Saturday, December 7, 2013
By Steve Craig email@example.com
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THE MAINE MAN: Dana White, who graduated from Hermon High School in 1987, helped build UFC from a struggling company with a bad reputation to one of the fastest growing promotions in sports.
White said he always had ideas about how fights should be promoted and "a lot of my ideas were right."
With the financial backing of brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the trio bought the rights to UFC in 2001 for a reported $2 million.
The organization was far from a money maker for the first three years.
"The reason we're still here and the reason it did work was my partners had the (guts) to stay in this thing when they were $44 million in the hole," White said. "The Ultimate Fighter (reality television show) was our last shot. If that didn't work, it would have been over."
Or would it?
Echoing White himself, Peterson said there is something elemental to a mixed martial arts fight that cuts across race, language and ethnic lines.
"It's the whole metaphor that if you're on a playground and there's kickball in one corner, football in another and tag in the third, if a fight breaks out in the fourth corner where does everyone immediately gather?" Peterson said. "MMA speaks to something primal but it's been perfected to the evolution of sport."
MMA huge in Maine
And there is still plenty of action at the grassroots level with hundreds of aspiring fighters training at dozens of MMA gyms that have popped up around Maine. A rare few, like Marcus Davis of Bangor, four-time Maine state wrestling champ Tim Boetsch of Lincolnville and former Standish native Mike Brown have already tasted professional fame in the UFC octagon. Brown is fighting on tonight's UFC undercard and Boetsch is on the UFC 166 fight card on Oct. 19. Davis is extending his career with Bellator MMA.
Others like Ray Wood, 24, of Bucksport -- with a 4-0 professional record and fast-growing fan base -- aspire to get there.
"That's the ultimate goal, to make it to the next level," Wood said. "That's my ultimate goal, the end of the tunnel."
After Peterson, 35, saw a few Massachusetts-based promotions failed to spark much interest in the state, he saw a need for a better show. He had done some matchmaking, produced a mixed-martial arts podcast (also called New England Fights), and served as a manager for his brother Jesse, a professional fighter.
Nick DiSalvo, a lawyer in Billerica, Mass., also had a desire to start a New England fight program. DiSalvo had already targeted Lewiston as the right place to establish a new MMA brand, due to its history of supporting boxing and pro wrestling, when he called Peterson.
"You get a call from a Massachusetts lawyer you're definitely going to be suspicious," Peterson laughed.
They quickly found they shared a vision of how to produce local MMA fights and strong cumulative collection of regional contacts, but also knew they would have to combat the negative image of a cage fight.
"It is a spectacle," Peterson said. "I can appreciate that to some people it just looks like two guys who fell off a bar stool and got in a cage to hammer it out. Where in fact it's the furthest thing from the truth."
In Maine, Peterson and DiSalvo will promote seven shows this year, six under the NEF banner including NEF X at the Colisee in Lewiston on Sept. 21. NEF also co-promoted and made several of the matches on last March's nationally televised Bellator MMA show at the Colisee. Bellator is generally regarded as the world's second largest professional MMA organization behind UFC.
The fight cards in Lewiston have drawn an average of 3,000 fans. Other shows have sold out the Biddeford Ice Arena. This summer NEF put on its first outdoor show on the Bangor waterfront.
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