BIDDEFORD, Maine — Derek Shorey fancies himself both an athlete and an entertainer.
He revealed the athletic side during his high school days at Foxcroft Academy, playing football and winning the 112-pound Class C wrestling state title in 1998 — by beating his brother Dustin, then attending Penobscot Valley of Howland, in the championship match.
More than a decade later, after serving in the Navy and mulling a career in professional wrestling, Shorey has found a new outlet for testing his athletic mettle in front of a crowd — mixed martial arts.
Shorey, now a 29-year-old resident of Berwick, was one of 30 MMA practitioners from Maine and throughout the Northeast who stepped into the cage in front of an estimated 1,500 fans at the Biddeford Arena during Saturday night’s 15-bout Fight Night 2 card.
Competing as an amateur in the 145-pound weight class and fighting out of the Bill Jones Shop in Somersworth, N.H., Shorey used an arm bar to score a technical knockout of Nate Fenech of the Lewiston-based Central Maine Brazilian Ju-Jitsu at 2:25 of the first round.
“I’ve always been a showman,” said Shorey, a 2000 Foxcroft graduate who served four years of active duty in the Navy, then did a tour of duty in Iraq in 2008 and 2009 while in the reserves.
“I love to entertain people,” said Shorey, “and it just seemed like from fighting drunk too many times I kind of realized I was good at it, so I dropped the fixed stuff [pro wrestling] and took up the real stuff out at City Boxing in San Diego. Then when I came back here I just found the best gym in the area to train at, and that’s where I am now.”
Fenech used his striking skills to take an early advantage in the match before Shorey reverted to his fighting foundation on the wrestling mat to take control.
“I knew the kid was a ju-jitsu guy from the camp he trains at, so my game plan was to showcase some of my stand-up ability,” said Shorey. “But when he caught me with a real stiff right, I changed my mind about my game plan and decided to go back to my wrestling roots. I took him to the ground and controlled him, punched him in the face a couple of times and waited for an opening. He threw his arm up there and I just threw that arm bar in and sank it and that was the win.”
Shorey and others, like Tim Grovo of Limington and the nearby Team Headstrong of Waterboro, are appreciative of the chance to fight in their home state, which legalized mixed martial arts in 2009.
“It’s awesome,” said Grovo, a 21-year-old graduate of Bonny Eagle High School in Standish who scored his first amateur victory with a first-round TKO over Zach Labay. “Both of my fights have been pretty close to home, and from talking to people from out of state they say the Maine events are a lot better than others, so we’re pretty lucky that they’re putting on these fights.”
Saturday’s gathering at the smaller Biddeford venue followed a sold-out throng of 3,000 that turned out for New England Fights’ first promotion, Fight Night 1, held Feb. 11 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
“It’s been stunning,” said Matt Peterson of Rumford, co-owner of New England Fights. “We knew the market was there after the February show in Lewiston, but we’re all about trying to break into new markets and bring the sport of MMA to every corner of the state of Maine.
“We looked at Biddeford as a brand new market. Team Headstrong is doing huge things, so we wanted to bring this to their backyard and they delivered, but more than anything the fights tonight just absolutely blew my mind. These guys brought it, and everybody got to see the level of athletes we have competing in this sport.”
Among the featured matches, Ryan Sanders of Brewer and Ray Wood of Bangor, both fighting out of Young’s MMA in Brewer, lost unanimous decisions to fighters from the Ithaca, N.Y.-based Bombsquad.
Wood, who began the night with a 4-0 amateur record and ranked second in the 145-pound weight class regionally by NortheastMMA.net, moved up in weight and lost a 150-pound bout to Shane Manley of Syracuse, N.Y.
This match was staged largely on the mat, with both competitors relying on their wrestling skills, but with Manley (4-1) coming down from 155 pounds his strength advantage proved decisive as he won each of the three three-minute rounds on all three judges’ scorecards.
“I know five pounds doesn’t sound like a lot, but it definitely makes a difference,” said Wood, a former wrestling standout at Bucksport High School. “The guy was strong, but either way it was definitely a great fight. I stuck to my game plan, stayed outside, did everything I could in my power and honestly felt like it was a great performance even though it wasn’t a ‘W’ like I wanted.”
Sanders, who brought a 3-0 professional record into his main-event bout against veteran Mike Winters of Ithaca, N.Y., similarly found himself on the defensive for most of the match. And while Sanders was comfortable counterattacking with his back to the mat, Winters (6-2) used his strength to win the first two rounds before avoiding several submission attempts by Sanders in the final round.
“We knew he was a wrestler, so he was going to come in and take me down,” said Sanders. “Our game plan was to stick and move, but I got too anxious and stood in front of him. I didn’t move enough and he was able to take me down. I was able to capitalize and had some good elbows from in the ground. I threw up a lot of submissions and really thought I had him at the end, but the kid’s tough as nails.”
“It was a good fight, I’m happy with my performance,” said Sanders.
Fight Night 3 is set for June 16 in Lewiston, with former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia of Ellsworth slated to headline the card with his first fight in his home state.