FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Lewiston, Maine (June 13, 2017) – Ray “All Business” Wood has received his mail in Florida, Maine, South Carolina and Texas, to name just a few corners of the United States. He’s comfortable with a nomadic existence, especially when his highest goals are at stake.
The Pine Tree State is where Wood’s mixed martial arts dream evolved, however. And in any endeavor at any chapter of life, sometimes home is where you can go to recapture the magic.
That’s at least some of the inspiration for one of the most popular combatants in New England Fights history as he sets foot in that regional cage for the first time in 28 months.
Wood (8-3) will lock up with Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra (19-5) in a featherweight bout that promises nothing but fireworks at “NEF 29: Stars & Stripes” on Saturday, June 17. The opening bell at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I’m coming off two losses, so it’s good to get back where it all started,” Wood said. “It’s a good time to rekindle the fire.”
No shortage of major factors have contributed to the hiccup in Wood’s winning ways. For starters, Wood, who turns 28 on June 6, has been juggling his career with life’s ultimate responsibility since last summer, when his wife, Tiana, gave birth to their first child, Liem.
It’s also worth noting that his two losses have come against undefeated fighters in the elite Bellator Fighting Championships. Wood tapped to a first-round choke at the hands of Adam Piccolotti (9-0) on May 14, 2016. After a brief stint to embrace the newfound challenges of fatherhood, Wood returned to the fray in December and dropped a unanimous decision to second-generation MMA prospect A.J. McKee, Jr. (8-0).
Wood is quick to point out that a busier life is no excuse for a change in performance. Rather, it empowers him with new purpose as he plies his non-traditional trade.
“It’s definitely been a lot of big changes. Now I have a kid. That changes everything,” he said. “That gives me a lot more to fight for. If I go out and perform, that provides more opportunities and gives me more to offer my family.”
The only other loss on Wood’s docket coincided with his most recent experience in Maine. Crafty veteran Anthony “Cheesesteak” Morrison (20-11) took the NEF featherweight belt via fifth-round submission.
Wood left Maine shortly thereafter for Gaffney, South Carolina. He now resides with his family in Amarillo, Texas.
“I wasn’t originally from Maine,” said Wood, who grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, before moving to Bucksport in seventh grade. “I kind of knew I wanted to leave and see what was out there.”
He took many pieces of Maine with him, though. Wood, a high school wrestler, found himself sorely missing that competition after graduation, so he took up jiu-jitsu.
Shortly thereafter, he heard that a gentleman named Chris Young was training MMA fighters at a home-based sweatshop in Bangor.
“He was holding workouts in his basement. This was before his gym (Young’s MMA) even started. It was a weird thing,” Wood recalled. “Looking back on it, who just shows up at somebody’s house, knocks on the door and says, ‘Hey, I hear you guys train MMA?” You just hope you have the right house.
“I love to compete, and I loved wrestling,” he added. “I knew when my wrestling days were over that I needed to find something to fill that void.”
Mixed martial arts provided that platform. Wood picked up three wins before stopping Ahsan Abdullah (7-8) on strikes at the inaugural NEF card in February 2012.
Wood emerged as a mainstay with the growing organization, culminating with his July 2013 victory in Bangor over Lenny Wheeler (9-6, 1 NC) for the vacant title.
“When I first started, I had no illusions of fighting professionally or anything like that. My passion found me,” Wood said. “NEF does a great job preparing guys. They’ve sent a bunch of guys on to fight at the next level. They keep fighters busy. I was able to win a title, and it certainly didn’t hurt my career. I’m glad I was able to fight for them early on.”
While he’s back under the familiar black banner, the competition remains at a world-class level. Bezerra, 29, is a nine-time Bellator veteran.
The Brazilian, now based out of Philadelphia, lost a decision to unbeaten Andre Harrison (16-0) in his last fight. Prior to that, he split two wars with UFC vet Levan Makashvili (14-2-1), and then won two quick stoppages.
“He’s got a lot of experience. He’s been in with the best of the best. He has a combination of toughness and skill,” Wood said. “He’s like me in that he likes to take the fight to you. We’re not going to be in there playing patty-cake.”
Ups and downs are the nature of even the most successful MMA careers. Wood has learned not to let the recent losses leave him awestruck by the caliber of opponents at the next level.
“You have to stay true to your training, You have to remember why you fell in love with the sport in the first place,” he said. “A fight is a fight, no matter where it takes place or who is watching. You just have to pay attention to what you know.”
The time between his past two birthdays has been a period of learning in both Wood’s personal and professional lives.
As the new father discussed his upcoming return to New England via phone, his infant son was audible in the background.
“He’s 10 months old. It’s crazy how quickly that time goes,” Wood said. “He’s a little bit feisty. I can kind of tell he’s going to be an athlete.”
Wood’s return headlines a card that tentatively features four professional MMA fights, four pro boxing matches, and seven amateur skirmishes in the cage.
Tickets to “NEF 29: Stars & Stripes” start at $25 and are available by calling (207) 783-2009 ext. 525 or at www.thecolisee.com.
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, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”
About New England Fights
New England Fights (“NEF”) is a fight events promotions company. NEF’s mission is to create the highest quality events for Maine’s fighters and fans alike. NEF’s executive team has extensive experience in combat sports management, events production, media relations, marketing, legal and advertising.