PAWTUCKET — Aside from exclusively fighting before a few thousand fans at the Twin River Event Center during the past couple of years, Todd Chattelle and Keith Jeffrey had spent the early years of their pro careers mostly fighting in front of hundreds of spectators and sometimes in some strange locations.
They both fought on the state’s first MMA show on Oct. 31, 2010 at the R.I. Convention Center, but that show has very few quality fights on it and less than a thousand fans filled the 7,500-seat venue.
And before that show, when MMA was not yet legalized in Rhode Island, the Pawtucket fighters often found themselves battling before much smaller gatherings in the ballrooms of hotels and some out-of-the-way outdoor venues in Massachusetts.
But come a week from Saturday, Chattelle and Jeffrey are both going to see one of their wildest dreams come true. They will be among the fighters appearing on an all-star card that will make up the “Real Pain” event at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, the first-ever MMA show to invade the 12,400-seat arena.
The event, which is presented by Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment & Sports in association with June Entertainment, promises to be a sellout and will also appear live on Direct TV Pay-Per-View starting at 8 p.m.
“I remember working there when they were remodeling it,” added Chattelle, who is also employed as a concrete finisher. “I would sit there with all the chairs in the arena and it would be all dusty and dirty, and I would just sit back and imagine what it would be like to walk out in front of a crowd like that. Now I’m finally going to be there.”
“I have a feeling it’s going to be electric,” noted Jeffrey. “Growing up as a kid, going to the Providence Civic Center, seeing the Providence Bruins play and local events there, and kind of dreaming of being there one day… and here I am, fighting there now. It is a dream come true.”
The two fighters, who were hard at work training at their Tri-Force MMA compound on Conant Street, will join another local Tri-Force MMA fighter, Woonsocket bantamweight Andre Soukhamthath, on a 13-fight extravaganza that contains four ex-Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) fighters and a showcase of some of the region’s premier talents.
Jeffrey, a welterweight, will carry an 8-2 mark (six of those wins via submissions) and a three-fight win streak into a marquee matchup against one of those former UFC veterans, Chad Reiner (29-13, 9 KOs) of Omaha, Neb.
Jeffrey, who is now ranked No. 5 among the northeast’s top 170-pounders, last fought on the June 15 “Proving Grounds” show at Twin River and was a second-round submission victor over Harley Beekman, while Reiner flies into Providence with wins in seven of his last 10 bouts.
“It’s my biggest fight to date and my toughest test yet,” added Jeffrey. “[Reiner’s] pretty good at everything. He’s not exceptional at one thing, but he’s good on the ground, he’s a good striker, and he’s tough. And he’s got a lot of fights, 42 of them, so I know he’s very experienced. But I’m pushing extra hard and I put in a great camp, so I’ll be ready.”
While Jeffrey will be pursuing for his fourth win in a 10½-month span, Chattelle will be seeking his first since he captured CES’s inaugural MMA middleweight championship last Nov. 18 with a submission victory over Brett Oteri.
In Chattelle’s next fight, a title defense on April 13 against former UFC title contender John “Doomsday” Howard, he suffered a second-round TKO loss. And he was supposed to take on Chandler Holderness of Boulder, Col. in June, but an elbow injury shut down plans for that fight.
But Chattelle (10-7, 8 KOs) is now healthy and anxious to fight again, and Holderness (9-3, 4 KOs) will again be his opponent.
“I had a fracture in my elbow, but I’m fine now,” added Chattelle. “I did it in my training camp for the fight against Doomsday, and when I was getting ready for Chandler the last time, it got worst. But I’m ready to go and I’m ready to bang. This is probably the biggest fight of my life. It’s everything I’ve been waiting for.”
Holderness eventually fought in June and produced a knockout victory that gave him his fourth victory in his last five fights and boosted his ranking in the middleweight division to seventh, five spots behind Chattelle, who is No. 2 behind Howard.
“I’ve been going hard for this one,” said Chattelle. “(Holderness) gave me a little bit of motivation. He was saying I was ducking him, my quote-unquote injury, I backed out, blash, blah, blah. That was probably the worst thing that he could have done -- give me a reason to go hard and keep going. That’s going to be on him when I get in there.”
As for Soukhamthath (2-1, 1 KO), he will battle Rob Costa (2-0) of Fall River, Mass. in what promises to be a hard-fought interstate duel. And the other Tri-Force fighter on the card, Providence lightweight Mike “The Beast” Campbell (11-4, 7 KOs), who is ranked No. 5 in his weight class in the region, will fight Philadelphia’s Gemiyale Adkins (7-3, 3 KOs), who will drop down from his welterweight ranks to fight Campbell at 155 pounds.
“Tri-Force, we’re running it in New England right now,” said Jeffrey. “We have the best crop of guys and some of the best coaches around, and we’re looking forward to showing what we’re made of.”
The night’s main event and co-feature will highlight the mixed martial arts debut of six-time World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) heavyweight champion Dave Bautista and the southern New England debut of UFC middleweight Dave Loiseau.
The 43-year-old Bautista, who is an imposing figure at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, will fight heavyweight veteran Rashid Evans of Newburgh, N.Y., and Loiseau (20-10, 13 KOs), a native of Montreal and a former title contender, will take on Charleston, S.C. submission specialist Chris McNally (5-4).
Another former UFC fighter, welterweight Marc Stevens (14-7, 6 KOs) of Lorraine, N.Y. will face Providence’s Luis Felix (7-6, 4 KOs), a winner of five of his last seven fights, and Howard (17-7, 6 KOs), a Boston native, will seek his fourth victory in a row when he fights middleweight Brett Chism (16-11, 7 KOs) of Valdosta, Ga.
Also on the undercard is a clash between two of the northeast’s premier featherweights, top-ranked Saul “The Spider” Almeida (12-2) of Framingham, Mass. and No. 4 ranked Calvin “The Boston Finisher” Kattar (12-2, 6 KOs) of Methuen, Mass.
Two of the region’s top heavyweights are also battling each other, as No. 3 ranked Josh Diekmann (12-4, 8 KOs) of Groton, Conn. will clash with No. 5 ranked Tyler King (4-1, 2 KOs) of Norwood, Mass.
In a light heavyweight fight, Providence’s Greg Rebello (13-4, 7 KOs), who is the No. 3 ranked 205-pounder in the northeast, will seek his first victory in two full years when he steps into the cage against Chris Guillen (13-12, 1 KO) of St. George, Utah.
Two other Providence fighters round out the card. In a middleweight fight, No. 6 ranked Brennan Ward (3-0, 2 KOs) will oppose Shedrick Goodridge (2-2) of Rahway, N.J., and in a welterweight duel, Nate Andrews (1-0) will take on Leon Davis (2-0) of Springfield, Mass.
The tickets are priced at $20, $35, $55, $75, $125, and $250 and can be bought by calling 286-4962 or visiting www.cesmma.com  and www.ticketmaster.com . The show on Direct TV’s PPV can also be purchased for $29.95 ($39.95 in high-definition).