They’re the threats from away, the great unknowns, and fans typically are rooting for their opponents, particularly if they have a local connection.
Green and Heyliger are professional MMA practitioners from New York, one of the few states remaining where professional mixed martial arts bouts have yet to be legalized.
The New York Senate passed legislation in early March to legalize and regulate mixed martial arts competitions in the state, but final approval hasn’t come yet and can’t come fast enough for fighters like Green and Heyliger who must continue to hit the road to pursue their chosen sport.
“It’s actually really aggravating,” said Green, a 23-year-old former Division I wrestling standout at the University of Buffalo who will battle former Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor Henry Martinez for the Maine state lightweight (155-pound) title Saturday night during NEF VII at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
“I have such a huge support system from my hometown [Rochester, N.Y.] and my college town, and they’re always asking when I’m going to fight close to home because Maine is seven hours away. I’m hoping it changes pretty soon.”
Green and Heyliger, a welterweight (170 pounds) who will fight Bangor’s Marcus Davis in NEF VII’s main event, are among several fighters from the Ithaca, N.Y.-based Team Bombsquad MMA training center who have discovered Maine to be an accepting destination for visiting fighters pursuing their dreams of reaching the top-level UFC.
“Fighting on the road, you get booed every time you go out there, but I use that as fuel for my fire,” said the 24-year-old Heyliger, who is 5-1 as a professional. “But coming to Maine, I’m kind of comfortable being there because this will be my third fight there. It’s like a second home.”
Green (8-1) will be fighting in the Pine Tree State for the fourth time in less than 18 months.
“When I first fought in Maine I got booed, but I never take it personally,” said Green. “But after the fight it’s different, because they see I give it everything I’ve got and I’m not mean about it. I shake my opponent’s hand after every fight.”
“I get a lot of love up there now.”
Officials from the Lewiston-based New England Fights MMA promotion that has hosted NEF cards in the state since February 2012 see Team Bombsquad as adding both quality and depth to their events.
“The boys from Team Bombsquad are a different breed,” said NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson. “There is no other team in the Northeast that is willing to step up on a moment’s notice like those guys are. They are well trained and are always prepared to fight.
Green and Heyliger are among five Team Bombsquad fighters scheduled to compete on the 32-bout NEF VII card, which is set to begin at 4 p.m.
“Dez Green and Darrius Heyliger in particular have grown to become two of my favorite fighters,” said Peterson. “Both are young, athletic, and two of the most charismatic competitors I have come across in recent years.
“Darrius’ movement in the cage is so elegant — he almost glides, he makes it look so effortless — but when it’s time to attack, he is swift, precise and he is merciless. And Dez’s Division I wrestling is a cut above. Both of these young gentleman have big, bright futures ahead of them that will blow our brains out, I believe. The world stage awaits them.”
Another highly anticipated NEF VII pro bout has Team Bombsquad’s Ahsan Abdullah challenging undefeated Ray “All Business” Wood of Bucksport in a 145-pound clash, while Team Bombsquad’s Matt Almy will face Brunswick’s Ernesto Ornelas at 125 pounds.
Team Bombsquad’s Rob Solveson is slated to face Dominic Cofone in a 125-pound amateur contest.
“As a promotion, we’ve run a very aggressive event schedule for the last year and a half and those guys have helped us pull it off,” said Peterson. “I can’t tell you how many late-night calls I have logged to (Team Bombsquad) head coach Ryan Ciotoli looking for last-minute replacements to fill out our cards. Bombsquad has always delivered.”