the main event of the 15-bout “Nations Collide: Canadian Invasion” show being promoted by NEF and Waterfront Concerts.
The gates at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion open at 4:30 p.m. with the first fight scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I’m pumped, this is a hell of an opportunity,” said Wood, one of five fighters who train at Young’s MMA in Bangor that are set to compete on the card. “I’d be happy enough just having the chance to fight in Bangor, let alone have a title fight.”
The 26-year-old Wheeler (6-2) is familiar with fighting on his opponent’s turf, having done that routinely across Canada during a five-year pro career.
He’s coming off his biggest win, a 33-second upset victory by guillotine choke over Adam Lorenz last Nov. 23 in Edmonton, Alberta. Wheeler was brought in largely as an opponent for Lorenz, who entered that bout ranked sixth nationally among Canadian featherweights.
“He had beaten some big guys in Canada and was really well known,” said Wheeler. “But he tried to shoot in for a takedown and I caught him with a guillotine and it was over.”
Wheeler’s combat sports background began in boxing, and as he transitioned to mixed martial arts he began focusing on other disciplines – including spending time training in Thailand.
“Probably my jujitsu is where I’ve improved the most,” said Wheeler. “It’s what I lacked most when I started out and what caused me to have my first loss.”
Neither Wood nor Wheeler is too familiar with his opponent, but neither is too bothered by any lack of a comprehensive scouting report.
“I’ve watched a couple of his fights,” said Wheeler, “but I don’t train myself based on what my opponent does. I just try to get better in every single aspect of MMA every day.”
Wood similarly has focused on his own skills and tactics during his eight-week training camp at Young’s.
“You probably know as much as I do about him,” he said. “He’s going to be a tough guy. He’s tall — 6-1 or 6-2 — for 145 pounds and I know he spent a year in Thailand training and that he’s got a boxing background.
“But I kind of like it this way, because I can focus on what I do and it doesn’t get into your head what you think the other guy can or can’t do.”
Friday night’s co-main event features a high-powered battle of unbeatens between 160-pounders Jon Lemke of Brewer and Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy (3-0) and Matt DesRoches (4-0), a teammate of Wheeler’s at Wulfrun MMA in Prince Edward Island.
And not only are both fighters undefeated as professionals, neither lost during his amateur days, with Lemke 5-0 and DesRoches 4-0 at that level.
“I know he’s a big, strong kid, he’s 4-0 and he’s finished all four guys,” said Lemke. “So I know he’s going to bring it, it’s going to be a tough fight.”
Lemke, 34, is coming off a second-round technical knockout victory over George Reagan at NEF VII in Lewiston on May 18 — his second win by TKO since turning pro last year.
DesRoches, 20, has scored stoppages in all of his pro fights to date, with three of the four coming in the first round. DesRoches last fought on Jan. 19 when he scored a TKO by punches over Brian Mazerolle with one second left in the opening round of their bout in Moncton, New Brunswick.
“He’s a real up-and-comer,” said Wheeler of his teammate. “He’s a wrecking machine, this guy. He’s stopped his guy in all four pro fights and in all four of his amateur bouts.”
Lemke, like the other Bangor-area fighters on the “Nations Collide: Canadian Invasion” card, is looking forward to competing in front of a local audience for the first time.
“It’s a pretty incredible opportunity,” he said. “For me personally and for the other guys on the team, we’re all excited to have the chance to put on a good show in front of the hometown crowd and go out and do what we love to do.”
Bellator MMA fighter Marcus Davis of Bangor won’t be competing on the Bangor waterfront directly Friday night.
But his Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy team based in Brewer will be heavily represented on the 15-bout card, with two professionals and six amateur competitors slated to fight in the Queen City for the first time.
“It’s huge,” said Davis, who is 22-9 and scheduled to return to the cage Sept. 27 in the first round of Bellator fall eight-man lightweight tournament. The location for that bout has yet to be announced.
“I know what it’s like always being the bad guy going on the road and fighting the other guy in his hometown. That’s an obstacle these guys already have had to face. It’s going to be a different feeling to wake up in their own beds on fight day and follow the routines they’re used to doing, and then to have the hometown fans cheering for them.”
Davis is optimistic that Bangor’s first MMA show will be a success, citing in part his team’s ability to secure local sponsorships for its fighters.
“Everybody’s pumped up about this, including the business community,” said Davis. “For us it wasn’t a problem to pick up sponsors, they were excited to support us.”