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

While the men’s college basketball world may be the big sports story in New Orleans this Saturday night, Josh Harvey also hopes to make the most of the upcoming weekend in The Big Easy.

The 31-year-old mixed martial artist, who trains at Vision Quest Muay Thai in Newport, will face Adli Edwards in a three-round lightweight (145-pound) matchup of top prospects as part of XMMA4: Black Magic at The Fillmore in New Orleans on Saturday night.

Harvey, a former wrestling standout at Dexter Regional High School, aspires to reach the upper  levels of the sport and brings an 8-1-1 professional record into the bout against Edwards, a former NCAA Division II All-American wrestler at Ashland (Ohio) University who is 8-1 as an MMA competitor.

“I don’t like to assume anything and get my hopes up and be disappointed, but I look at this fight as a catapult into bigger things,” Harvey said.

Like so many other mixed martial artists in the Northeast and other parts of the country, Harvey has rarely fought since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020.

Harvey returned to the cage last November for the first time in nearly two years with a first-round technical knockout victory over Aguilando Brandao in Portland.

But he sees the break between regular fights not as a negative, but an opportunity to improve away from the bright lights through his continued work with coach Primo Bellarosa, who moved to Maine from New York and opened the training center where both work in November 2020.

“My goal for [age] 32 was to be signed with a world-wide promotion, but I’ve given myself leniency because of the pandemic kind of stealing two prime years from my fight career,” Harvey said.

“I’ve been working with Primo for a long time, but this is the longest stint we’ve had together steadily because he was in New York before. I already knew when that happened that I was going to improve faster. I’m not going to say it was perfect timing, but I got to not show any improvements to the world while steadily getting better because we never skipped a bit.”

This will mark Harvey’s first MMA fight outside New England, an opportunity he landed through his relationship with Tyson Chartier, who serves as a coach for UFC fighters Calvin Kattar and Rob Font and represents several other Northeast competitors through his TopGame Management agency.

“The manager offered the fight to Primo and before I even looked at a tape I said, ‘What do you think?’” Harvey said. “I knew he wouldn’t have said it to me if he hadn’t already looked, so I said, ‘It’s a go.’

“It’s a tough fight, but we’ve reached that time when that’s what you want.”

One interesting twist to the bout will be the expected presence of Maine native and former ranked UFC fighter Marcus Davis in Edwards’ corner.

Davis, a Houlton native who moved to North Carolina from Bangor several years ago, has been training Edwards, who is based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

One of Harvey’s amateur victories came in 2015 against the Davis-trained Ricky Dexter, and Harvey will be cornered for the Edwards fight by Bellarosa and Ryan Sanders, who hasn’t fought since 2018 but defeated Davis in 2014 – the last fight for “The Irish Hand Grenade” before he came out of retirement last November at age 48 with a victory over Stephen Stengel in Springfield, Massachusetts.

He’s going to corner against me again,” said Harvey of Davis. “He’s said some nice things about me though, there’s no bad blood or anything. It’s just a small fight community.”

The Harvey-Edwards fight will be available on a free live stream via the XMMA TV page on YouTube.

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...