When Devin Powell’s band broke up not long after his graduation from Marshwood High School in South Berwick, merely joining the working world didn’t provide him enough of a rush.
So he looked elsewhere for that excitement — and found it in mixed martial arts.
“It’s a lot more violent than music,” said Powell, who now lives in Wells. “But you’re out there playing on a stage and everybody’s looking at you so if you practice hard and work hard at your craft it really shows when you’re out there.”
Little did Powell know when he first tried mixed martial arts that nine years later his search for excitement would lead him to the top of the sport.
Powell, now 28, has earned a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship through his performance during the taping of the “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” web-based reality show at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Aug. 5.
That show involves White, the UFC president and 1987 Hermon High School graduate, and two of his buddies traveling around the world sampling local culture and sitting in on local MMA promotions in search of UFC-level talent.
Powell, the reigning New England Fights lightweight champion, was a late addition to the card but overcame a broken nose suffered in the opening moments of his bout with Jon Lemke to score his sixth consecutive victory by first-round rear-naked choke submission.
“I got the call three weeks out from the fight while I was out at a concert enjoying myself with some friends and my fiancee and having some drinks,” said Powell. “I get a call asking if I want to fill in in front of Dana White and of course I said yes.
“So I popped in there and right off the bat pretty much got my nose broken in half. I didn’t back up or anything but kept pushing forward and battled through that injury and got the big finish. I think they liked that and my energy and my attitude. I think he also liked when I hopped up on top of the cage afterward and asked him if my nose was broken.”
Powell left Bangor that night without a contract in hand, but that came on Aug. 13. He was told to keep the deal private while production continued for the reality show episode, which is expected to be aired in early 2017 on the Netflix streaming service.
But now Powell (8-1) has his first scheduled UFC fight, a Jan. 15, 2017 lightweight battle with Jordan Rinaldi (12-5) as part of UFC Fight Night 103 at Phoenix, Arizona, and the secret is out.
“Last Saturday I had to corner three fighters on a Cage Titans card (in Plymouth, Massachusetts),” said Powell, the owner of Nostos MMA in Somersworth, New Hampshire. “On the way there I get an email from (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva and it was very, very straightforward. It just said, “Devin Powell vs. Jordan Rinaldi, FS1 No. 55, Phoenix, Arizona, Jan. 15.
“It didn’t say anything else, that’s kind of how it is. They tell you who you’re going to fight and if you’re healthy you go and do it.”
The straightforwardness of the email was medicinal for Powell, who had been waiting to learn of his immediate UFC future.
“I was definitely anxious,” he said. “After I got the fight I asked if the show would be out by then and they said they think it will be January or February so it might not even out by the time I fight. But now at least I have something to prepare for and I can let my mind focus on that.”
That Powell has become the latest Maine mixed martial arts fighter to move up from the NEF ranks to the national level — Ray Wood now competes for Bellator MMA while Bruce Boyington has a multifight contract with the World Series of Fighting — may be surprising only because 2016 has been one of his more injury-plagued years in the cage.
He hurt his back while winning the NEF lightweight belt with a first-round TKO of Jesse Erickson in April, then defeated Tom Marcellino on a WSOF card in June at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut before his brief but physical encounter with Lemke in Bangor — where he also suffered a torn lateral collateral ligament.
Since then Powell’s largely been in recovery mode.
“In all three of those fights I couldn’t even come close to touching my toes because my of lower back and my hip,” he said, “but I’m finally feeling like my body’s getting into proper order and I’m getting a bit of my health back.”
Powell’s recent training regimen has a newfound focus on explosive power and power endurance through his work with Andrew Moores of Atlantic Karate in North Hampton, New Hampshire.
“Those things are brand new to me and It’s been huge,” said Powell. “It’s definitely a dynamic with UFC fighters that separates them from a lot of the lower-tier MMA leagues. A lot of the guys are pretty even with striking and grappling, but the strength and the endurance is something that’s special for those athletes who get good training with the best in the world. I feel like I’m getting that now.”
Powell plans to continue his preparations for his UFC debut in a different setting next week — his mother’s side of his family is from Allagash in northernmost Maine.
“I get up there a couple of times a year, including for a week at Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. There’s no cell phone reception, it’s nice and calm and you can be alone with your thoughts.
“It will be great. I can do some Rocky-esque training this Thanksgiving for that fight.”