BANGOR, Maine — “The” Ryan Sanders is busy preparing for his New England Fights welterweight title rematch against Brazilian Gil de Freitas, but it’s hard for him not to reflect occasionally on his most significant mixed martial arts victory to date.
For while the end came suddenly, the Brewer fighter’s recent main-event win over Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis marked a new beginning in the sport for him.
“I was going through a pretty crappy period when I lost three straight fights, so I was kind of down in the dumps,” said Sanders, now 6-4 after his win over Davis on the NEF XII card in Lewiston, a bout that was stopped after the first round due to an eye injury suffered by the former Ultimate Fighting Championship contender.
“Then I won in September, and I just beat Marcus, so now I’ve got a two-fight winning streak. I’ve got the ball rolling, and if I rip off a few more wins, there’s no reason the upper guys won’t bring me in.
“I tell people I’m there to fight, and I’m there to finish fights. All my wins are by stoppages, and the promotions look for that.”
Sanders’ next bout — scheduled for May 10 in Lewiston as part of NEF XIII — will represent yet another formidable challenge given that the rugged De Freitas, now based in Massachusetts, secured a five-round unanimous decision victory over in their September 2012 battle for the then-vacant NEF title.
“The main thing is I fought him on 10 days notice,” said Sanders, who fights out of Young’s MMA in Bangor. “I was supposed to fight his teammate, and his teammate got injured, so they switched him out, and I kind of went in there with no game plan.
“But fighting on 10 days notice and with no real information on him, I was still able to go five rounds. That was good, but now we’ve got 10 weeks to prepare for him, and I’m not the same fighter now that I was 18 months ago. I’ve been busting my butt, I’m better in every aspect of the game, my wrestling’s gotten better, my ground game’s gotten better and my striking’s gotten better. Now I have a chance to redeem that loss and get that title, and bring it back here.”
While Sanders knew little of De Freitas when they first fought, the Sanders-Davis battle was years — and a fair amount of bad blood — in the making, with the verbal strikes the two combatants from rival Bangor-area gymnasiums traded during the pre-fight hype helped to draw more than 3,000 fans to the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
It took just a few seconds into the first round before Sanders felt he belonged in the cage with the 40-year-old Davis, his former instructor.
“I was a little hesitant at first, and then I threw a head kick,” said Sanders. “He blocked most of it, but when I threw it, I was looking at his eyes. And when it landed, his eyes grew real big, and he kind of stumbled back.
“When I saw that, it kind of made me feel like I was good. I think he realized I was here to fight, and it gave me that little bit of courage, that oomph. And after that, I was able to implement the game plan.”
Sanders sought to stay close to Davis in order to negate the former boxer’s striking skills, and he eventually scored a takedown with about a minute left in the five-minute first round only to have Davis quickly escape.
“As soon as he got up, I cleared his arm and hit him with an elbow, and that was the one that eventually ended the fight,” said Sanders. “It was just one of those perfect strikes the way it landed. Marcus has been in a lot of wars so he’s got a lot of scar tissue, so part of the plan was to hit him with some elbows and he’d cut, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Davis attempted to land a guillotine choke hold during the final seconds of the round before both returned to their corners.
It turned out to be the end of the fight, as Davis was struggling with his vision. The doctor in attendance refused to let the bout continue.
“The way it was going, I was going to finish him in the second round so it was a little disappointing,” said Sanders of the stoppage. “The game plan was in the first round to beat him up and in the second round to finish him, and that’s the way the fight was going but the doctor stopped it.
“But it’s still a win, and I’m just happy we got the win for the gym, myself and everybody who supported me.”
Sanders hopes the fight will serve to soften the hard feelings between Young’s MMA and Davis’ Team Irish Fitness Academy in Brewer.
“I think a lot of people got the wrong impression because of the talking we did to promote the fight,” he said, “but the good thing about fighting is you can talk, but then you have to fight. Hopefully both teams can move forward from this, and because this is such a small area, maybe down the road we can bury the hatchet.”
Lacey seeks to stay unbeaten
Another Young’s MMA fighter, Aaron Lacey, has sent his first three amateur opponents to their first career defeats.
He’ll try to do that again on April 4 at Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H., when he takes on Matt Tullos of Dedham, Mass., as part of the Combat Zone 48 card.
Lacey improved his record to 3-0 with a first-round stoppage by strikes of Auburn’s Joshua Greenlaw at NEF XII in February, and he’s currently ranked seventh among amateur featherweights (145-pound class) in the Northeast.
He’ll face his stiffest test to date in Tullos, 5-0, the No. 2-ranked amateur in the region.
Lacey is scheduled to be one of at least two Young’s MMA fighters on the Combat Zone card. Josh Harvey, a former wrestler at Dexter Regional High School, is slated to make his amateur debut against Michael Fagan.
Lacey also is scheduled to face Dom Cofone (4-3) of Westbrook at NEF XIII on May 10 in Lewiston.