Professional athletes love home games. You’ll have to forgive Marcus Davis, however, if he isn’t sure what to make of them.

Now five months shy of his 40th birthday, Davis embraced mixed martial arts in its infancy, and it took him around the world.

He made Paul Taylor, a favorite son of Britain, tap out in London. David Bielkheden failed to take advantage of his home-mat comfort zone against Davis in Sweden. Curtis Demarce, a Canadian young enough to be Davis’ son, took a lesson in Ontario.

“I’ve been the bad guy most of my career,” Davis said. “I’m unfazed by it. I’ve done it for so long. I don’t mind being the bad guy, but it’s going to be nice to have the support of the Maine crowd.”

Davis, who was born in Houlton and built a mixed martial arts school in Bangor on his way to becoming an international star, enters the next phase of his journey Thursday night at Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

In the first installment of a three-fight, one-year contract with the Bellator MMA promotion, Davis (21-9) is pitted with Waachiim Spiritwolf (9-11) in a 170-pound bout.

The opening bell is scheduled for 8 p.m. Davis’ fight is part of the nationally televised portion of the program on Spike TV from 10 p.m. to midnight.

When the music and flashing lights hasten Davis’ walk to the ring, the throaty roar of more than 3,000 fans will be a foreign concept. Davis has entered the cage only one other time on native soil — a short, sweet, submission victory over Travis Coyle at a September 2011 card in Portland.

“I’ve had people at venues tell me, ‘Don’t worry, we only serve (beer) in plastic.’ I remember walking down the aisle in London hearing people yelling ‘I hope you get killed’ and all that stuff,” Davis said. “But when they open the door to that cage, unless they’re letting some of those people in there to help the guy, none of that matters.”

Davis, known as “The Irish Hand Grenade” and “The Celtic Warrior” because of his ancestry, also has a rich heritage in combat sports.

He took his first martial arts lesson at 8 years old. He gravitated to boxing at 14 and turned pro at 18.

“My mom said I was throwing punches before I was walking,” Davis said. “Some people know they’re going to be a certain thing when they grow up. I always had that mentality.”

Traditional pugilism was good to Davis. He accumulated a 17-1-2 record while fighting as a junior middleweight, mostly in New England.

The loss came by technical knockout against an older, crafty opponent, though, and prompted Davis to take inventory of his fighting future.

A new genre was in its infancy at that time, one that combined elements of boxing, wrestling and martial arts into one rapid-fire adrenaline rush of a sport.

“(Ultimate Fighting Championship) was started out at that point, and I became a fan. I wanted to try out the grappling and stuff,” Davis said. “I went all over the place. I became a sponge, just kind of sucked up as much information as I could. If all that stuff had been around when I was 18, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have boxed.”

Davis moved from Massachusetts back to Maine in the mid-1990s.

His career in the cage didn’t commence until 2003 and started modestly with three wins and two losses. Davis’ break came when he was chosen as a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 2, a 2005 reality series on Spike TV.

Although Davis lost his bout on the finale, the experience encouraged him to redouble his training efforts and triggered an 11-fight winning streak, coinciding with his ascension to UFC in late 2006.

Four losses in a five-fight stretch led to Davis’ release from the promotion in January 2011. Davis attributes the dip in performance to a proliferation of chronic injuries, particularly in his hands.

“I think arthritis started to slow me down. When you can’t even hit a heavy bag with your hands completely wrapped and wearing 16-ounce gloves because it hurts so bad, you’ve got a problem,” he said.

The end of Davis’ relationship with UFC led to his world tour, of sorts, including the journey to Sweden, two fights in Canada, the local show in Portland and a trip to Florida.

He evened up the recent ledger, winning four out of five. Bielkheden, also a UFC veteran, arguably has been the strongest opponent in the comeback.

It led Bellator to call New England Fights co-promoter Matt Peterson of Rumford, inquiring about Davis’ availability. With its impending Lewiston debut, Bellator sought local flavor.

“We negotiated for about a month and put it together,” Davis said.

While he is now well above the average age of most elite MMA fighters, Davis believes he is in better shape now than he was five years ago.

A new anti-inflammatory drug has worked wonders for the arthritis in his hands, back and shoulders, he said. He noted that he has learned how to “train smarter, not harder.”

The youth of his recent opponents is a source of amusement, even pride.

“When I fought (Demarce) in Canada a little over a year ago, I beat him up pretty good. We started talking after it was over and I found out he was 22 years old,” Davis recalled. “I asked him when his birthday was. He said July and I said, ‘Man, my daughter’s about a month older than you.'”

Perhaps inspired by the need to gain wisdom with age, Davis has embraced the sport science aspect of MMA.

He writes a column for the industry magazine Fighters Only. When instructing young fighters, Davis said he is careful to glean as much knowledge in return as they gain from him.

“I want to do something that’s impossible to master. Whenever anybody says they’ve ‘mastered’ fighting, I kind of laugh, because thats impossible. You could never learn everything about fighting. It’s like math. You could never sit down and solve every math equation available,” Davis said. “This sport is like math to me. You know when you get a word problem and you have to break it down step-by-step? That’s how fighting is to me. I break it down the same way.”

There likely will be no computation required to determine what percentage of Thursday’s crowd is on Davis’ side.

Of course he’s thankful for the support. But to say he needs it at this point in his career would be a mite pretentious.

“I don’t get worked up or nervous,” he said. “There aren’t any pre-fight jitters. All that has subsided.”

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Coming Wednesday: Profiles of local MMA fighters Jesse Peterson of Rumford and Brent Dillingham of Lewiston as they prepare for a landmark night in their career.


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