LEWISTON — Friday’s weigh-in for New England Fights XIII couldn’t call itself the biggest mixed martial arts unveiling in the state over a 24-hour period.

That distinction went to Thursday’s announcement by Ultimate Fighting Championship president and Maine native Dana White. The name synonymous worldwide with cagefighting will storm Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center for a nationally televised card Aug. 16.

Still, not a single promoter or participant affiliated with the regional promotion felt that UFC was stealing its thunder. NEF can rest in the knowledge that it brought the warm front that created the thunder in the first place.

“It’s been my dream,” NEF co-promoter Matt Peterson of Rumford said. “It’s been a personal dream of mine to see them come, and it’s going to be huge for the marketplace, astronomical.”

NEF was at Ramada Inn making final preparations for its third-annual spring card at Androscoggin Bank Colisee. Five professional fights and 10 amateur bouts are on the docket, with the opening bell set for 7 p.m. Saturday.

Ryan Sanders of Bangor will challenge Gil de Freitas for NEF’s 170-pound championship in the main event, but even he had an eye on his hometown making international headlines.

“That’s huge. It’s going to bring more attention to the sport itself. Everything’s going great right now with the sport,” Sanders said. “Beating Gil, maybe they’ll take a look at me, who knows? It’s another step in the right direction.”

NEF and the Colisee co-hosted Bellator Fighting Championship — generally considered the second-most popular brand in the sport — in March 2013.

Auburn’s Jesse Erickson and Brewer’s Jon Lemke battled each other on that card. Each has a pro fight on tap Saturday, Erickson (2-2) against John Daniels and Lemke (4-1) versus Devin Powell.

“I’ll be there. I can’t wait to go up. It’ll be nice to be in the stands, though not in the cage,” Erickson said. “It’s awesome to have a promotion as big as that come to Maine. We had Bellator last year and now UFC. It’s getting bigger and bigger.”

Luring such a major event to Maine was a long-term goal for Peterson, a member of the Maine House of Representatives, when he and Massachusetts lawyer Nick DiSalvo co-founded NEF in 2011.

The organization has hosted regular cards in Lewiston as well as two smaller events in Biddeford and an outdoor show in Bangor, attracting a cumulative crowd of around 30,000 spectators.

“Working with a lot of good people — the media, the athletes, the fans — it takes a village,” Peterson said. “Now it’s going to be a huge economic boom for the state of Maine. I’m excited. It’s going to be awesome.”

First things first, however. Saturday’s regional card promises to be a good one.

The clash between de Freitas (15-5) and Sanders (6-4) is a rematch from a scrap on one of NEF’s early cards, when de Freitas claimed the welterweight belt with a unanimous decision.

“I’m a completely different fighter. I’m a lot better now in every area,” Sanders said. “He beat me the last time convincingly, but the areas that he beat me in I’ve been working on. I’ve worked on all the holds. I’ve tightened up my game.”

Sanders earned the shot at championship redemption here in February’s main event.

He took out Marcus Davis, also of Bangor and an estranged mentor of Sanders, with a first-round barrage that left the UFC pioneer too bloodied to continue.

“It’s just a chance to redeem myself. This year is like my redeeming year. I was able to fight Marcus and beat him, and this is another big fight,” Sanders said. “Beating him the way I did, obviously I’m going to feel better and have confidence. I’m going to have fun (Saturday) night, and it’s going to be a great performance again.”

Erickson recently became a father, but it didn’t stop him from training or preparing three amateur stablemates from Central Maine Brazialian Jiu-Jitsu for the card.

He missed the one-pound allowance above the 150 pound limit by one-tenth. Daniels wasn’t as close, but Erickson agreed to the take the fight at the catch weight.

“I know he’s got decent wrestling. I’m just looking to use my jiu-jitsu. If he takes the fight to the ground I think I’m well prepared there,” Erickson said of Daniels. “I train every day year-round, so it’s like, I might as well fight. I don’t think about taking a card off. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll do it every fight if I’m able to.”

Erickson will be in the corner with brothers Steven and Sheldon Bang of Auburn. Steven, 21, will face Jarrod Tyler, while 18-year-old Sheldon makes his MMA debut against Carl Langston.

Also out of CMBBJ, Dustin Veinott takes on Dan Thayer.

“Everyone’s looking really good. I’m excited to see how they do,” Erickson said. “They’ve all put in a lot of hard work with training camp.”

NEF had been tentatively scheduled to appear again in Lewiston the second week in August. Peterson said that show will be moved to September in deference to the UFC bonanza.

“I heard some rumblings. I was hoping, fingers crossed,” Peterson said. “It’s going to be a great thing.”


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