LEWISTON — As a member of the state legislature, Matt Peterson, D-Rumford, played a pivotal role in keeping combat sports legal in Maine.
Now, as an enthusiast in those activities from the beginning, Peterson is committed to helping them grow.
His first foray into the world of mixed martial arts matchmaking is Saturday night, when Fight Night I brings the sound and fury of the cage to Androscoggin Bank Colisee for the first time.
“It’s exploding,” Peterson said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s a project that was a long time in the works.”
Mixed martial arts has supplanted boxing and professional wrestling as perhaps pay-per-view television’s largest sports entertainment draw.
The sport has grown exponentially in the past decade, largely on the strength of its appeal to Peterson’s neighbors in the 18-to-35 male demographic.
It wasn’t until 2009, however, that Peterson and two fighters native to the state, Mike Brown and Marcus Davis, were integral in pushing through legislation to sanction the sport in Maine.
Through those efforts, Peterson was introduced to Massachusetts promoter Nick DeSalvo.
Both men had a keen awareness of Lewiston’s boxing history — notably, Muhammad Ali’s controversial knockout of Sonny Liston in 1965 and local favorite Joey Gamache’s world title reign in the early 1990s. They shared an intrigue about how that history would translate into passion for their new favorite pastime.
‘We met for dinner, talked about the things we wanted to accomplish and found that we had a lot of the same ideas and goals,” Peterson said.
Saturday’s card of 12 amateur fights and eight professional bouts is viewed as a beginning.
The promotional team already has scheduled an encore April 14 in Biddeford.
“After that we’d like to have one in Bangor. There is an active gym up there with Marcus Davis training a bunch of guys,” Peterson said. “We’d love to take this throughout the state and show everybody what this great sport is all about.”
Homegrown prospect Ryan Sanders (2-0) will headline the card, squaring off with Dan Keefe (7-2) in a welterweight bout.
Sanders and Young’s MMA amateur stable mate Ray Wood recently appeared together on a radio show to promote the event. Peterson said the response hinted at a huge debut for the sport in the tri-county region.
“The box office people told us that the phones never stopped ringing all day after that,” Peterson said.
Brown, a Bonny Eagle High School graduate and one of the few Maine personalities to make a splash in the sport nationally, is expected to attend.
“A lot of these guys are excited to fight in front of a champion of his caliber,” Peterson said.
Saturday’s card also is an open door into the sport for three former Maine high school wrestling champions.
One, Peterson’s 30-year-old brother Jesse, was an all-time great on the mat at Mountain Valley High School. He tested the MMA waters before retiring with a record of 4-2 for nearly four years.
“He’s coming back out to see what he’s got left for chops,” Matt Peterson said.
Tickets are $25 and are available by calling 783-2009 or going to www.thecolisee.com.
Fights begin at 7 p.m.
When the bell rings, one observer will experience the satisfaction on three fronts: politician, promoter and fan.
“There are a lot great fighters in Maine who have been waiting for the opportunity to compete in their home state,” Peterson said. “Of course I see the economic benefit, but I’m also a big believer in the sport of mixed martial arts. Although I’m not an athlete at that level, I’m familiar with many of them and have found them to be high quality people.”