In case you're wondering, "nobody has been seriously injured or needed serious medical attention to date, to our knowledge," says Bouffard, whose Authority gets post-fight medical reports from on-site doctors. "We do suspend fighters that have been KO'd or TKO'd but there have only been a few. This is standard practice to keep fighters from competing too soon."

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FIGHT NIGHT I Ryan Sanders of Veazie, right, beat Dan Keefe of New Hampshire, in Lewiston on February 11.

Sweating it Out

On a recent Tuesday night, the Team Headstrong practice space in Waterboro (a multi-purpose building that also hosts high-school wrestling practice and Zumba classes) was bustling and humid as eight young men went through circuit-training: grappling, punching bags, shadowboxing, kettle bells, and sparring with Headstrong manager Jonathan Cyr and head coach Shaun Head.

Team Headstrong has four amateur fighters on the card for April 14 — Andrew Tripp, Tim Grovo, Colby Adams, and Nick Walker. Fight Night II will feature four professional fights and 12 amateur match-ups from more than 20 promotional outfits (operations that both train and manage fighters — another popular one is the Brewer-based Team Irish, which is owned by Maine native and UFC fighter Marcus Davis).

It will be 21-year-old Tim Grovo's second amateur bout, and the Limington native says it's the challenge that's appealing. "You can be in the best shape of your life and you'll never master this sport," he says. Coming from this guy — whose nickname around the gym is "Muscleman" and who looks like he could lift a car without breathing heavily — that's saying something.

Like the other athletes I spoke to, Grovo seems unfazed by the potential for serious injury in the cage or ring. And also in keeping with a trend, he was unfailingly polite.

Despite the tough-guy façade, MMA fighters are rarely tempted to swing punches or act overly aggressive outside the ring, says Jay Jack, a former fighter himself and the co-owner of the Academy of Mixed Martial Arts on Riverside Street in Portland. "The reason people fight outside is because of insecurity or weakness," he says. His fighters exhibit the opposite of that — they are empowered, he claims.

"Anybody who opposes any violent sport — they have every right to feel that way," Cyr, of Headstrong, says. "I'm sure I share a lot of their beliefs about violence." But he thinks MMA provides "a proper venue" to release aggression, as well as for athletes "to compete, to learn about themselves, and experience themselves as artists." Yes, artists.

Cyr points out that it takes much more than lots of practice to be a good MMA fighter — you also need to eat right, cut out drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, build successful, supportive relationships, and do well at a 9-to-5 job. "These are solid, stable people," he says, looking around at the room full of sweaty guys. "Martial arts is a way of life."

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CAGE MATCH Andrew Tripp of Team Headstrong, right, defeated Tollison Lewis of Gorham in 59 seconds.

Girls Fight Too

In addition to the 16 professional and amateur bouts between men on April 14, spectators will witness a fight between 28-year-old Portlander Maria Rios and Fernanda Aurajo, who is coming up from Massachusetts for the event in Biddeford.

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