BANGOR, Maine — The difference was striking but welcome for a group of local mixed martial arts practitioners Thursday afternoon.
While two Canadian fighters set to compete in the featured matches on Friday night’s MMA card at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion spent much of the afternoon dealing with travel issues — they were stuck at the border for several hours with visa-related problems before clearing U.S. Customs — eight combatants from Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy in Brewer and five from Young’s MMA in Bangor were savoring the opportunity to fight in the Queen City for the first time.
And rather than endure another long trip south to fulfill their athletic passion, the Bangor-area contingent converged on My Fork Restaurant & Sports Lounge for the “Nations Collide: Canadian Invasion” official weigh-ins having barely moved their car odometers.
“We’re all used to driving five hours down to Massachusetts to fight the hometown guy,” said Team Irish welterweight Andrew Hughes, who will make his pro debut at the outdoor show being promoted by New England Fights and Waterfront Concerts after going 5-1 as an amateur.
“So it’s going to be nice to be able to sleep in my own bed tonight and then drive across the bridge [Friday] and get into the cage. It’s awesome.”
For some of the local competitors on the card, it’s an opportunity they weren’t sure would ever happen.
“I’ve waited for this for a long time,” said Young’s MMA featherweight Bruce Boyington. “Some people have a dream about getting to the UFC, and not that I don’t but my biggest dream is fighting in front of my home crowd. This is my hometown. All my friends and family are here and this is a dream come true for me today and [Friday]. I can’t wait.”
Not only does the home cage advantage reveal itself in travel considerations, but also in the relative ease in making final preparations for both the weigh-ins and the fight.
“Imagine a picnic right next to your house compared to a picnic two hours away. It’s no picnic, but it’s all just easier on the mind,” said Damon Owens, another 145-pounder representing Young’s MMA.
“My mind’s a lot more at ease knowing I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything two hours away, and I think I’ll be the favorite, the hometown guy this time. I’m used to going and fighting in everyone else’s hometown, but here I get to fight with familiar faces watching.”
Familiar faces in the crowd might create additional pressure for some fighters, but Owens — who will be making his pro debut against John “First Class” Raio of Topsham — doesn’t see it that way.
“I work really hard and am very proud of what I do,” he said, “so I want as many people as possible to be able to see it. I’m glad, finally, that the fights are here in Bangor and I just hope this does well so we can get cards here consistently.”
Five professional and nine amateur bouts were on the docket as of late Thursday afternoon, with the 7 p.m. show headlined by the NEF state featherweight championship fight between Bucksport’s Ray “All Business” Wood and Lenny “The Show Stealer” Wheeler, one of two fighters from Wulfrun MMA in Prince Edward Island.
Wood (3-0) weighed in at 144.8 pounds for the 145-pound title bout, while Wheeler (6-2) weighed in at exactly 145 pounds despite arriving at the 4 p.m. weigh-ins more than an hour late after being delayed at the border along with teammate Matt DesRoches.
Wood also was looking forward to his first fight near his hometown, but he was just as focused on his first fight outdoors as well as the chance to win a championship belt.
“It’s perfect. I can get used to this,” he said. “Either way, it’s going to be a little different [Friday] but a fight’s a fight either way, so it doesn’t matter. Once you’re in the cage it’s still a fight.”
The co-main event matches DesRoches (4-0) against Team Irish’s Jon Lemke (3-0) in a battle of unbeatens at a catch weight of 160 pounds, while other pro bouts have Hughes against Rhode Islander Joe Palazio (1-0), Boyington (2-5) against Asa Zorn (0-2) and Owens against Raio (0-3) in a rematch of an amateur bout in Lewiston last September that Raio won by unanimous decision.
One late scratch in the pro ranks was to have involved Brewer welterweight “The” Ryan Sanders, but his opponent, Emmanuel Walo of All-Star MMA in Kenilworth, N.J., pulled out of the match Thursday morning.
Scheduled amateur fights match Ramon Saintvil (Central Maine Brazilian Jujitsu) against independent Jacob Cameron, Scott Lavoie (Team Irish) vs. Rob Higgins (CMBJJ), Joel Adams (Team Irish) vs. independent Sean Worcester, Jeremy Tyler (Team Irish) vs. Tollison Lewis (Balanced Ground MMA), Caleb Hall (Moontide MMA) vs. Zackary Adams (Young’s MMA), Charlie Stambach (Team Irish) vs. Derek Shorey (The Shop/Team Kaos), Steve Erland (Team Irish) vs. C.J. Ewer (Young’s MMA), Stephen Desjardins (Team Irish) vs. Trevor Hebert (Frosty’s First Class) and a women’s match between Kim Russell (Balanced Ground MMA) and Tara Mitchell (Littlefield’s Gym).
Gates open at 4:30 p.m.