Casey Streeter moved around the ring quickly, ducking and blocking punches thrown by Wade Faria, his sparring partner. Streeter tried to shake off two years of rust with every jab.

Streeter’s last fight was Nov. 9, 2019, and when he gets into the ring Saturday night at the Portland Expo to fight Khiary Gray, the longest break between fights in Streeter’s professional boxing career will be over. That he gets to fight at the Expo, his favorite venue, in front of the hometown crowd, is a bonus.

“I love fighting at the Expo. It’s always a great atmosphere,” Streeter said.

Junior middleweight Casey Streeter of Portland is among those on the card as boxing returns to the Portland Expo on Saturday night. Travis Lazarczyk photo

Since the start of the pandemic, combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts have been on pause in Maine. That changes this weekend, with a pair of events in Portland. On Friday, Aura, a venue in the Old Port, will host NEF 45: Uprising, an MMA event organized by New England Fights, a Lewiston-based fight promotions company. Saturday night at the Expo, longtime Portland boxing trainer and promoter Bob Russo will put on a fight card.

Hal Pierce, chairman of the Combat Sports Authority of Maine, said he’s fielded calls from fighters and promoters since last year, asking when Maine would reopen for fights. Everything was contingent on the state protocols, which prevented combat sports from taking place. When those were lifted, events could be scheduled, Pierce said.

“We were erring on the side of caution. These are contact sports where everybody is in close proximity,” Pierce said. “At least I feel safe about this. I’ll feel better once we get through it successfully.”

Both events must follow the city’s COVID-19 event protocols. All in attendance must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the event. Masks are required unless eating or drinking. In the case of the boxing event at the Expo, a facility owned by the city, it helps that there’s a working relationship with Russo, the owner of the Portland Boxing Club who has put on numerous boxing events at the Expo over the years.

“It’s great to have (Russo) back,” said Andy Downs, Portland’s Director of Public Assembly and Facilities. “We’re trying to help events return. … It’s the same policies as with the Celtics (the NBA G League affiliate of the Boston Celtics that calls the Expo home). We have to remember we’re just trying to keep people safe and healthy.”

In order to make it easier for unvaccinated fans and fighters to get into the Expo, Russo will have a mobile testing unit on site.

Matt Peterson, one of the promoters of the MMA event at Aura, said he’s had no difficulty making sure fighters are either vaccinated or tested this week.

“They’re adults and professionals. They’re on top of their lives. There’s not a lot of hand-holding,” Peterson said.

NEF 45 is the first mixed martial arts show in the state since Feb. 8, 2020, when New England Fights held an event at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium. For Raymond’s Nathaniel Grimard, Friday’s 145-pound fight against Billy Wilson will be his first in front of a home crowd. Grimard, 23, a former collegiate wrestler at the University of Southern Maine, traveled to Florida for a pair of fights earlier this year, both wins, and also fought in Milford, New Hampshire.

“I have a lot of family and friends coming. Guys I knew at USM,” said Grimard. “Everyone is so excited for the fight.”

Tickets for NEF 45 at Aura range from $60 to $110 and can be purchased via Ticketmaster.

Brandon Berry, 34, a professional boxer from West Forks, has fought six times out of state since October 2020, five times in New Hampshire and once in Orlando, Florida. Berry is scheduled to fight Diego Vicente Perez at the Expo. He said he expects a number of fans to make the drive to Portland from Somerset County to support him.

“When I fight at the Expo, it feels like I’m fighting at home,” Berry said.

Changes in Streeter’s personal life made it impossible for him to find fights out of state. He had to bide his time until the go ahead was given to fight in Maine again.

“I got a new job as a corrections officer, so that took up a lot of time. I was going through some personal stuff I had to deal with first,” said Streeter, who is 10-1-1 as a professional and fights as a junior middleweight at 154 pounds. “Once I got that situated, I was back in (the gym). This is like my second home.”

Jorge Abiague, 41, is another Portland boxer using Saturday as a chance to get back into the ring after a long pause. Abiague’s last fight was in November 2016.

Sparring with younger fighters is taxing, said Abiague, who is 10-2 in his pro career. He said it will be worth it when he hears the hometown cheers as he enters the ring to take on Mike Oliver, a bantamweight.

“Boxing is not a sport. It’s an addiction. It keeps bringing me back,” Abiague said.

Faria, a middleweight from Gorham, and lightweight Ilyas Bashir of Auburn will be making their Expo debuts as part of the boxing card. Tickets range from $25 to $100 and can be purchased at portlandboxingclub.org.

This is the 106th boxing show Russo has promoted, and this one seemed a little harder, he said. Not because he has to remind people about the COVID-19 rules. After a year and a half of those, people are used to them, Russo said. Rather, Russo is trying to juggle more ticket requests from sponsors. It’s a good problem to have, he said. The Expo’s capacity is 3,000. Earlier this week, Russo estimated 70 percent of tickets were sold.

“People are somewhat used to going through some hoops. You see the crowds at all these games. They want to do it. They want to get out,” Russo said. “I think we all want to get back to normal life here.”


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