BIDDEFORD, Maine — Buck Pineau always has considered himself a competitive sort, playing high school soccer, basketball and baseball before graduating from Ashland Community High School in 2003.
But after returning to Maine from a stint in the Navy, such competitive outlets weren’t readily available anymore.
Enter mixed martial arts.
“I saw the [Ultimate Fighting Championship] on TV and thought it was pretty cool,” said Pineau, now 28 and living in Portland. “I had always thought about being a fighter, and it got to the point that I really just had to go out and do it.”
Pineau first took up MMA in March 2011, and less than 2½ years later the fighter also known as “Knuckles” will be competing in his first main event Saturday night against Isaiah Queen of Rollinsford, N.H., in a middleweight bout on NEF IX, a New England Fights promotion to be held at the Biddeford Arena.
“Buck Pineau represents what I love most about MMA,” said NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson of Rumford. “If you put in the hours in the gym, exercise a commitment to the sport, employ discipline and focus — you can go far in a relatively short period of time. Buck has done that. He was one of the most hungry, active amateur fighters in the Northeast circuit last year. He’s transformed his skill set by being consistent in the gym and in the cage. He’s at the top of his game right now.”
Pineau’s first appearance in the cage came on seven days notice against John Tianno in May 2011, at Derry, N.H., and while he scored a second-round technical knockout by strikes, Pineau now looks back on that debut with humor.
“I fought like garbage,” he said. “At least now I know enough to put my hands up. They were basically in my pockets back then.”
The 6-foot-2-inch, 185-pound Pineau has built a 6-2 amateur record highlighted by two memorable bouts against Allan Josselyn.
Pineau lost their first meeting by unanimous decision last September despite landing a kick to Josselyn’s head at the outset of the first round that nearly produced an immediate stoppage.
Pineau got his revenge in their most recent fight this May, winning a unanimous decision this time.
“The first time we fought he came right out and we touched gloves and then I kicked him in the head,” said Pineau, who trains at Choi’s Institute of Martial Arts in Portland. “But that guy’s a mountain man, a strong guy. Everything he does in the cage is strength based.”
Queen, who scored a third-round submission victory over Josselyn last March 30 at Derry, N.H., represents a similar test of strength.
“He’s a tough guy who likes to grapple,” said Pineau.
And that grappling preference stands in contrast to Pineau’s strengths, which lean more toward the skills of a boxer.
“I’ve always thought I was a pretty good striker from the get-go,” he said. “But in my first NEF fight against Dan Burke he tackled me and put me to sleep in about 13 seconds [actually 1:37]. I woke up to the doctor snapping his fingers, so an obvious weakness I’ve been working on has been my ground game.”
Pineau enters Saturday night’s bout as the region’s top-ranked amateur middleweight, according to NortheastMMA.net, while the 6-foot Queen has a 2-1 record and is ranked fourth.
“Pineau and Queen are polar opposites physically,” said Peterson. “Buck is tall, lean and lanky. Queen is tight, compact and layered with muscle. Both guys wanted this fight badly. Both hold wins over Allan Josselyn. Both are bruisers. I can’t wait to watch how this one plays out.”
Pineau will be fighting for the sixth time under the NEF banner, and for the second time at the 1,600-seat Biddeford facility.
“It’s pretty intense,” said Pineau, who required just 11 seconds to knock out Ryan Dean in his Biddeford debut in April 2012. “The last time I was fought there it seemed like there were 3,000 people screaming, it was so packed.
“It’s exciting, and I like the competition and I enjoy performing in front of a crowd.”
Pineau currently makes his living as a landscaper for Spiritual Workers in a Physical World of Portland — where his boss is his striking coach, John Pinette.
He has given thought to joining the professional MMA ranks with an eye toward winning the NEF middleweight championship currently held by Jesse Peterson.
Just not quite yet.
“Since Day 1 I’ve wanted to be a pro fighter,” said Pineau, whose mother Barbara lives in Madawaska. “Everything comes with experience. The more you do and see in the cage, the more you get used to it.
“I’m pretty good, but I’m not good enough yet, I’ve got a ways to go. I’m so much better than I was when I started, but I’m still just scratching the surface.”
Owens inks NEF promotional deal
Damon “The Omen” Owens, who debuted as a professional at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor on July 12 with a stunning one-kick knockout of John “First Class” Raio, has signed a multi-fight promotional contract with New England Fights.
The 28-year-Owens, who trains at Young’s MMA in Bangor, went just 1-4 as an amateur as his stand-up fighting style was negated by the padding amateurs are required to wear by rule.
But in his first professional fight, Owens used a shin kick to the right temple that stopped Raio — a fighter who had beaten him by unanimous decision when both were amateurs — just 35 seconds into the first round.
“John Raio had never been knocked out before,” said NEF co-owner and promoter Nick DiSalvo. “So for Damon to do what he did to someone as durable as John Raio was impressive. Knockouts like the one Damon delivered on July 12 capture the imaginations of combat sports fans the world over so we’re elated at the idea of what he could come out with next.”
Owens will have his first fight under the new NEF contract against Josh Parker (4-6) of Skowhegan at NEF X on Sept. 21 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
“A fight between Parker and I is sure to be a crowd-pleaser,” said Owens. “I like Parker’s fighting style, but I think I can exploit it and put him out.”
Augusta’s Lawton to return to cage
Jarod “Last Minute” Lawton of Augusta will return to the New England Fights cage Sept. 21 when he takes on Leon Davis as part of NEF X to be held at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
Lawton (3-1) has earned his nickname with late comeback victories in his last two fights.
Last November, Lawton scored a knee-bar submission with just two seconds left in his welterweight bout against “The” Ryan Sanders during NEF V, and he followed that with a come-from-behind victory over Cody Sargent at NEF VII in May by last-minute submission.
Davis (4-2) earned All-American status as a junior college wrestler while attending Springfield Technical Community College, placing eighth at the 2008 juco national championships. Davis also is a former Massachusetts high school wrestling state champion.