LEWISTON, Maine — There’s no championship belt at stake in the main event of Saturday night’s NEF XII mixed martial show at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
But considerable pride will be on the line when Bangor’s Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis takes on Brewer’s “The” Ryan Sanders in what’s been billed as a welterweight grudge match that will headline the 18-fight card.
The first bout is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Davis, the former boxer and Ultimate Fighting Championship contender who currently is signed with Bellator MMA, brings a 22-10 record into the fight against the 5-4 Sanders, a former student of Davis’ at Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy.
There’s a history of bad blood between the teacher and his one-time pupil that began with Sanders’ departure from Team Irish in 2011 to join rival Young’s MMA of Bangor.
Davis said Sanders was no longer welcome at his school after he was found to be training at both gyms simultaneously and also taking boxing and MMA matches without his trainer’s permission.
Sanders said he left Team Irish voluntarily.
“He knows the truth and I know the truth,” said Sanders. “A lot has been said, but at the end of the day we both know how it went down.”
The relationship grew more heated in September 2012 when Sanders fought Brazilian Gil de Freitas for the NEF state welterweight championship — and Davis was in De Freitas’ corner.
Davis, who plans on retiring from fighting in May, said he was in the corner as a favor for a longtime acquaintance, Marco Alvan, who was De Freitas’ Massachusetts-based trainer.
“Marco is a friend and they were short a corner man,” said Davis. “The one thing I do regret and apologize for is a comment I made that night when I said to him, ‘How does it feel to have a black belt [De Freitas] all over you?’”
De Freitas won by unanimous decision, and after the bout the fighters’ entourages sparred verbally until being escorted away from the cage.
That Davis was in De Freitas’ corner still doesn’t sit well with Sanders.
“Gil doesn’t speak one word of English so there was no excuse,” he said. “Then the whole fight Marcus was saying things to me that were really rude. I guess that’s how Marcus is. I want to do all my talking in the cage.”
Neither Sanders nor Davis has fought in more than four months. Davis is coming off a first-round loss to Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy on Sept. 27 as part of the nationally televised Bellator MMA Season 9 lightweight tournament. Sanders last fought Sept. 21 when he scored a second-round submission victory over Rashaun Spencer.
Davis has been on antibiotics since Wednesday to address a respiratory infection, but said overall he feels physically much better as a welterweight (170-pound) than he did for his last fight, when he cut more than 15 pounds over the last 24 hours to meet the lightweight limit for the Sanavskiy fight.
Davis believes dictating the pace of the combat will be important against Sanders.
“Ryan brings youth, energy and conditioning to this. He never gets tired,” said Davis. “He’s very active standing up and on the ground — he’s going to be busy. It’s going to be him wanting to keep a high-speed pace and me trying to control the tempo of the fight.”
Sanders sees an opponent in the 40-year-old Davis whom he believes is past his prime.
“I’ve never felt mentally or physically more prepared for a fight,” said Sanders. I go into this with no pressure on my shoulders. I just have to go in there and fight my fight. There’s no way Marcus can beat me if I’m on my game and fight my fight.”
Both combatants hope Saturday’s fight can abate the hard feelings between the camps.
“Hopefully at the end of the day, we can meet in the center of the cage, shake hands and say ‘Good fight,’” Sanders said.