When Jesse Erickson weighs in for Saturday night’s NEF 42 mixed martial arts bout against undefeated Josh Harvey at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, he won’t be giving away nearly the poundage he did for one of his most recent athletic competitions.
The 32-year-old Auburn man, who stands 5-foot-11 and competes in MMA’s 155-pound lightweight division, recently took on a competitor simply known as Bart who stands 8-foot-6, 1,400 pounds.
Bart is a grizzly bear, a big grizzly bear, that Erickson battled during an episode of “Man vs. Bear,” a television series on The Discovery Channel.
Erickson was one of three people trying to accumulate points against each other while squaring off against three bears in a series of athletic challenges that included a tug-of-war, tree climbing and an eating contest — all events that reflected the bears’ existence rather than human experience.
The eating contest, for example, involved silkworms. The bear won.
The final challenge of the episode — which aired on Jan. 20 — pitted Erickson and Bart virtually head to head in a battle of strength, separated only by a giant ball that Bart was working to move against his smaller foe.
“I was close enough to feel his breath and smell it,” said Erickson, head coach at Central Maine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Auburn. “It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Erickson finished second in his episode, which was taped last summer at a Utah wildlife sanctuary where the bears — males Bart and Tank and female Honey Bump — live and are cared for after being adopted by caretakers Doug and Lynne Seus.
Erickson originally was contacted via Instagram about applying for the show, then after ignoring the original query a Discovery Channel representative called his gym, and finally the MMA veteran known as “The Viking” acquiesced.
“My wife’s a huge reality TV person so she was way more excited about it than I was when I told her,” he said. “She said you’ve got to do it.
“I fight people in a cage for money, so when I say I’m going on a reality TV show that might be dangerous, she’s used to that.”
Now it’s back to the MMA cage for Erickson, who brings a 9-8 record into Saturday night’s co-main event against Harvey.
Erickson will be looking for his second win in his last three bouts after suffering a first-round loss to Dylan Lockhard in his most recent MMA contest last June.
Harvey (7-0-1) presents another formidable challenge.
The 29-year-old, a former two-time 152-pound state wrestling champion from Dexter Regional High School, has scored all seven of his professional victories by first-round stoppage. The most recent victory came in September against Dominic Jones at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono.
“We’ve cross-trained together before, but usually when you’re working out like that you’re not always going 100 percent,” Erickson said. “I’m looking forward to the fight.”
Erickson said that, if nothing else, his battles against Bart the bear have been beneficial to his MMA career from a marketing perspective.
“Who thinks they’re going to get called to go on a random reality show about competing against bears?” he said. “It was out of the blue but I think it was pretty good exposure.
“It moved a lot of tickets for this fight. It got a lot of good press. People seemed to enjoy the episode. Even though I didn’t win, people said, ‘You did great,” so it’s great to hear that the community has supported me.”