Auburn fighter finds peace in the cage, makes MMA debut

Posted Sept. 22, 2013, at 12:02 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — There is a T-shirt slogan popular within the mixed martial arts fraternity: “Every day I fight.”

Auburn’s Matt Coolidge understood the multiple meanings and ramifications of that catch phrase long before he ever dreamed of walking up the steps into the cage.

Struggling with his weight, employment, failed relationships and fatherhood — “my life has been going downhill,” he admitted openly — Coolidge sought the discipline and stability of Central Maine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu six months ago.

The road remains bumpy, but Coolidge’s broad smile Saturday evening conveyed that he is enjoying the ride much more. Don’t expect a close, split-decision loss to Jeremy Stevens in his MMA debut as part of New England Fights X at Androscoggin Bank Colisee to force any detours, either.

“I’m going to keep doing this. I’m in love with this (stuff) now,” Coolidge said. “Two points? I’m not going to give up because of two points.”

Coolidge, 35, is the oldest of four siblings in one of Auburn’s most prominent athletic families.

You may know his younger twin brothers better. Troy Barnies recently left Maine for Latvia and his third season of professional basketball. Travis Barnies plays football for the semi-pro Maine Sabers.

Adulthood hasn’t furnished Coolidge as many cheers or trophies. He lost custody of his two daughters after a divorce five years ago. After a more recent relationship produced a son, Coolidge began his quest for stability.

He started with his health. Coolidge’s weight had ballooned to 280 when he walked into Travis Wells’ CMBJJ gym in January. He fought Saturday at 205.

“The guys down there train me awesome,” Coolidge said. “I was just falling apart slowly and I needed something to lift my spirits. That’s why I started doing this.”

In addition to his training, Coolidge enrolled at Central Maine Community College in the machine technology program. He was let go by his most recent employer due to a lack of construction projects.

“My school, that’s more a domestic thing for me and my son. Right now I’m not living in the best of places,” Coolidge said. “(MMA is) just a way for me to outlet all my frustration and anger in a positive way, if you want to put quotations around the ‘positive.’ It’s a way that I can release and take care of that in a way besides pills and every other way that people use nowadays.”

After overcoming the initial awe of fighting before more than 2,000 fans, including dozens of family and friends, Coolidge fared well in the amateur scrap against Stevens.

He made one miscue in the opening round, enabling Stevens to throw him to the mat with a resounding thud. Stevens landed several clean shots to Coolidge’s right eye in the second round.

“It was a little rougher than I thought,” Coolidge said. “I thought I would be able to go and just bounce around him. That third round, I gave him everything I had.”

That won him the fight in one judge’s view, but the other two went with Stevens. The score was 29-28 on all three cards.

Corey Hinkley, 26, of Lewiston also got serious about his MMA training in January. He, too, was looking to pick up the pieces after a soured relationship and channel his restlessness in a positive manner.

In two words, he’s hooked. Hinkley, who fell only 27 seconds shy of taking Dixfield’s Caleb Hall the distance in his May amateur debut, came out on the plus side of a third-round submission this time. He defeated Bangor’s Jimmy Jackson by guillotine choke.

“I was exhausted. I gave him everything in the third round. It was almost like a gift,” Hinkley said. “(Jackson is) an amazing guy. I really had to psyche myself up to even want to hit him. We were talking before and talking after.”

Hinkley and his CMBJJ stablemates, including good friend Jesse Erickson, spent much of the summer working on the newcomer’s stamina after his debut.

“It’s the longest nine minutes of your life, you know?” said Hinkley, who fought at a chiseled 150 pounds.

CMBJJ didn’t enjoy its usual success on the card. Hinkley was the lone winner among the gym’s seven fighters, and Coolidge was the only vanquished fighter to get past the opening round.

Dustin Veinott, Shawn Bang, Alex Clark, Matt Denning and Ramon Saintvil each went down in defeat. Clark and Saintvil were 2-0 before being TKO’d by Nick Spencer of Portland and Dan Connaughton of Wakefield, Mass., respectively.

Erickson’s scheduled pro bout was canceled Friday after his opponent failed to appear at the weigh-in.

Likewise, the anticipated main event between Brewer’s Jon Lemke and pro lacrosse player John Ortolani was scrapped less than 24 hours before the start when Lemke withdrew.

In the resulting co-main event, UFC and “The Ultimate Fighter” veteran Jimmy “Crash” Quinlan and Luc Bondole battled to a majority draw. Bondole was penalized a point by referee Kevin McDonald for grabbing the cage in the final round, ultimately costing him the verdict.

Ryan Sanders (5-4) of Bangor halted a three-fight losing streak with a second-round win by armbar over Rashaun Spencer.

John “First Class” Raio of Topsham pleased the locals with a 28-second stoppage of Connecticut’s Asa Zorn on strikes. It was the first win in five pro fights for Raio, who shone as an amateur before making the jump for the Bellator 93 card in March.

“It feels great. The last few fights hurt my pride a little bit,” Raio said. “But I’ve been working (my butt) off for this since Bellator.”

On the amateur undercard, former Lisbon High School wrestler and football player Charlie Stambach improved to 2-0, using an Americana hold to overwhelm Drew Waltz of Bangor in the first round.

In a battle of pro super heavyweights, Jason Dolloff of Peru — who listed his gym as “Anger Management MMA” — battled valiantly against Florida’s Terry Blackburn until a kick to the face ended his night by knockout at 4:36 of the first round.

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