Sports

Teammates turned rivals to headline Orono MMA show

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New England Fights will bring its own brand of art — mixed martial arts — to the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine in Orono for the first time Sept. 7.

And while the Collins Center’s typical schedule features a blend of music and theater, NEF plans an evening that could provide its own share of drama, especially given the build-up to the scheduled main event between unbeaten professionals Josh Harvey — a Dexter native and Dexter Regional High School graduate — and Ricky Dexter on a card titled “NEF 40: School of Hard Knocks.”

The two fought as amateurs, then became teammates at Young’s MMA in Bangor.

Now they are rivals again.

Harvey, the reigning NEF pro featherweight champion who is ranked fifth in New England at 155 pounds and seventh at 145, enters this bout at a catchweight of 160 pounds with a 6-0-1 record that includes all of his victories coming by first-round stoppage.

That followed a 5-1 amateur career that included a victory over Dexter by first-round armbar on June 13, 2015, in Lewiston in their battle for the vacant NEF amateur featherweight belt. Dexter was 3-0 as an amateur entering that bout.

“I felt there was a little sour taste in his mouth because he felt I caught him, and maybe he wasn’t 100 percent ready for that fight,” Harvey said. “But he joined our team at Young’s shortly after, so there was really no speaking of a rematch.”

While both eventually trained together at Young’s MMA, they didn’t become fast friends.

“They had fought before, so the few times they trained together there was always a little tension in the room,” said Young’s MMA co-owner and head trainer Chris Young.

Harvey then left Young’s MMA earlier this year to train under Primo Bellarosa at Vision Quest Muay Thai, making the rematch between Harvey and Dexter a natural, according to NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson.

“Josh and Ricky have trained together for years,” Peterson said. “They know everything about each other — their habits, their weaknesses. They understand every subtle factor about each other’s style at a level of detail that only comes after years of living in the same gym and sharing countless sparring hours together.

“Every aspect of this main event is interesting, from the backstory to the setting to the contracted weight to the long-term career implications for both fighters.”

Dexter, a former NEF amateur welterweight champion, re-enters the cage after a 2½-year absence since making his professional debut with a first-round victory over Matt Denning in February 2017.

“This fight is extra dangerous for Harvey because I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain,” the unranked Dexter said. “My sole purpose in the next [few] weeks of my life is to derail the Harvey hype train and expose him for what he is. This fall, I’m going back to college and I’ll be majoring in violence.”

The Harvey-Dexter matchup is one of 22 bouts — five professional and 18 amateur — scheduled for the Orono show, which is set for a 7 p.m. opening bell.

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