LEWISTON — Bellator Fighting Championships CEO Bjorn Rebney sounded apologetic when he noted that Thursday night's fight card at Androscoggin Bank Colisee wasn't a typical one for his organization.
Rebney also was careful to point out that the audience reaction wasn't run-of-the-mill, either.
Based on the early returns — a crowd of approximately 3,000 that paid $40 to $125 per ticket and never lost its energy through long, almost painful stretches of down time — Rebney said that Bellator is interested in a return engagement.
Thursday's main event, a lightweight tournament final between Dave Jansen and Marcin Held, was the only fight on the docket that went the full three-round distance. Eight of the 10 bouts ended in the first round, and three of those concluded in 18 seconds or less.
It led to multiple jokes on social media about the Colisee being cursed with short fights, a reference to Muhammad Ali's first-round knockout of Sonny Liston here with an alleged "phantom punch" in 1965.
"When you saw the crowd reaction in there, when (Marcin and Held) got in the cage, they wanted badly to start screaming and loving the event and the moment. They all stuck with it, and it's Thursday night and close to midnight and they were still energized," Rebney said. "You see those kind of things, you see the sale we had, the reaction, you see the media support, and it makes it a pretty easy decision to say, 'OK, how do we plug this area right back into our schedule in the fall or as soon as we can get back?' The response was great."
The major attraction for most Maine fans was the first televised bout. It featured native son Marcus Davis, a UFC veteran from Houlton, against Waachiim Spiritwolf.
Coincidentally, that fight contributed to the glut of short subjects, and in controversial fashion. It was declared a no-contest after Spiritwolf collapsed to the canvas with what he claimed was a knee to the groin. He was unable to continue after the prescribed five-minute recovery time.
Some early endings may have been a casualty of miscalculations in matchmaking. Barnstorming fighters from London, Atlanta, Syracuse, N.Y., and Sacramento, Calif., had their way with less experienced Mainers from the New England Fights promotion on the undercard.
Others were simply luck-of-the-draw. Up-and-coming heavyweight Ryan Martinez decked Travis Wiuff, a veteran of 85 professional fights, with a series of strikes shortly after the opening bell.
"The only people who suffer when you have (eight) first-round finishes, which I'm still trying to research to determine if it's some kind of record, is the audience. It was a great show for television, but man, oh man, it was a long series of lulls for the in-house audience," Rebney said. "I apologize for that. What's to blame is that these guys finish fights. We say it after every single weigh-in, 'Finish the fights. Don't leave fights in the hands of the judges,' and man, did everybody take that ridiculously seriously tonight."
Dave Vitkay's 18-second stoppage of Rumford's Jesse Peterson via guillotine choke ended at 9:15 p.m., leaving 45 minutes between the final undercard bout and the start of the Davis-Spiritwolf match on Spike TV.
By the time Jansen and Held climbed into the cage at 11:30, fans at the live event had watched roughly three minutes of actual fighting in more than two hours.
Bellator tried to fill the void with promotional videos and highlights on the giant screens suspended from each corner of the arena, and the requisite loud music. Roughly two-thirds of the paying customers rode it out until the main event.
"Dave's fight with Marcin was awesome. It had everything you would want to see. It had great stand-up and wicked submissions and submission defense. As an MMA fan I loved it," Rebney said. "But you hope to give fans a couple more of those. We typically do, knock on wood. We had a couple tonight that were short fights, and it plays well on television, but it doesn't translate as beautifully in the arena."
Rebney thanked NEF co-promoters Matt Peterson and Nick DiSalvo, along with Davis, for their tireless work spreading the word about the event.
When asked if Bellator would consider other venues in Maine or New England, the chairman hinted that even if Lewiston-Auburn fans hadn't responded with huge numbers and decibel levels, they might deserve a do-over.
"My gut would say you come back here. I hope a lot of the people that came to this live event understand we typically don't have those 15 to 18-minute breathers between fights. We typically stuff fights and it's moving super quickly," Rebney said. "Typically you don't get that many first-round finishes in three events back to back. It made for a very elongated night, and the fans stayed. I think you try to come back here and give them one of our typical shows, which is some first-round finishes but also some great back-and-forth battles. So I think my eye would be on trying to come back here."