Just three years ago in Bangor, Maine, Chris Young, an old school MMA fighter no longer plying his trade on the inside of the cage, was training a few amateur fighters in the basement of his home. (Chris had once trained across town at Team Irish, under the guidance of UFC veteran Marcus Davis.) Chris Young’s prized pupil was a skinny teenager named Ryan Sanders, who himself had once trained over at Team Irish as well. One version that reached my ears is that Sanders left Team Irish while another version is that he was kicked out. Well, Ryan Sanders got done over at Team Irish and began training in Chris Young’s Basement, affectionately known as Young’s MMA.
Ryan Sanders had his first Pro MMA fight in April of 2011, and in just 14 months the Northern Maine Welterweight carved out a nice 4-1 record; his only loss was a close decision to Team Bombsquad’s Mike Winters. But Sanders, who was still training in some guys’ basement in Maine , had beaten four fighters from Sityodtong, Wai Kru, Brazilian Top Team, and American Fight Team. His win against Wai Kru’s Dan Keefe put him on the regional radar.
With such a precocious start, things seemed to be falling into place just very nicely. Young’s MMA then moved from the basement of Chris Young’s house into their new location, a beautiful 2,500 sf. state-of-the-art MMA facility along Route 2. But Sanders, who had no wrestling or fight training of any kind in his background before entering the MMA world, had hit a plateau, but he just didn’t know it yet. A short notice loss to Gil de Freitas, albeit a five round decision, began the skid. Next, in a fight that was looking to be a unanimous decision win for Sanders, came a loss via knee bar to BJJ ace Jarod Lawton at 4:59 of round three, effectively snatching a defeat from the jaws of victory. Then came the KO loss to former World Karate Champ Michael “Venom” Page at Bellator 93. Ryan Sanders, the skinny kid from Northern Maine , was at a loss, in a lot more ways than one. The once promising star had just dropped three in a row, going more than a year without a win.
During Ryan Sanders’ fourteen month sabbatical from the winners circle, a very talented and charismatic teammate carried the Young’s MMA torch. Featherweight Ray “All Business” Wood, who had banged out a 5-1 Amateur record while earning top regional honors and NorthEast Amateur Fighter of the Year 2012, would run off four straight Pro wins, establishing himself as one of the top prospects in New England . “Ray didn’t just run with the baton, he sprinted with it,” said Sanders. “Ray keeps his eyes on the prize, and we feed off one another.” Much like his teammate and best friend Ryan Sanders, Ray Wood muscled out his 4-0 start against top fighters from much larger MMA camps from around New England and New York . In July of 2013, Ray Wood injured his knee while defeating Canadian Lenny Wheeler for the Maine State Featherweight Title with a first round submission in July of 2013. The knee injury would need surgery; All Business Ray would be Out of Business Ray for a year…
With Ray Wood on the shelf, Ryan Sanders returned to the winning side of the MMA fence with a second round submission win over Rashaun Spencer in September of 2013. The win didn’t exactly put Sanders back on the map, but it did give him some much needed confidence. During Ryan’s 14 month hiatus from winning, Ray wood won four times, and since Ray’s knee injury, Ryan has not lost. “That’s funny the way it happened,” said Sanders. “But we keep each other motivated. I can’t wait for Ray to come back.”
Enter Marcus Davis…
Marcus Davis was the UFC’s gate keeper to the Welterweight division before the organization cut him loose in 2011. With fifteen fights in the Octagon, Marcus, who fights out of and trains across town from Young’s MMA, was one of New England ’s top ranked 170 pounders. Having gone 5-2-1 since his release from the UFC, Marcus was come back motivated, but recent loss in the Bellator Lightweight Tournament to Tiger Sarnavskiy put his hopes of a run to the title on the back burner. Marcus was looking for one more invitation to the big dance and he needed a win to put him there.
Enter Ryan Sanders…
The date was set for February 8, 2014; the location was the Colisee in Lewiston , ME at NEF 12. Marcus was very vocal about his feelings toward his former student, and it wasn’t pretty. Local media was full of Marcus’ smack talk about Sanders, while Sanders was hard pressed to find anything negative to say on the topic. “I just wanted to do my talking in the cage,” said Ryan.
In the first round of the Main Event at NEF 12, Sanders connected of several head kicks to start things off. Davis tried to bully Sanders, but the skinny kid from Young’s MMA wasn’t having it; each time Marcus tried to clinch it up, Sanders turned Davis around to the cage and busted him up with tight elbows. Sanders worked in a takedown or two, transitioning so seamlessly that Davis was at a constant loss. Staying outside of Davis ’ range while fighting long, or moving in tight and beating up Davis on the inside, Sanders controlled the first round. With time running out in the first, and MMA DNA covering Marcus Davis’ face, Sanders connected with a flying knee to the head that likely spelled the end of Marcus’ 30 plus fight career. Marcus Davis never answered the bell for the second round; it was ruled a doctors’ stoppage.
The fight went exactly as game-planned; use reach and fight long, beat up Marcus in the clinch, and use fast smooth transitions. “That fight went exactly how I envisioned it,” said Sanders. “When I closed my eyes at night the week of the fight, that is just how I saw it.”
The win was a big step forward for Ryan Sanders, but it was also a huge step forward for Young’s MMA. With Ray Wood (still 4-0) at the top of the Featherweight division and readyu to start training again, and Sanders back on top of his game, the little gym that started out in some guys’ basement is on top. “We’re #1 in Maine , there’s no doubt about that now,” Ryan said. “We have Damon Owens (2-0), Kevin Smith (3-1), Aaron Lacey (3-0), and so many others. If we were a basketball team, our bench could beat most other team’s starters.”
Coach Chris Young feels that, while his team is certainly near the top, they still have a ways to go. “I don’t like to say that we’re number one in Maine , even though we may be, because we have so much more to accomplish. We’re moving into the new facility in May. (Young’s is moving into a 10,000 sf. facility in May of this year!) We have so many new fighters and members here. But I don’t want to focus on Maine . I want to push to get our fighters to Bellator, to the bigger stages.”
Ryan Sanders has righted his ship; his confidence has never been higher. He is looking for a rematch with any one of his losses or any other regionally ranked fighters. And Young’s MMA is moving into a new facility and into a new future…
Front-Page Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports