Aaron Lacey (right) is pictured with former Young's MMA teammate Josh Harvey in this 2016 photo. Credit: Josh O'Donnell / BDN

It’s been a long time between mixed martial arts bouts for Aaron Lacey.

The last time he was seen in the cage, the Brewer native defeated Jon Lemke at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Sept. 8, 2018, to improve his professional record to 6-2.

Since then there’s been knee surgery, the COVID-19 pandemic, a change in training camps in search of better training opportunities, and more recently several bouts that fell through for a variety of reasons, including his own bout of coronavirus.

“It took a while to get things sorted out but it’s all straightened out now so I’m ready to get back at it,” said Lacey, who celebrated his 31st birthday this week.

There’s also been marriage, which has played a significant role in his scheduled comeback bout on Saturday night against New York’s Jerome Mickle as the main event of New England Fights’ 10th-anniversary show at Aura in Portland.

Like her husband, Alexa Lacey is into MMA. An educational technician at the Earl C. McGraw School in Hampden, she has taken fitness, women’s MMA and kickboxing classes over the years and considers herself a knowledgeable fan of the sport.

“It was more for fun and exercise,” she said. “I’m too much of a baby [to fight]. I could never get hit.”

The Laceys have teamed up to make Aaron’s return to the cage possible, with Aaron now training at Nostos MMA in Somersworth, New Hampshire, under former UFC competitor Devin Powell.

Particularly when training for a fight, that means considerable time apart as Aaron Lacey lives in an apartment above the gym. He works five days a week and then trains during the evenings and on weekends.

“I come home from work, chill for a minute and go to the gym and train all night, then go to bed and get up and do it all over again,” he said.

Lacey makes time for regular FaceTime video chats with his wife of nearly three years, but for this couple the time apart is a sacrifice being made to enable Aaron to pursue his goal of advancing as far up the MMA ladder as he can.

“We had many conversations about it and if this is what it takes to get him to that next level, then I’m totally willing to let him go down there and train,” Alexa said. “He’s so happy doing that, and it’s not like it’s a negative. I’m totally supportive of this. We’re making it work.”

While the Laceys have gotten used to being apart while Aaron trains, finding a fight has proved more problematic.

Lacey has had “six or seven” scheduled fights fall through since MMA returned to the sports scene after being shut down upon the arrival of COVID-19 in March 2020. Those cancellations included a scheduled bout at NEF 45 in Portland last November due to Lacey contracting COVID-19.

A planned bout in Florida last week also was canceled, but some scheduling serendipity finally came Lacey’s way when undefeated Caleb Hall had to pull out of Saturday’s NEF 46 main event against Mickle due to a medical issue.

When matchmaker Matt Peterson called, both Laceys were ready.

“I’m so pumped,” Alexa said. “After the last couple of fights fell through, my heart hurt a little for Aaron because he really needed to get back into it. I get so upset for him, but knowing this one is so close I really hope it sticks and I can’t wait to be down there. I miss having our fight weekends.”

With the quick turnaround, the Lacey-Mickle bout will be contested at the lightweight limit of 155 pounds. It’s a weight class higher than Lacey’s preferred featherweight (145-pound) division, but at this point Lacey will compromise weight-wise to reignite an MMA career that he began as an amateur in November 2013 and moved up to the professional ranks in April 2016.

Lacey believes he’s a better fighter than ever.

“The fighter on Saturday would absolutely maul the fighter that fought Jon Lemke,” said Lacey of his improvement since his last fight 3 ½ years ago. “I’ve been evolving, adding steps to my game, getting better physically, mentally and all around, so definitely I’m going to be a whole new animal come Saturday.”

Lacey is favored to defeat Mickle, who has a 4-11 record and fought three times in 2021, all losses.

“His record is not so great but he’s dangerous in some aspects,” Lacey said. “He looks like he’s got a decent amount of punching power but he comes in pretty wild and pretty open so I think he’s going to leave some holes defensively, and I don’t think his offense is anything I haven’t seen or dealt with before.”

Lacey hopes to fight several times in 2022. His new training base about an hour north of Boston along with his connections with Powell may provide more access to promotions in southern New England in addition to the Maine-based NEF, where he has fought 12 of his 14 professional and amateur bouts.

“Three to five times this year would be perfect, just to keep getting my name out there and keep cranking out some wins and see what I can make happen,” he said.

That’s how Alexa Lacey sees it, too, as she awaits fight night for the first time since she and Aaron married on June 29, 2019.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “I’m usually a mess on the weekends he has fights but I’m really excited about this one. I’m sure it’s going to be really emotional.

“I think I get just as exhausted as he does even though I don’t fight.”

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...