MMA fighter Glory Watson Credit: Courtesy of Monty Rand Photography

Glory Watson was poised to make her professional mixed martial arts debut last April on a New England Fights card at the University of Maine in Orono.

Then COVID-19 struck, and everything — including local MMA — stopped.

Nearly a year later, the 26-year-old Watson has a new date for her pro debut: March 27 in Plant City, Florida, just outside of Tampa.

Watson, who went 6-1 as an amateur and won the NEF flyweight (125-pound) title, will compete in the 115-pound strawweight division for Triton Fights. The New York-based promotion is staging this show in Florida because of pandemic gathering restrictions in the Empire State similar to those that have shut down the mixed martial arts business in Maine.

While the promotion hasn’t announced the name of Watson’s opponent, Kyle Carroll of mymmanews.com interviewed Triton Fights matchmaker Chris Macci and subsequently said Watson will take on Ariana Melendez of Orlando, Florida.

Melendez also will be making her professional debut after going 3-2 as an amateur.

“My opponent has a similar experience level, it’s her pro debut as well as mine, which is difficult to find right now because a lot of the people who are pro are staying pro and the amateurs are all having trouble staying motivated,” Watson said.

Watson last fought on Nov. 19, 2019, dropping a five-round unanimous decision to Oklahoman Cara Greenwell in their battle for the vacant NEF amateur strawweight title.

That marked Watson’s lone defeat during a seven-fight blitz through the region’s amateur ranks that began with her debut in June 2018. Subsequent plans for her first professional bout in early 2020 were no match for the coronavirus.

“It 100 percent got in the way,” she said. “The plan was to fight Cara and then make my pro debut a maximum of six months later, but COVID pushed everything back so far because there haven’t been any local events.”

The shutdown has been significant.

“We actually ended up almost completely stopping training because it was just too risky to work with other people. I had two mats in a 6-by-6 space in the house so I had a minimal amount of space to work with. My roommate [Kira Innocenti], who’s also my manager, was letting me work with her so I was drilling with her to stay active.”

Watson’s pool of training partners has grown slightly since then, but remains limited. Coach Chris Young of Young’s MMA, Aaron Lacey, Rich Martel and Jayce Murphy have been helping her prepare for a potential fight.

“If I had been planning to stay amateur it would have been a little bit more difficult, because there are almost no amateur events going on right now, but the UFC Fight Pass gave out small grants to different [professional] promotions so they could actively have shows,” Watson said.

She admitted the COVID-19 hiatus hasn’t been all bad.

“The view for me was a little bit different because the goal was to go professional and the professional ranks were still going,” Watson said, “but the time away from normal training was good for me because it gave me time to learn some new skills that I need as a professional.”

That development included learning to use and defend against elbow strikes as well as knees to the head, which are not allowed in the amateur ranks.

“Learning to throw them is important, but it’s also really important to learn how to deal with elbows and knees so time has been spent learning how to throw them and deal with them properly,” Watson said. “Elbows and knees are very sharp, and most of the time you can be cut from elbows and knees can do a lot of damage, too, if they’re landed properly.”

Watson and Innocenti began pursuing a return to the cage late last year, but Watson suffered a neck injury that wiped out a potential December bout.

The search for an opponent intensified in January.

“It just got to the point where it had been so long and I had been training so hard that we thought it was time to reach out and be a little more pushy with promotions,” she said. “We got offers back from Pennsylvania, Florida and a couple of different offers from out West but we got this offer in Tampa and that was the best one time-wise and opponent-wise.”

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...