Three such local tough guys — all former linemen, all at an age when they’re expected to plot a strategy for their adult lives — have found an outlet in the mixed martial arts cage.

Billy Leahy of South Paris, Johnny Crafts of Lisbon Falls and Ryan Glover of Mexico all kept those newfound dreams aloft Saturday night with impressive amateur victories as part of New England Fights XVI at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

Leahy, 20, improved to a 2-1 as a heavyweight with a unanimous decision victory over Brandon Lessard.

“He was tougher than he looked,” Leahy said. “I was in control the whole time, but I had to work for it.”

Crafts and Glover, each 22, took out their opponents in short order.

Glover, a former Sun Journal football player of the year and state champion wrestler out of Mountain Valley High School, leveled Michael Freeman with a right hand and unleashed a barrage of strikes to hasten the end in only 12 seconds.

It was trumped later in the night when Caleb Farrington of Farmington — another recent gridiron stalwart — tattooed Brandon Russell in an NEF-record eight seconds.

“I don’t think I got hit,” Glover said. “I was hoping to see what kind of shape I was in, but unfortunately he walked into the moneymaker.”

Unlike the two heavyweights, the more compact, 135-pound Crafts has an extensive background, having trained in MMA and jiu-jitsu since age 12.

Crafts, named NEF rookie of the year in 2004, is 3-0 with three stoppages after dispatching previously undefeated Mike Crespo with a rear naked choke.

“It came back to striking. I wanted to stand and bang and try to get that experience, but I think I threw a right hand and all of a sudden his hips were right there,” Crafts said. “I figured I’d better take him down while I had the opportunity.”

In another crowd-pleasing outcome on the amateur portion of the card, Dr. Steve Bang, a 46-year-old bariatric surgeon from Auburn, stopped Matthew Hanning on strikes in the first round.

One of NEF’s rising stars saw his fast track take a detour in the main event.

Ray “All Business” Wood, originally of Bucksport, lost the featherweight title to Anthony “Cheesesteak” Morrison in a clinic by the Philadelphia veteran.

Morrison applied the exclamation point with a guillotine in the fifth and final round of his 26th pro fight. Wood, who appeared to lose every other stanza to Morrison’s relentless ground attack, dropped to 5-1.

Tyler King (8-2), a second-generation NFL player turned mixed martial artist, made the first defense of his NEF heavyweight crown with ease. Terry Blackburn (4-3) tapped out to a Kimura at 2:06.

Two other pro bouts ended in first round TKOs. UFC and Bellator veteran Rah-Shon Burrell (10-5) knocked out Ryan Hodge (6-10). River Valley wrestling veteran Mike Hansen (2-1) thrilled the Rumford-Mexico faithful with a stoppage of Artie Mullen (1-14).

Leahy drew Division I recruiting interest his senior year, but the scouts went away after he suffered a knee injury.

That led him to the program at Husson University in Bangor, where he played for only a few weeks before hanging up the cleats.

“I wasn’t into it, because it was Division III,” Leahy said. “Then I checked out Young’s MMA, signed up for a week or so. They asked me to join the fight team, and I’ve been fighting ever since.”

Leahy splits his training time between the Bangor gym and Central Maine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Lewiston.

“This is a lot different than high school sports. I thought I was a big, strong boy in football. Then I got my arm snapped and got choked out a few times,” Leahy said. “I liked watching on TV, but I never thought I had the guts to do it. I was overweight in football and as a kid wrestling. I can’t believe looking back at football that now I run six miles a day.”

Glover was looking to improve his physical conditioning when he took up Dawson Walton’s training program three months ago.

Auto racing has been his sport of choice since high school, but combat sports appear to be a natural fit.

“I really want to play football, but there isn’t any football around, so we go with the next best thing. That’s all we know, right?” Glover said. “I always wanted to do it, but I was lazy. After I decided to get the motivation and get out there, I’ve been training every day since. I just needed something to keep me going. It’s like a drug. I’m addicted now.”

Even in a year that saw Crafts emerge as NEF’s top newcomer, he said that jiu-jitsu was his priority.

Crafts has trained for the sport at gyms in Lewiston, Augusta and Brunswick, as well as in Massachusetts. He is starting to feel at home in the cage, however.

“This year I’m going to try to get on the MMA track,” Crafts said. “When you walk in, there’s nothing like it. The crowd, the adrenaline, the mindset you have to get into in the locker room, it’s just crazy. You’re doubting yourself, but yet you know you’ve trained.”

Bang, whose athletic background includes wrestling, swimming, triathlons and marathons, followed three of his sons to the MMA cage.

His crash course in the boxing and martial arts skills took about two months.

“It was (Hanning’s) first fight, so I did a little research on Facebook and found out he had a kickboxing background,” Bang said. “I’ve been kicked enough in the gym to know I didn’t want that to happen.”

Both of Bang’s sons on the card, Sheldon and Steve, came out on the losing end of unanimous decisions against Carl Langston and Jason Lachance, respectively.

In a battle of fighters billed as NEF’s “new blood” on the promotional poster, Josh Harvey of Young’s dispatched Dixfield’s Caleb Hall of Choi Institute in 46 seconds. Harvey dropped Hall to the canvas with a vicious punch, then inflicted more damage with a knee upstairs before punctuating the win with strikes.

Cory Trial was transported to a Lewiston hospital after a vicious second-round TKO loss to Ricky Dexter. Trial walked unsteadily to a gurney backstage and was treated by EMTs after the fight, which ended with one punch after both fighters doled out significant punishment throughout.

[email protected]


Facebook comments

filed under: