BREWER, Maine — It figured to be a long winter for Ray “All Business” Wood, his emerging career as a professional mixed martial arts practitioner sidelined by surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate (knee) ligament.
Instead of occupying the cage in the coming months, the New England Fights Maine 145-pound champion will be conducting all his business from next to the mat after his recent appointment as head coach of the Brewer and Hampden Academy wrestling teams.
“It’s a great opportunity to get back to my wrestling roots,” said the 24-year-old Wood, a former standout while attending Bucksport High School.
Wood, who had surgery on his injured right knee on Oct. 2, will oversee a wrestling program that is considered a individual cooperative — meaning the Brewer and Hampden wrestling teams are combined for organizational, practice and travel purposes and share related costs but compete in meets as separate entities.
With renovations underway at Brewer High School, the program will be based at Hampden Academy this winter.
Brewer had 11 wrestlers and the fledgling Hampden program three competitors last year, and school officials hope Wood’s presence and background in both wrestling and MMA might spark an increase in participation.
“Certainly everybody is aware of what Ray has been doing, and we’re very excited to have him on board,” said Brewer athletic administrator Dave Utterback, who has been working with Hampden Academy athletic administrator Mike Bisson to develop the schools’ blended wrestling teams.
“Our thought is that this is a great step for our programs,” he said.
Wood is walking with the aid of a crutch and undergoing physical therapy treatments as he begins a rehabilitation period that typically lasts some nine months after ACL surgery.
He admits missing his workouts at Young’s MMA in Bangor.
“It’s hard to go in and watch because I just want to get up and do things that I’m not able to do right now,” Wood said.
But he’s looking forward to returning to the wrestling mat at least in an advisory capacity.
“By being a professional athlete and being a professional fighter, hopefully I can interest some more kids in coming out for wrestling,” he said.
Wood, a 2009 Bucksport graduate, was a three-time Eastern Maine champion and two-time state runner-up during his wrestling career. That background gave him a head start when he began competing in mixed martial arts as an amateur in 2011.
Wood went 4-1 in the amateur ranks before debuting as a professional with a win over John “First Class” Raio last November.
He then won the NEF featherweight title this July with a first-round stoppage of Canadian Lenny Wheeler in the main event of the first-ever MMA card held in Bangor.
Wood, 4-0 as a professional, is believed to have injured his knee during that fight but had remained active in the gym preparing for a scheduled Sept. 21 NEF title defense. But pain lingered in his knee more than a month after the July bout, leading to tests that determined the ACL injury and led to his surgery.
The opening day of high school wrestling preseason practices is Nov. 18, with the first allowable exhibition meets on Nov. 23 and the first countable meets set for Dec. 6.