LEWISTON, Maine — Bruce Boyington has to be considered a late bloomer when it comes to mixed martial arts.

The 36-year-old Brewer resident will carry a 12-8 professional record into his New England Fights lightweight title defense against Jon Lemke in the main event of NEF 21 on Saturday night at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

The majority of that success has come lately.

The fighter known as “Pretty Boy” won both the NEF and Massachusetts-based Cage FX lightweight titles in 2014, then was named both most improved and breakthrough fighter of the year by New England MMA after a 2015 campaign highlighted by a victory over Rodrigo Almeida on a national-level World Series of Fighting card at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.

“I actually wish I could have done a little more [in 2015],” said Boyington. “If I had a few more fights, I could have really put a stamp on it. The fights I had went well, but that was one of my less active years as far as fighting goes.”

Boyington has won his last three bouts and six of his last seven, and he hopes to build on that success this year with a return to a national promotion.

But first Boyington will need to prevent the 37-year-old Lemke of Brewer from achieving late-bloomer status at his expense in what has been billed as the “Battle for Bangor.”

The Boyington-Lemke clash is one of 26 contests on the NEF 21 card, which begins at 7 p.m.

Those include six professional MMA contests, 17 amateur MMA matchups and three pro boxing fights, highlighted by 10-1 Brandon “The Cannon” Berry squaring off against 2-0 Tollison Lewis in a battle of super welterweights.

NEF officials have scheduled the Boyington-Lemke and Berry-Lewis bouts 13th and 14th on the card, a change from previous shows when main events were the last bouts of the show and often did not take place until late in the evening.

Boyington and Lemke will be fighting not only for themselves but for their rival gyms, with Boyington training out of Young’s MMA in Bangor and Lemke training at Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy in Brewer.

Lemke fought just once in 2015, a first-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Matt Denning in November 2015 that earned him this title shot.

“I’m very much refreshed,” said Lemke, who, like Boyington, is a Marine Corps veteran. “I was burnt out a lot last year. I had just got done working nights, and working full time and training full time I was really burning the candle at both ends and it burned me out.”

Lemke was supposed to fight John Ortolani for what was the vacant NEF lightweight title in September 2013 but failed to show up for the weigh-in.

“It was a big fiasco,” he said, attributing the no-show to circumstances at his gym that led to him being unable to make weight. “No excuses, but leading into that fight, I had a bad weight cut, and I just panicked. I had an anxiety attack, and I just couldn’t go through with it.

“I had to take a step back, and I was very inconsistent after that and just dealing with issues,” he said.

Lemke is appreciative for this second title chance, but he acknowledges the momentum his opponent has generated.

“Bruce has done very, very well for himself,” said Lemke. “He’s won belts in multiple [promotions] and had a national fight with World Series of Fighting. This fight was something I kind of figured would happen and just fighting for that belt is an added bonus and very much an opportunity I’m grateful for. It’s going to be great.”

This marks Boyington’s final bout on his NEF contract, and while he doesn’t rule out returning to the regional promotion, he has larger ambitions.

“This year I think I’m going to sit back a little more. I have this fight, and then I’m going to hold out for some bigger fights,” he said.

He’s already been contacted by Bellator MMA about a possible appearance, but with one win already for WSOF and that promotion reportedly returning to Foxwoods in June and Springfield, Massachusetts, in July, he hopes to land a bout on one of those shows.

“We’re kind of eyeing a fight with them if everything goes right,” said Boyington.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...