Bangor, Maine (July 29, 2016) – Devin Powell was enjoying an evening off from his demanding life as a mixed martial arts instructor and fighter.
He was surrounded by food that probably isn’t on his normal training menu. There were celebratory beverages to fit the loud music and party atmosphere at Xfinity Center, the outdoor concert venue in Mansfield, Massachusetts.
Somehow, Powell heard his phone ring, or felt it vibrate in his pocket. The impending conversation altered his day-after plans considerably.
Powell accepted a return engagement with Jon Lemke at “NEF Presents Dana White: Looking for a Fight,” to be held Friday, August 5 at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“I found out my good friend Jesse Erickson got hurt,” Powell said, “and they asked me to fill in. I said ‘of course.’ Anybody representing UFC, never mind Dana White, if you ever have a chance to fight in front of them, it’s something you want to do if you’re able. It should be a nice, intimate setting.”
Powell (7-1) is the NEF lightweight champion, having secured the strap with a technical knockout of Erickson at “NEF 22: All Roads Lead Here” in April. Lemke (5-5) lost to previous champion Bruce Boyington in a bid for that belt.
The fight will take place five pounds above the lightweight limit at a catch weight of 160.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” said Lemke, who lives in neighboring Brewer. “I’m very grateful. I’m looking forward to fighting in front of probably the most influential person in MMA.”
Their bout is one of eight professional skirmishes to be showcased in front of White, a native of nearby Hermon, and cohorts Din Thomas and Matt Serra. The trio travels the country in pursuit of undiscovered MMA talent in a reality show that is broadcast on White’s YouTube page as well as the UFC Fight Pass subscription-based streamed video service.
Neither man is known to shy away from the spotlight. Lemke stopped Erickson at Bellator 93 in Lewiston two years ago. Powell pushed his winning streak to five with a split-decision triumph June 17 over Tommy Marcellino on the World Series of Fighting stage at Foxwoods.
“I know they’re probably here to watch the guys in the main event,” Powell said of White and his entourage, “but I plan to put on a show that they won’t be able to sleep on. With my fighting style, very aggressive and unorthodox, I believe I definitely will get their attention. This sport is a lot about getting the right opportunity and taking advantage of it.”
When asked if he perceived any edge because Powell took the fight on three weeks’ notice, Lemke politely pointed out that he only began preparing for Erickson two weeks prior to that.
Lemke lost to Josh LaBerge on June 10.
“I only had a couple extra weeks to prepare. I was still training, but that’s all. I was in pretty good shape but not in fight shape,” Lemke said. “It’s one of those things where they ask you and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, I really want to do this, but.’ It’s just too big an opportunity not to. It’s not necessarily ideal, but as a fighter, absolutely you’re looking for that challenge, and Devin is one of the best guys in the game around here.”
He learned that first-hand, and in resounding fashion, when the two fighters previously clashed on May 10, 2014. Powell prevailed via choke-out in only 23 seconds.
That setting was Lemke’s comeback fight after his abrupt withdrawal from a title match against John Ortolani eight months earlier.
“It didn’t go very well last time. There were a lot of distractions and different circumstances for me leading up to that fight. I had to pull out of a title fight before that, which you never want to do. Three-quarters of the battle for me was just getting back in the cage,” Lemke said.
“I’m a completely different fighter now,” he added. “I think I’ve progressed everywhere, not just with my skills but with the approach I take. I’ve had quite a few fights and I’ve learned from both the wins and the losses. You always learn. Sometimes you learn the hard way.”
Lemke and Powell each enter the cage for the fourth time in less than a year. That activity is the reason neither man feels uneasy about accepting such a stern challenge after an abbreviated training camp.
In Powell’s case, fighting is simply a natural extension of his everyday life as owner and head instructor at Nostos MMA in Somersworth, N.H.
“I’m grateful for everything I have. I have a 4-year-old daughter and she likes to come to the academy and train jiu-jitsu,” Powell said. “I have a pretty amazing life. I only have to teach, train and fight. A lot of people don’t get more than a couple hours with their kids every night. We sacrifice a lot for this sport. People only see the 15 minutes of hell. They don’t see everything else.”
Powell is pleased to represent NEF for only the third time in his blossoming career.
“NEF is one of the biggest promotions in the country. They make superstars out of guys from Maine,” Powell said. “I fought for World Series of Fighting, and I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking them, but it was a much smaller show. NEF has a huge following, and now you see them going places like Cape Cod and Bangor, and that can only grow it even more. They do it right, and I’m glad to be able to step in there for them.”
Lemke faces the added pressure of fighting in front of not only White but his hometown fans from the Bangor area.
Many of them are not accustomed to the four-hour round trip for his encounters in Lewiston.
“A fight is still just a fight, and the next fight is the biggest fight regardless. You never know who could be there watching or what could happen as a result,” Lemke said, suggesting that he is more concerned with his opponent. “Devin is a phenomenal fighter. He has a great skill set. He’s highly touted and he has a great record to back it up. It’s definitely the challenge of a lifetime for me. He’s also a great guy outside the cage. I get along with him well. I think we respect each other.”
Powell confirmed those suspicions, although he reiterated that his objective is nothing less than another decisive victory.
“He’s a good guy. I don’t have to go to that deep, dark place. I understand that my job is to hurt someone so badly that the referee has to step in to save his life. It’s a beautiful, violent sport. I respect anyone who has the courage to get in there with the same goals as me,” Powell said. “I’m expecting a brouhaha with Lemke. He’s aggressive. He comes to fight. I like to do the same things. The first fight was short-lived. If I’m able to repeat that, I’m sure Dana White will be happy.”
“NEF Presents Dana White: Looking for a Fight” takes place on Friday, August 5, 2016 at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine. Tickets are on sale now at www.CrossInsuranceCenter.com or by calling the box office at 800.745.3000.
For more information on the event and fight card updates, please visit the promotion’s website at www.NewEnglandFights.com. In addition, you can watch NEF videos at www.youtube.com/NEFMMA and www.flocombat.com, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”