Glory Watson (right) takes instruction from Young's MMA owner Chris Young during a July 2018 training session in Bangor. Watson is scheduled to fight Rachael Lippert of Wisconsin in a 125-pound mixed martial arts bout during Friday night's NEF 37 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Credit: Gabor Degre

Glory Watson isn’t quite sure how to spend the extra time she’ll have between Thursday’s weigh-ins and Friday night’s New England Fights mixed martial arts show at the Cross Insurance Center.

Normally she and her teammates at Young’s MMA in Bangor spend that time packing and then traveling south for shows two or more hours away. This time, they’ll have the home-cage advantage for a winter show.

While NEF has made five previous appearances in Bangor since 2013, NEF 37 marks the first non-summer card held in the Queen City and may portend a more frequent schedule of appearances in eastern Maine.

“It’s weird,” said Watson, an undefeated amateur who takes a 2-0 record into her 125-pound bout against 4-2 Rachael Lippert, a Wisconsin product. “Thinking about what I’m going to do after weigh-ins is weird, thinking about what I’m going to do all day Friday before the fights is weird, and the fight is on Friday, which is different because the fights usually are on Saturday.”

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NEF officials announced Tuesday that Friday’s show, which is headlined by a battle for the promotion’s pro featherweight title between unbeaten Josh Harvey and veteran Bill Jones, has sold out the 1,200-seat grand ballroom at the Cross Center.

It marks the fourth sellout for NEF in as many appearances at that venue, beginning in August 2016 when it teamed with Ultimate Fighting Championship president and Hermon High School graduate Dana White to stage a card for his “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” webcast.

That show sold out, as did subsequent NEF promotions in August 2017 and September 2018.

“We go where the fans want us to go,” NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson of Rumford said. “Right now, NEF fans wanted to see more fights in Bangor so that’s why we’re headed back to the northern region of the state so soon. It’s a wonderful, welcoming city loaded with a lot of mixed martial arts talent and we love having the opportunity to put on a fight there.”

Friday’s 8 p.m. card features two professional bouts and nine amateur contests — including a battle for the NEF amateur featherweight belt between Bangor’s Fred Lear (6-2) and Zac Richard (3-0) of Nostos MMA in Somersworth, New Hampshire.

Lear, Harvey and Watson are three of eight fighters on the card based at Young’s MMA. A ninth fight involving another eastern Maine competitor has Devin Corson of The Outlet in Dexter facing Taylor Bartlett of Central Maine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Lewiston in an amateur lightweight matchup.

Not only do the local fighters not have to travel for their bouts, they’re likely to have the fans on their side.

“When you’re fighting in your own backyard, for the people who have been to the events, just the roar of the crowd cheering your name in a sport that’s so heavy into the mental aspect of it is huge,” Young’s MMA owner and chief trainer Chris Young said. “That could be the push that gets you through a tough time in the cage.”

That home edge also can be helpful to the fighters’ pocketbooks, as they earn a sales commission on tickets they sell and it’s a lot easier to sell them to fans who likewise don’t have to travel as far to see the bouts.

Watson, for instance, took her fight on less than a month’s notice but with the show in Bangor said she sold approximately the same number of tickets for NEF 37 in less time than she did for her previous bouts, both of which were held at the Aura nightclub in Portland.

“It’s a hardship for northern-based fighters to sell to their fans when people have to drive sometimes upwards of several hours in order to watch their favorite fighters compete outside of the region,” Peterson said.

That ability to sell tickets may make the difference between a fighter continuing to pursue MMA and giving it up.

“A lot of these fighters, especially the amateur fighters, that’s where they make their money, and amateurs train just as hard as the pros,” Young said. “Some of these people will make a thousand dollars from their ticket commissions and that helps pay for expenses.”

Having more shows in Bangor also is good for business at the local training facility.

“When NEF was fighting out of Lewiston, all of the gyms down there started flourishing,” Young said. “There was a buzz around town, kids down there wanted to do MMA, and it pulls a lot of that interest in.”

“Now that we’re getting something consistent in Bangor, it’s created a lot of buzz here. Kids go to their parents and say, ‘I want to train in this,’ and we’re seeing an influx of kids joining our kids classes. It’s great for the economy of the gym. It’s huge.”

NEF announced Wednesday that it will return to Aura in Portland for its next show, NEF 38, on Saturday, April 27, but don’t expect NEF 37 to be the promotion’s final stop in Bangor this year.

“If the fans want us back, we’ll come back to Bangor again in 2019,” Peterson said. “We’re looking forward to another sold-out event on Friday and some fantastic fights and if the fans like what they see and want us to come back again this year, we’ll be back.”

Live streaming planned

For fans who don’t have tickets to Friday’s sold-out show, NEF has contracted with local video production company Digital Workshop to produce a live stream for the event. Fans may watch the stream at NEF’s official Youtube page: Commentary will be provided by Ryan Jarrell and Bryan Stackpole of the Between the Rounds podcast.

Also available via live stream will be weigh-ins for Friday’s card, which are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Sea Dog Restaurant, 26 Front St., Bangor. The weigh-ins are open to the public.

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...