LEWISTON, Maine — The mixed martial arts cage can be the land of the great unknown for any fighter making a first attempt at the sport.

Randi Beth Knowles experienced that mystery first hand Saturday night.

“I didn’t really have any vision for how this was going to go,” said Knowles after scoring a three-round unanimous decision over fellow rookie Alex Walker of Lancaster, New Hampshire.

Their women’s strawweight (115-pound) bout was part of the amateur undercard for NEF XVII, an MMA show at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“It was a first-time thing and I was just trying to feel it out,” Knowles added. “But I was happy it went the distance and with the outcome.”

Knowles, the fiancee of NEF lightweight champion Bruce “Pretty Boy” Boyington — their wedding is scheduled for May 16 — won all three rounds according to one judge and two of the three rounds according to the other two judges.

“She really looked like a true MMA fighter tonight,” said Emily Peters-Kagan, a Bangor native and UFC women’s strawweight competitor who was in Knowles’ corner for the fight along with Chris Young of Young’s MMA in Bangor.

“She has a lot to learn but she really performed. She didn’t give up. She worked her striking, she worked her cage control and her takedowns and managed to maintain top control on the ground so she really did a fabulous job. And she won the crowd. She was outstanding.”

Boyington, who later lost to Jamie Harrison in NEF XVII’s main event, watched the early rounds of Knowles’ bout from the outer reaches of the Colisee before moving closer to the cage for the final moments.

He had been instrumental in getting Knowles to try MMA.

When Boyington opened his taekwondo studio in Bangor last year, Knowles began training there as well as continuing her fitness training at Young’s MMA.

Without telling Knowles, he contacted NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson about the possibility of getting her an MMA bout.

When Boyington told his fiancee, she jumped at the opportunity, perhaps no surprise given her competitive background in figure competitions, a discipline similar to bodybuilding.

But while there is hard work involved in training for figure competitions, Knowles found it was nothing compared the one-on-one combat of the cage.

“I had to perform tonight,” she said. “Normally when I compete in figures I kind of get all pretty and pose. This was different. It was physical.”

Much of Knowles’ battle against Walker was contested in the standing position, with Walker trying to land strikes and Knowles seeking to cinch in a guillotine choke.

The fight went more to the ground as it continued, but Knowles largely was able to maintain top position.

“My intention wasn’t to stand and bang with her,” she said, “but that’s where it went and I’m happy it did because now I know I can handle that.”

As the waning seconds of the three-round, nine-minute bout ticked down, both debuting combatants were fatigued.

“In the third round my arms were very exhausted, but I knew she was exhausted as well,” said Knowles. “I could feel it.

“The last 20 seconds we were on the ground I knew she was tired and just trying to hold me there, and I was kind of letting it happen because I was tired, too.”

Kagan, who participated in the UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned” nationally televised series last fall, was impressed by Knowles’ performance given her limited background in the sport.

“She made the decision to take this fight within a couple months of the fight so she’s really new to the game,” said Kagan, “but she’s strong and athletic and in the time I had to work with her you could tell that she’s a really fast learner. She’s very committed and has a good heart, strong willpower and a strong mind so I was very confident.

“I hope she is able to reflect on this night with confidence and use that to fuel her toward her next one.”

Whether there will be a encore fight for Knowles isn’t yet known — there are other priorities for the near future.

“Possibly,” she said. “We’ll see. I’ve got a wedding to plan.”

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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...