RUMFORD, Maine — With two successful mixed martial arts promotions already to their credit in Maine this year, officials at New England Fights are seeking to broaden their geographic reach.
“I’ve had the good fortune of being part of the mixed martial arts community in Maine for a number of years,” said Matt Peterson, co-owner of New England Fights, which drew more than 3,000 fans to its February Fight Night 1 card in Lewiston and 1,500 last Saturday for Fight Night 2 at the smaller Biddeford Arena.
“So I always knew that the fans were here and that if you built it they would come. I’m not surprised at all,” Peterson said.
Peterson, a state representative from Rumford who helped guide a bill to legalize the sport in Maine through the state Legislature in 2009, and NEF co-owner Nick DiSalvo of Billerica, Mass., already have announced their next show, Fight Night 3 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston on June 16.
Given the momentum generated from the last two promotions, Peterson hopes soon to bring NEF cards to other venues in the region.
“We’re all about trying to break into new markets and bring the sport of MMA to every corner of the state of Maine, which is obviously a sprawling state geographically,” Peterson said. “But there are many, many factors to consider. Location, location, location is big, you look at the demographic info and you look at the fighters. They sacrifice so much to train and then they have to travel on top of it, and these guys really drive these shows by bringing in their fan base.”
One likely destination is the Bangor area.
“We’ve actually already started the legwork in looking at Bangor,” Peterson said. “Our goal is to go there in the fall. We’re back in Lewiston with Maine’s former two-time heavyweight champion of the world [Tim Sylvia] in June, and we’re looking at Bangor for our following event sometime in the fall. We’re very excited to go up there.”
The Bangor area is home to at least two mixed martial arts gymnasiums, and two fighters from Young’s MMA in Brewer — Ryan Sanders and Ray Wood — are ranked among the top competitors in their weight classes, according to NortheastMMA.net, and have been featured performers at both Fight Night 1 and Fight Night 2.
“You’ve got Young’s MMA up in the Bangor area, and the guys they had here we thought did a phenomenal job,” Peterson said after Fight Night 2. “So they’ve been asking us to go to Bangor and we want to bring it where people want it, so we’re definitely looking at it.”
A Bangor promotion might also serve to introduce New England Fights to the Canadian market.
“There’s an enormous base of Canadian MMA fans,” Peterson said. “The UFC has a branch specifically in Canada, it’s one of the few foreign locations where they have one for that reason, that there’s such an enormous market. To date I think that’s where they’ve had some of their largest shows.
“Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a USA versus Canada card up in the north?” Peterson said.
Sylvia to make Maine MMA debut
Ellsworth native Tim “The Maine-iac” Sylvia, a former two-time UFC world heavyweight champion, will fight in Maine for the first time on the Fight Night 3 card scheduled for June 16 in Lewiston.
Sylvia, 30-7 during his career with 19 knockouts and four submissions, announced his plans for the Lewiston bout during Fight Night 2 last Saturday night in Biddeford.
“I’m stoked to be on this card,” Sylvia said during his announcement. “Maine has obviously stepped it up.”
Sylvia began his mixed martial arts career in 2001 and won his first UFC world title two years later by defeating Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41 in Atlantic City, N.J.
Sylvia made a successful title defense that year but voluntarily vacated his title in the aftermath of that first-round victory over Gan McGee at UFC 44 when he tested positive for the banned substance stanozolol.
Sylvia served a six-month suspension before resuming his career, then came all the way back to regain the UFC heavyweight championship with a first-round technical knockout of Andrei Arlovski at UFC 59 in April 2006.
The 6-foot-8-inch, 265-pound Sylvia then made two title defenses before losing a unanimous decision to Randy Couture at UFC 68 in Anaheim, Calif., on March 3, 2007.
Sylvia left the UFC a year later but has remained active in the sport, most recently fighting in the Midwest near his training base in Bettendorf, Iowa. His last bout was a unanimous decision victory over Andreas Kraniotakes in Chicago last November.
Sylvia’s Fight Night 3 opponent has not been determined, though an announcement is expected in the next two weeks.
Boetsch training for July bout
Lincolnville native Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch, currently sixth in the top-tier UFC’s middleweight rankings, has begun training for his scheduled July 7 fight against fifth-ranked Michael “The Count” Bisping of Great Britain.
That bout is slated to take place as part of the UFC 148 card in Las Vegas, Nev.
Boetsch is 15-4 after his come-from-behind, third-round knockout of Yushin Okami during UFC 144 held Feb. 25 in Japan.
The 31-year-old Boetsch, a four-time state wrestling champion during his days at Camden-Rockport (now Camden Hills) High School, is 3-0 since dropping to the middleweight (185-pound) ranks from light heavyweight (205 pounds).
Bisping, who also formerly competed as a light heavyweight, has a 23-4 record but is coming off a loss in his last bout, a unanimous decision to second-ranked Chael Sonnen on Jan. 28 in Chicago.
Both Boetsch and Bisping hope a victory in their matchup will serve as a springboard to a title shot against longtime UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. The Brazilian is expected to defend his crown against Sonnen this summer, with recent reports suggesting the bout, originally slated to be staged in Brazil, may become the main event of UFC 148.