Josh Harvey (right) and Dominic Jones eye each other during their mixed martial arts bout as part of NEF 40 held on Sept. 7, 2019, at the Collins Center of the Arts on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono. Harvey won by first-round submission. Credit: Courtesy of Monty Rand

Mixed martial arts is scheduled to return to Maine for the first time in nearly 21 months on Friday night when New England Fights hosts “NEF 45: Uprising” at the Aura nightclub in Portland.

The 21-fight card features six professional bouts, headlined by the professional featherweight title between reigning champion Josh Harvey and challenger Aguilando Brandao.

“All of us — fans, fighters and coaches — have been waiting a long time to get back to business here in Maine,” NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson of Rumford said.

NEF, which began staging mixed martial arts shows in Maine in 2012, held its last card in the Pine Tree State on Feb. 8, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland shortly before COVID-19 arrived.

The ensuing shutdown forced the indefinite postponement of NEF 43, which had been scheduled at the Collins Center for the Arts on the University of Maine campus in Orono later that spring. It led to the curtailment of the promotion’s operations until Aug. 21, when NEF 44 was held at the Hampshire Dome in Milford, New Hampshire.

Peterson said fans attending NEF 45 will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the show, according to rules established by the venue. He added there is no mask requirement for people entering Aura for the show.

Harvey, a former wrestling standout at Dexter Regional High School who now trains at Vision Quest Muay Thai in Newport, is a veteran of the region’s MMA circuit, having won the NEF amateur lightweight title in 2015 and the promotion’s pro featherweight (145-pound limit) two years ago.

Now 7-1-1, Harvey will seek to rebound from his first professional defeat, a non-title loss to Jesse Erickson in the 155-pound lightweight division at NEF’s February 2020 event.

“I’m excited and grateful to have a chance to show the evolution of my skill set,” Harvey said. “Through this COVID vacation my coach and I haven’t skipped a beat building a new gym and training a stable of fighters that call Vision Quest Muay Thai home. It’s an honor to represent my team and community on the NEF stage.”

Brandao (9-8) is a newcomer to the NEF cage but one of the region’s more experienced combat sports veterans. The Woburn, Massachusetts, fighter’s pro MMA career dates back to 2006, though most of his recent work has been in the boxing ring.

“Brandao may be a face new to NEF fans but he has a long, storied career on the New England fight circuit,” Peterson said. “For Harvey, a win over Aguilando puts him one step closer to his goal of getting to the UFC.”

The co-main event will match former Bellator competitors Mark Gardner and Nick Alley in a pro-welterweight clash. Other professional bouts include former NEF amateur lightweight champion Zac Richard of Waterboro making his pro debut against Carl Langston, Matt Denning against former University of Southern Maine wrestler Jon Deupree, and former NEF pro middleweight champion C.J. Ewer against Shaun Ray.

Three NEF title fights head up the amateur portion of the card. Undefeated Caleb Austin faces Tyler Smythe for the vacant flyweight belt, Felipe Gunter is scheduled to meet Teddy Politis in a battle of unbeatens for the vacant bantamweight championship, and undefeated Nathaniel Grimard will defend his featherweight crown against once-beaten Billy Wilson.

The lone women’s fight of the evening also will take place on the amateur card as Bangor-area fighter B.J. Garceau faces Hayley Martin in a strawweight bout.

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...