Maine MMA supporters seek to build on UFC’s Bangor appearance

Ryan Bader (red gloves) leaves the octagon after defeating Ovince Saint Preux (blue gloves not pictured) during light heavyweight bout at Cross Insurance Center.
Gregory Fisher | USA Today Sports
Ryan Bader (red gloves) leaves the octagon after defeating Ovince Saint Preux (blue gloves not pictured) during light heavyweight bout at Cross Insurance Center.
Posted Aug. 25, 2014, at 3:49 p.m.

Matt Peterson watched the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s recent show at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor from multiple perspectives.

He’s been attending UFC mixed martial arts cards around the country for more than a decade, and the Democratic state legislator from Rumford sponsored the legislation that led to the sport being legalized in Maine in 2009.

“Sitting there as a fan was literally a dream come true for me to see this level of event come to our state. It was awesome,” he said.

Now that the UFC has moved on — to stops in Macao, China, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, last weekend — Peterson and others in the state’s MMA community are working to build on any momentum generated by presence of the world’s top MMA organization in the state.

“We’re very optimistic that there’s going to be a positive residual effect for the sport in general in the state as the result of the UFC coming,” said Peterson, co-owner and matchmaker for the Maine-based New England Fights MMA promotion, which will stage its next show, “NEF XIV,” on Sept. 6 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

“We’ve seen some early signs of that already in terms of our ticket activity and web searches and things like that that we monitor very closely and measure. We’ve definitely seen that people are excited about the sport, and that this definitely put a spotlight on the sport in the state.”

MMA gyms around the state also hope to capitalize on the UFC’s appearance in Bangor, which stemmed from UFC president Dana White’s history in the area as a 1987 Hermon High School graduate who has relatives and a home in nearby Levant.

“It’s the exposure,” said Ernie Fitch, co-owner and manager of Young’s MMA in Bangor, which is in the process of moving into a larger facility at the former Bangor YMCA building on Hammond Street. “The more people get to see it the more it opens up everybody’s minds to it, gets them thinking about it, makes them more interested.

“And when they’re interested in it that’s when they come through the doors.”

Like Marcus Davis’ Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy in Brewer, Young’s MMA hosted some of the UFC competitors and coaches for workouts during the week leading up to the UFC Fight Night 47 show in Bangor.

Fighters Alan Jouban, Tom Watson and Shawn Jordan and various coaches not only worked out at the gym, but offered some MMA advice to local aspirants.

“The guys that came here were more than willing to share what they knew,” Fitch said. “The fighters here were focused on their fights but took time out of their training and pulled guys here off to the side to show them a few things.”

Peterson now is preparing for NEF’s next show, and admits his presence for the UFC card in Bangor was at least in some small part a reconnaissance mission.

“The biggest takeaway for me is that the details they do so well, whether it’s the handlers that work directly with the athletes or just the little details of the event production itself,” he said. “It was very eye-opening to me, I’ve been to multiple UFC events, I think the first one was 11 or 12 years ago, but this was the first sort of on-the-ground glimpse I got of it and we took away some lessons without a doubt.”

While the UFC staged 10 bouts during its five-hour television window — two hours of preliminary bouts on Fox Sports 2 followed by the three-hour main card on Fox Sports 1 — NEF utilizes an approach designed in part to help develop fighters from the region to the point that one day they might ascend to the UFC or Bellator, the nation’s second-largest MMA promotion.

NEF XIV currently has 28 fights scheduled, and while some attrition due to training injuries is expected the number of fights on the Sept. 6 card is expected to more than double the number of UFC Fight Night 47 bouts.

“It’s a different model where they open the doors at 7 and the fights start at 8 and they had 10 fights over five hours,” Peterson said. “The way we promote our shows is to come see the next wave of breakout guys you could be watching in the Octagon or on national or international TV before you know it, and we keep the pace moving in our shows.”

Ticket prices also vary dramatically, with the major-league UFC charging between $50 and $150 for its Fight Night show, while the regionally based NEF ticket prices range from $25 to $75.

“People expect action and they expect value from our ticket prices so we’ve kept it low and never moved from that $25 [starting] price point to keep it affordable for people,” Peterson said. “We want people to be able to experience a quality night of entertainment at an affordable price.”

And while White suggested that a potential UFC return to Maine would have to make much more financial sense to his company than his more personal motivation to bring it to Bangor for the first time, local supporters of the sport hope that having one such event here — as well as a Bellator show in Lewiston in March 2013 — will lead to more big-time mixed martial arts cards in the state.

“Who knows if it opens things up for anybody else,” Fitch said.

 

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