Mixed martial arts fighter Ryan Sanders watches during training at Young's MMA in Bangor on March 13, 2014. Credit: Kevin Bennett / BDN

Ryan Sanders’ return to the mixed martial arts spotlight after a 3 1/2-year absence on Saturday night was as successful as it was brief.

Glory Watson’s latest combat sports foray wasn’t quite as brief but was equally successful as the Maine-based New England Fights promotion held its first show at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn.

Sanders, who lives in Bangor and trains at Vision Quest Muay Thai in Newport, used a head kick to take out Portland’s Mark “Pockets” Gardner just 25 seconds into the first round of their scheduled three-round welterweight (170-pound) bout that served as the co-main event of the 17-fight card.

Sanders, who last fought in November 2018, flattened Gardner with a looping left foot and landed one additional strike before the referee quickly intervened to give the former NEF lightweight champion his fourth consecutive victory and ninth win in his last 10 bouts.

Sanders is now 19-9 professionally.

Watson, who lives in Brewer and trains at Young’s MMA in Orrington, faced a much stiffer test before emerging with a unanimous-decision victory over New Jersey’s Natalie Schlesinger.

The win was the third straight for Watson, now 3-1 as a professional.

“This girl is tough,” Watson said. “She’s one hell of a fighter, that was obvious to everybody. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Watson began to gain control after an opening round that was split between the fighters on the three judges’ scorecards. A late flurry just before the end of the second round gave Watson the lead before she used her stand-up game to take charge over the final five minutes of action.

“I’m grateful to her for coming up,” Watson said. “I just want to stay as active as I can, long as I don’t get hurt. I’d love to have it [the next fight] be for one of the [national] names, but if not, I’ll be right here with NEF. They’re amazing.”

Headlining NEF 47 was a battle between local fighters Jesse “The Viking” Erickson and former training partner Matt Denning that Erickson won by rear naked choke at 1:57 of the first round.

Billy Markle of Spotswood, New Jersey, highlighted the amateur portion of the show by defeating Felipe Gunther by unanimous decision to win the NEF bantamweight belt. Markle overcame a deep cut near his eye to dominate the final four rounds of the five-round title bout.

Among other winners on the card, Seth Godfrey of Brewer’s Titan Athletics needed only 37 seconds to stop George Pissimissis via strikes; Nate Dorr of Acadia BJJ in Ellsworth won by unanimous decision over Tyler Parent; and Julian Sirois of Vision Quest Muay Thai scored a unanimous-decision victory over Chris Strout.

NEF is scheduled to host its next show on Saturday, July 30, at the Thompson’s Point outdoor venue in Portland.

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...