November 22, 2019
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How the Collins Center for the Arts is becoming a venue for mixed martial arts

Micky Bedell | BDN
Micky Bedell | BDN
A large audience fills the Collins Center for the Arts from top to bottom in this 2016 file photo.

Athletics and many of the performing arts boast similar foundations of physicality, focus and perseverance.

That includes mixed martial arts, where Ultimate Fighting Championship analyst Joe Rogan once described former middleweight world title holder Anderson Silva’s style as “a ballet of violence.”

“That to me encapsulates the duality of what you’re witnessing in the cage, the contrast between the brutality and the elegance of it all at once,” said Matt Peterson, co-owner and matchmaker of the Maine-based New England Fights MMA promotion.

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Such a crossroads between sport and the arts will be in evidence on Saturday night at the University of Maine in Orono when NEF stages its production of “NEF 40: School of Hard Knocks” at the Collins Center for the Arts.

Seventeen bouts are scheduled beginning at 7 p.m., headlined by a professional matchup at 160 pounds between undefeated Dexter native Josh Harvey and once-beaten Dominic Jones and a battle for the NEF amateur featherweight crown between champion Tom Pagliarulo and challenger Jimmy Jackson of Young’s MMA in Bangor.

James Walker | New England Fights
James Walker | New England Fights
Josh Harvey

Other competitors on the card include one of New England’s top amateur women’s competitors in undefeated strawweight Glory Watson as well as popular Bangor-area welterweight Fred Lear, both of Young’s MMA.

“The arts is a very broad term,” said Danny Williams, executive director of the Collins Center. “There’s a form of dance that’s based off martial arts, so the lines are getting blurred and crossed all the time.

“Certainly there’s a production element about [MMA], and when the audience gets here they’re wanting to see some good action, which is the same thing other audiences that come here want — to see a good show.”

The Collins Center seats 1,425 on its main floor and balcony, slightly more than the home of NEF’s most recent eastern Maine stops, the main ballroom of the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“The real attractive thing to me about this venue was the tiered seating,” Peterson said. “I think that’s going to make for a more optimal viewing experience for people as opposed to one level of seating.

“We’re excited to bring some kinetic artistry to the place this weekend.”

Peterson first witnessed a form of kinetic artistry at the Collins Center more than 20 years ago while watching a performance of traditional Taiko drumming.

Similar acts that have frequented the Collins Center since its opening in September 1986 have reflected the physicality required in many performing arts disciplines that sometimes draws comparisons to athletics.

“It’s not as far a departure as you might think,” Williams said. “I’m not sure I’d call [MMA] the performing arts. All of those other performances that come in are considered performances, this is more of a sport, but there are some parallels to be sure and probably the closest parallels are the Cirque [du Soleil] shows and other shows that require some physicality, like the drummers and acrobats and even ballet. A lot of the dance is very, very physical, bordering on gymnastics.”

While Williams sees the physicality in some performing arts, Peterson — who as a former state legislator was instrumental in the legalization of mixed martial arts in Maine a decade ago — sees the artistry in MMA as combatants combine a myriad of martial arts to earn competitive success.

“The best fights to me are the ones that have a lot of movement in them,” he said. “It’s incredible when you see a spectacular knockout or submission that happens quickly, but when you have fights that are just packed with movement under the most strenuous of conditions, it’s elegant. It’s graceful.

“To me it’s pure poetry.”

The mixed martial arts show does mark a first for the Collins Center, though the facility’s offerings over the years have stretched beyond the performing arts to include political rallies, troop sendoffs, and homecomings and numerous university-related activities ranging from orientation sessions to blood drives.

“We had a lot of internal discussions about this when NEF approached us about this, and we said, ‘Why not?’” Williams said.



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