BANGOR, Maine — There were more than mere prefight emotions in play as the fighters and coaches at Young’s MMA awaited the city’s first-ever mixed martial card Friday evening.
The Bangor-based gym, along with Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy of Brewer, were the host teams of sorts for “Nations Collide: Canadian Invasion,” the 14-fight show promoted by New England Fights and Waterfront Concerts.
And at Young’s, at least, there was a feeling of added pressure to ensure a quality event in hopes of making the MMA world a more frequent visitor to the Queen City.
“It was very surreal,” said Young’s MMA owner Chris Young of the scene at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion where more than 3,000 people turned out to watch the outdoor card. “It was a lot of work because we usually just travel, get our job done and go back home and when you travel to the venue you have the sense of no responsibility except that you have to fight.
“Fighting in our own backyard was different,” he continued. “It was great to sleep in our own beds but there was a different anxiety because we felt responsible about how the show went. A lot of our gym members helped set up and did a lot of the work, so we were really nervous about how the aesthetics were going to play out.
“It was a lot of fun, though — very stressful, but a lot of fun. Every time we stepped out on that stage the crowd was electric. In the gym I’m usually pretty stoic, I don’t show emotion that much. But I had to hold back giddy grins every time I stepped out on the platform because the crowd was just amazing,” he said.
Young’s stress level was relieved during the professional portion of the show when three of his fighters electrified the crowd with high-energy performances that produced quick victories. That effort was capped off by Bucksport’s Ray “All Business” Wood capturing the inaugural NEF featherweight (145-pound) title by forcing Canadian Lenny Wheeler to tap out by guillotine choke just 61 seconds into their match.
“I didn’t expect 61 seconds and I did not expect a guillotine choke,” said Young. “It’s funny because we always talk about Ray finishing his chokes more in the gym. His percentage in the gym isn’t very high, so when he pulled that guillotine choke out we were all kind of slack-jawed thinking, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’”
Wood, who improved his pro record to 4-0 with the victory, was buoyed by the fan response to the show, which was held under clear skies and temperatures falling into the upper 60s by the time the final fight ended just before 11 p.m.
“That crowd was amazing,” said Wood. “I definitely think this solidified mixed martial arts in Bangor.”
Wood’s victory was preceded by similar first-period victories by Young’s teammates Bruce Boyington and Damon Owens.
Owens, making his professional debut, knocked out John “First Class” Raio with a kick to the right temple 35 seconds into their featherweight bout.
“Damon has always been more of a striker and the amateur rules were a little bit of a handicap for him because he wants to elbow, he wants to knee because they’re both good weapons to use against people trying to take him down,” said Young. “The pro rules [in which fighters are not required to wear shin guards] were definitely more of a fit for Damon.”
The immediate aftermath of that knockout was one of concern, as Raio — a Portland postal worker who lives in Topsham — is one of the more popular fighters on the NEF MMA circuit and it took several minutes before he could leave the cage for his post-fight medical checkup.
“It was a little bittersweet because to tell you the truth I wish my opponent was a bad guy, but he’s a good guy, I like him a lot,” said Owens. “We actually traded shirts before the fight, and I plan on training with him a lot. I don’t like to see anybody hurt like that, especially someone like John.”
Boyington required even less time, just 28 seconds of the opening round, to defeat Asa Zorn with a flurry of unanswered strikes after Zorn was unsuccessful with an early takedown attempt.
“We’ve been working Bruce’s takedown defense and his wrestling and jujitsu a lot,” said Young. This was a good fight for Bruce coming off [neck] surgery, I didn’t think he was going to fight at this event and he was devastated about that thought but you can’t fool around with your neck.
“But when Asa Zorn’s name popped up, we thought it was a good fit, a good chance for Bruce to get onto the card and enjoy fighting in front of his fans. That was a case of everything falling into place.”