Despite Dana White’s initial reluctance with the concept, the presence of women’s divisions has become one of the biggest areas of growth in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

But while the UFC president now embraces the idea and Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate have become household names within the industry worldwide, female mixed martial arts combatants at the regional levels of the sport aren’t nearly as numerous.

But for Rachael Joyce of Veazie and Jessica Borga of Lakeland, Florida, patience has paid off. Each will end a nearly one-year break from competition when they face off Saturday night as part of NEF 25 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

The show, which starts at 7 p.m., is scheduled to feature three professional boxing matches, five pro mixed martial arts bouts and five amateur MMA contests.

“Matching women’s fights I liken to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack,” said NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson of Rumford. “It’s incredibly challenging due to the lack of females competing in the sport — hence why we’re bringing in Jessica Borga from Florida this weekend to compete against Rachael Joyce.

“But at the same time, the payoff is almost always extraordinary because the women’s bouts bring down the house when we feature them — they tend to steal the show and put on ‘fight of the night’ performances.”

Joyce, whose training camps include Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy in Brewer, takes a 1-0 amateur record into the bantamweight (135-pound) bout.

“I’ve had one fight, last October. I’ve found it really hard to find fights,” said Joyce, who holds a civil engineering degree from the University of Maine. “It’s just tough. Maine doesn’t have the population density for it. It’s just hard to find that pool of fighters.

“Early in your career you want to build that experience close to home. It’s the best thing for your whole team, given the commitment that is involved.”

Borga, a veterinary technician back in the Sunshine State, is coming off a loss in her most recent bout last November but had to compete in the 125-pound flyweight division and as a result fought nearly 10 pounds below her natural fighting weight.

“My coach has scheduled fights for me that have fallen through,” said Borga. “I was supposed to fight eight times this year, and this will be my first one.”

Borga believes women face added pressure to make significant weight cuts due to the lack of available competition.

“I learned that I will never fight at 125 again,” Borga said. “It was my own fault. I lost 25 pounds in two weeks. I was sick in camp, and I fought sick.”

Joyce, a former three-sport high school athlete, said she had opportunities to fight in New Jersey earlier this year but those bouts also would have required a significant weight cut to compete in the flyweight or strawweight (115-pound) divisions.

She looks forward to returning to the cage against Borga.

“When an opponent is flying up from Florida, that’s exciting,” Joyce said. “It shows that she’s really committed to it. It is hard to find opponents who are as committed as you are.”

Peterson is optimistic that more women eventually will take up mixed martial arts at the local and regional levels.

“We hope that as the promotion continues to grow and as gyms in the state and throughout New England continue to expand that more female fighters will enter the fray so that we continue to put on exciting bouts for the fans because the women always deliver,” he said.

‘Relentless’ Lacey inks NEF pact

Aaron “Relentless” Lacey may not have received an Ultimate Fighting Championship contract after his split-decision victory over John Santos at the “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” show in Bangor last month, but the Brewer High School graduate and Young’s MMA fighter did not come up empty.

Lacey, 2-0 as a pro, recently signed a multi-fight developmental deal with the Maine-based New England Fights promotion and will compete in his first fight under that pact against Cory Trial at NEF 25 on Saturday night.

“I’m very happy to be signing with NEF,” said Lacey, who was 6-1 as an amateur and won the NEF MMA amateur featherweight championship before turning pro. “It’s a big step forward in my career and it shows that they have the utmost confidence in my ability.

“My last fight was an absolute war, but I was fortunate enough to get out of it without any serious injuries. If I’m healthy, I’m fighting — it’s my passion.”

Trial, a 41-year-old who fights out of Ruthless MMA & Boxing in Benton, will make his pro debut after an amateur career that included the fastest knockout in NEF MMA history — a seven-second stoppage of Corey Hinkley in June 2015.

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...