LEWISTON, Maine — The state’s first mixed martial arts card of 2013 is set for this weekend, but plans already are in the works for another major event next month at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Bellator, the nation’s second-largest MMA promotion after the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, has announced its intention to stage its first nationally televised card in Maine on Thursday, March 21.
“For the sport of MMA to reach the level it has in Maine where you now have one of the top promotions in the world coming in to run an event, that’s just a real testament to how far the sport has come here in Maine,” said Matt Peterson, co-owner and matchmaker of New England Fights, which is hosting Fight Night VI at the Colisee this Saturday night and is a promotional partner for Bellator’s debut in the Pine Tree State.
The main events of the March 21 card will be broadcast live starting at 10 p.m. on Spike TV as part of its Bellator MMA weekly series, while preliminary matches will be streamed live and free on Spike.com starting at 8 p.m.
“We are always looking to bring Bellator MMA to new markets, and the historic Androscoggin Bank Colisee will make a fantastic host to our March 21st event live on Spike TV,” said Bellator chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney in a press release Friday.
The Bellator show will feature the promotion’s $100,000 welterweight tournament final, the Bellator debut of kickboxing world champion Michael “Venom” Page, and the return to the cage of former UFC competitor and Bangor resident Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis.
Davis, 21-9, is coming off a three-round unanimous decision victory over David Bielkheden in a welterweight bout as part of Superior Challenge 8 at Malmo, Sweden, on Oct 6.
“I’m excited about it,” said Davis, whose opponent has yet to be determined. “Bellator contacted me and said they were interested in coming to Maine to do a show and they wanted me to fight on it.
“This gives me the chance to fight back in my home state, and it takes me back to my roots on Spike TV when I fought on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ [television show in 2005].”
Several other fights on the Bellator preliminary card are expected to feature competitors who fought in NEF events in Maine last year, and among them may be Davis’ Team Irish stablemate Jon Lemke of Brewer.
“All along we’ve wanted to provide our fighters opportunities to compete at the next level, so I couldn’t be more thrilled about this,” said Peterson.
This is not Bellator’s first foray in New England as the promotion has staged cards in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but its interest in Maine has come quickly based on NEF’s success as a first-year promotion in 2012.
The four MMA cards NEF staged in Lewiston during its first year of operation not only drew an average attendance of 3,000 fans, but also received national post-fight coverage on such cable television programs as AXS TV’s “Inside MMA” and Spike TV’s “MMA Uncensored.”
“Bellator contacted us three or four weeks ago unsolicited on a Friday via email,” said Peterson. “We had a conference call with them that Saturday, and they said they had been following us and were impressed with the crowds we’ve been getting and our fighter development, and they said they were interested in having a show in Lewiston.”
Peterson said the Bellator card will provide Maine and its MMA community with additional national attention as well as provide a significant immediate economic impact to greater Lewiston with the influx of fighters, Bellator and Spike TV personnel and MMA fans from throughout northern New England.
Peterson eyes second state crown
The main event of Saturday’s Fight Night VI card in Lewiston features Rumford native Jesse Peterson’s bid to win his second New England Fights state championship when he takes on Rhode Islander Greg Rebello (14-4) for the promotion’s light heavyweight (205-pound) crown.
“We were supposed to fight a few years ago but it never materialized,” said Peterson, who trains out of Central Maine Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Auburn and South Shore Sportfighting in Norwell, Mass. “This fight has been coming for a long time.”
The 31-year-old Peterson, a former wrestling standout at Mountain Valley High School of Rumford and the brother of NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson, brings a 7-2 record into the match.
He’s coming off a second-round submission victory over fellow Mainer Cody Lightfoot at Fight Night IV in September to win the NEF middleweight (185-pound) championship.
Peterson is now 3-0 since returning last year from a nearly four-year hiatus in MMA competition.
“I thought I was done with the sport,” said Peterson. “At the time there were other more important things to do, I had a daughter around that time.
“But when my brother [a state representative] started working to legalize MMA in Maine, it kind of jolted me, and being around the sport since then has really got me motivated. I’m in the best shape of my life now.”
Peterson, who recently spent 2½ weeks training with Team Bombsquad in upstate New York, expects his match against Rebello will feature a contrast in styles.
“I know he’s a good striker and a good athlete, and I hear he’s been training in a lot of wrestling defense,” said Peterson. “It’s going to be an interesting fight. He’ll try to keep it standing, and I’ll try to do what I do. I know I’ll be relentless with him.”
The Peterson-Rebello match will be one of 17 scheduled bouts on the Fight Night VI card, which is set for a 6 p.m. start.