LEWISTON, Maine — The goal for the most ambitious of mixed martial arts practitioners is a chance to test themselves against the best of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
But the path to the major leagues of MMA is by nowhere near a straight line, and often is more a matter of a fighter being in the right place at the right time.
Classic Entertainment & Sports, a promoter based in Providence, Rhode Island with a long history in boxing, has parlayed that tradition and its more recent attention to mixed martial arts into a national broadcast contract with AXS-TV as one of several regional MMA outlets from around the country that rotate into a Friday night time slot.
Seven CES shows, most often based at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island, are scheduled to be televised this year with as many as 10 cards planned for AXS-TV in 2017.
Soon CES will share the benefits of its television access with the Maine-based New England Fights as they co-promote “Supremacy,” a show scheduled for Nov. 4 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston that will be broadcast by AXS-TV.
The collaboration will allow CES to expand its footprint into northernmost New England while providing both NEF and its fighters a chance to display their collective product before a global audience.
“A lot of other promotions might be threatened by this sort of set-up and partnership, but we welcome the chance to showcase the skills of Maine fighters,” said NEF co-owner Matt Peterson. “We know that we’re working with some of the best mixed martial arts prospects on the East Coast and I’m confident they will shine in this scenario.”
Those TV appearances attract draw even more attention to the promotion from the MMA world, as well as from fighters seeking to impress fans around the world and, more importantly, matchmakers at the top levels of the sport.
“I think we’ve become a gateway to the UFC,” said CES MMA chief operating officer Jimmy Burchfield Jr. “We’ve had close to two dozen guys over the last three years who have gone from CES to the UFC, and that’s a pretty cool thing.”
This won’t be the first time NEF fighters have been featured on an internationally televised or live-streamed card.
Several Maine fighters competed on the Bellator 93 card held in Lewiston in 2013, and more recently combatants from around the state have fought for the World Series of Fighting ( Bruce Boyington, Devin Powell), Bellator ( Ray Wood) and CES ( Ryan Sanders, Jon Lemke, Derek Shorey).
“A lot of the fighters from Maine have been really professional with everything from getting their paperwork in to the way they promote themselves for the fights,” said CES MMA director of operations Pat Sullivan. “Win or lose, they’ve always been very respectful toward their opponents and the fans, and the good thing about Maine is that it’s not so far away and when they come down here they win over the crowd immediately because they’re just so professional with the way they approach things. I think a big part of that is what they’ve learned as they’ve come up through NEF.”
This also won’t be the first time CES has taken its status as the only East Coast promotion in the AXS-TV rotation on the road.
“The goal is to provide East Coast fighters with a platform to showcase their talent,” said Sullivan. “We’ve been pretty comfortable doing that here in Rhode Island and Connecticut and Massachusetts, and when the opportunity presented itself to work with a company like NEF we felt it was a good idea to provide some other fighters that exposure.”
A collaboration with New England Fights has been in the conversational stage for months.
“Earlier this year .. we were involved in discussions that prevented us from acting on the opportunity,” said Peterson, who also worked collaboratively in August with UFC president and Hermon High School graduate Dana White to create an MMA card in Bangor for the “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” digital reality show.
“CES recently approached us again and the timing was right for us to set up a showdown between the two top promotions in New England and we’re thrilled to be doing it in front of Maine fans at the historic Androscoggin Bank Colisee here on NEF home soil,” he added.
NEF’s initial promotional material about the Nov. 4 show suggests a battle between the promotions but that likely will be just one part of the card, according to CES officials.
“It definitely makes sense if there are some fights we can match up between CES and NEF fighters, but the bottom line is we’ve got to put on really good fights for television,” said Burchfield.
Burchfield and Sullivan indicated that if November’s event is successful it could lead to an annual CES-NEF show in Maine.
“Hopefully if this materializes the way we think it will we can do this on a regular basis,” Sullivan said.