“The” Ryan Sanders was willing to fight virtually anyone during the first few years of mixed martial arts competition in Maine.

Now he’s having trouble finding anyone to fight.

Sanders (7-7) has been idle since mid-December, a long dry spell for a fighter who had five bouts in both 2012 and 2014 — a knee injury limited the Bangor resident to two fights in 2013.

And when he has fought, he’s battled many of the top-ranked competitors in New England, including two bouts covering eight rounds with Gil de Freitas, at 17-5 the No. 2-ranked welterweight in the Northeast. He also has squared off with former UFC contender Marcus Davis, undefeated Bellator MMA welterweight Michael Page and No. 3-ranked New England lightweight Ryan Quinn.

“Those guys are all very tough, so while I have some losses, they’ve been to the top guys in New England,” Sanders said. “So now guys who are ranked above me don’t want to take a fight because I’m a tough out, and a lot of guys who are mediocre or just starting out don’t want to fight me because, again, I’m a tough out. It’s hard to find fights for me right now.”

Sanders is ranked seventh in New England’s 170-pound welterweight division, according to Mass-MMA.com, but he’s working toward campaigning in the future as a lightweight (155 pounds), which may be another reason for a lack of opposition.

“I’ve been trying to get down to 155, and where I am coming down, it’s harder to get guys to fight me at catch weights like 160 pounds,” he said. “A lot of people as pros are already set in their weight classes, so they don’t like to go up or come down.”

Sanders suffered another setback of sorts recently when an open tryout for the 22nd season of “The Ultimate Fighter” MMA television series developed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship was postponed.

Sanders had made arrangements to attend the March 29 tryout in Las Vegas, Nevada, but won’t be able to attend the rescheduled event on April 27.

“I just can’t seem to catch a break in this sport,” said Sanders.

Yet that doesn’t stop him from working out regularly at Young’s MMA in Bangor, including time spent as a sparring partner for teammates Bruce Boyington and C.J. Ewer.

Both Boyington and Ewer are scheduled to fight on NEF’s April 11 card in Lewiston; Boyington in an NEF lightweight title defense against Jamie Harrison and Ewer against Connor Barry in a 165-pound amateur contest.

“I’ve been training pretty much five days a week, not as hard as I would be if I was in camp [preparing for a specific fight], but I try to get in there and mostly help out the guys who are training for fights,” he said.

Sanders hopes to resume training for a fight of his own soon, perhaps for a May bout in Portland.

“If not, I probably won’t be fighting until July, so I’ll go pretty much a half-year without fighting, which is unfortunate because it’s a young man’s sport,” said Sanders.

And while Sanders won’t turn 28 until June, the MMA veteran is inching closer to a career crossroads.

“I am getting older,” he said, “and with a lot of the guys in Bellator and UFC, I see their ages and some of them are in their early 30s, so I still haven’t passed my prime by any means. But I am definitely getting closer every day to my 30s, and ideally I’d like to be in a bigger promotion by the time I’m 30.

“Mentally it would be a lot easier on me knowing that I made it because I don’t want to be a thirtysomething holding on too long, because eventually I’ll have to give this up and get what people say is a ‘real job.’ But I’m just not done chasing that dream yet,” he said.

NEF to debut web series

New England Fights was scheduled to debut its web series “NEF All Access” at 7 p.m. Thursday on the promotion’s YouTube account at www.youtube.com/NEFMMA.

The half-hour program previews NEF’s next MMA event, “NEF XVII,” scheduled for April 11 in Lewiston. NEF MMA lightweight champion Bruce “Pretty Boy” Boyington (10-7) and his fiancee Randi Beth Knowles (0-0) will be profiled as they prepare for their respective bouts, along with Knowles’ opponent Alex Walker (0-0). A welterweight showdown between Dennis “The Menace” Olson (12-7) and Jarod “Last Minute” Lawton (4-1) also will be featured.

“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long, long time, but the stars just never aligned,” said NEF co-owner and promoter Nick DiSalvo, the executive producer and writer for the premiere episode.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...