LEVANT, Maine — All the world is a potential stage for Dana White as he seeks to expand the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s reach to every corner of the globe.
But could the continuing quest for growth by the planet’s largest mixed martial organization include Bangor as a destination point?
Nothing is definite, but with White’s Eastern Maine ties as a 1987 Hermon High School graduate who returns to the area several times each year to vacation with his family, the possibility of a UFC card at the soon-to-be opened Cross Insurance Center already is in the discussion stages.
“I’m trying, and working with my team, to bring a UFC event to Bangor,” said the 43-year-old White, who for the last 13 years has served as president of the Las Vegas-based UFC. “The arena is new, it’s all redone. The [Hollywood] casino is there now, and I’m doing everything in my power to try to bring the UFC here.
“I think it would be really big for the city to bring the UFC here. Obviously people fly in from all over the world for UFC events, plus it would be on television all over the world so it would be big for the city if I could pull it off.”
Mike Dyer, general manager of the Cross Insurance Center, indicated that the interest is mutual.
“Certainly we’d be very interested in that happening,” he said.
Dyer said White was given a hard-hat tour of the new facility last summer while it was in the midst of the construction process, and initial subsequent contacts between UFC bookers and Cross Insurance Center representatives did not immediately yield workable dates.
“But I’m excited that Dana White said he’s still interested in bringing the UFC to Bangor,” Dyer said.
White has taken notice of the flourishing mixed martial arts scene within Maine since the sport was legalized by the state Legislature in 2009.
That growth has been evidenced the the proliferation of MMA-based training centers around the state, the Rumford-based New England Fights promotion routinely drawing between 2,500 and 3,500 fans to Lewiston for several cards during the last 18 months, and NEF’s ambitious schedule of three shows around the state this summer, beginning with an outdoor event set for Friday, July 12, at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor.
Bellator MMA, the nation’s second-largest mixed martial arts promotion, also hosted a nationally televised card from Lewiston on March 21.
“It’s booming,” said White. “If you look at how many schools in Bangor are teaching mixed martial arts, everybody’s been talking about the Waterfront fights, and you’ve had the fights that just happened in Lewiston and there’s been fights down in Portland. It’s booming here in Maine.”
And while the seating capacity of approximately 8,000 at the Cross Insurance Center slated to open in September doesn’t rank with some of the larger arenas and stadiums across the country that typically host UFC events, that hasn’t deterred White from considering the Queen City as a viable location for a future show.
“It’s not the greatest, obviously I would love to have more [seating], but it is what it is here,” said White. “But the arena is updated, it’s beautiful. I would really like to do it.”
White’s immediate attention — beyond winding down a family visit to the area this week for some fun, relaxation and a fireworks show Wednesday evening — is on a couple of upcoming events.
His promotion’s next major show, UFC 162, is scheduled for July 6 in Las Vegas. That card will be headlined by a middleweight title bout between long-time champion Anderson Silva and undefeated Chris Weidman, but also on the main card is another middleweight fight between one of two Mainers currently in the UFC, Lincolnville native Tim Boetsch, and Mark Munoz.
Both Boetsch and Munoz are ranked among the top 10 fighters in their weight class, with the winner expected to move closer to consideration for a title shot.
“[Boetsch is] one of the big fights next Saturday on the card,” said White. “Not only is that a big fight, but it’s a big fight for the 185-pound division. He’s 16-5 and been on a tear lately but going up against Munoz is a tough fight. It’s going to be a great fight. If Boetsch beats Munoz it’s a big deal, that would be a big win for him.”
Then there’s the UFC’s stop to Boston on Aug. 17 for a card that will include the return to the octagon of 37-year-old Mike Brown, a Portland native and graduate of Bonny Eagle High School in Standish who went on to become the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion. Brown will square off against Swede Akira Corassani in a preliminary bout.
And short of making a Bangor show happening, the promotion’s first appearance at the TD Garden since 2010 may be as close as a live UFC card comes to the area — for now.
“One of the things I always say,” said White, “is that a lot of people up here probably have seen the UFC on TV and it’s great, it’s fun to watch on TV, but if you have never seen the UFC live you have got to see it. It’s the most exciting live sporting event you will ever see.“
The Aug. 17 card also will mark the beginning of the UFC’s status as primary programming on Fox Sports 1, which will debut as an all-sports cable television channel that day.
“The UFC has had a lot of milestones over the last 13 years since we bought it, and it’s one thing we always to do,” said White. “We’ve been on some great networks, but we’re a sport and we’ve always wanted to be on a sports channel, and now we’re finally there.”