Some professional fighters fight for fun. For some, it’s just a paycheck. Others grew up fighting in the streets and it’s all they’ve over known.

For Bellator veteran Matt Bessette, all he’s ever known is how to fight for life.

When Bessette was three years old, he found himself fighting for his own life. After a series of tests investigating high fevers, he was diagnosed with leukemia. The first fight for his life began before he even had a first day of school. The fight was the longest battle of his life, but one he won.



Bessette went on to live a normal childhood. He played sports and eventually landed at the University of Hartford in his hometown. It was during those years that he discovered mixed martial arts a decade after the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. His first pro fight was the year he graduated from college, and that has been his career ever since.

Well, career is one thing, but Bessette is the type of person who is always looking for a new challenge. Winning most of his own battles, he recently found himself fighting for others.

Fight for the Forgotten is a non-profit organization that supports the Mbuti Pygmy people of the Congo in Africa. It is one of many subsets of an organization that’s sole goal is to bring clean water to remote regions of the world. The Pygmy people have been disrespected and enslaved for decades, and clean water is a first step in achieving freedom. A fellow MMA veteran has been spearheading Fight for the Forgotten, and Bessette had to get involved. He had to fight for his life, so their struggle hit home.

“I want to thank Justin Wren for giving me the light of day to support the forgotten,” Bessette told Combat Press. “We’ve raised $2,316 in just a month for the forgotten, and that’s more than enough money to build a well for a whole village. Without his support, and his helping me out and guiding me through that, I would not have been able to do that for those people.”

While fighting for others is a passion for Bessette, MMA is still a career, and he’s already been in three bouts this year alone. His first two fights in February and June went well, earning Bessette a pair of second-round knockouts. However, his last fight in August did not go his way. Early in the first round of CES MMA 30, he got caught with a punch that sent him to the mat.

“The biggest takeaway was shit happens,” Bessette intimated. “It was 30 seconds into the fight, and I went to throw a kick. At the exact moment I threw the kick — right before that, he started throwing a right hand — he hit me on the chin as my left hand came down. There was literally nothing I could do. It was just the timing of it all. If there was anything I could take away from that fight, if there’s a takedown available, just take it. Maybe 10 seconds before that, we tied up for a second and I felt stronger than him, and I had an outside double leg, but I didn’t take it. I pushed away and kept standing.”

If it’s any indication of his dissatisfaction with that outcome, Bessette did not rest. He got right back in the gym, and only two months later, he will be back in the cage for the fourth time in a year tonight at Bellator 144, live from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. This will be his 10th career bout at the venue, and the hometown crowd will be on his side.

Bessette’s next opponent is Kevin Roddy, another longtime vet of the sport. With 12 submissions, Roddy is more of a ground fighter, but Bessette is well rounded, so this will be an interesting match-up.

“I know a lot about Roddy,” said Bessette. “He’s been around for a long time. He’s got 30-plus fights, and he’s fought a who’s who. He’s slick off the ground, he’s good off his back, and he finds ways to win against OK guys, but he also finds ways to lose against guys that can beat him up. I’m going to try to beat him up.”

Roddy has fought in more than a dozen different promotions, and while he does have 15 losses on his record, the bulk of the defeats happened in the time span of 2006 to 2011. In his last six outings, he’s actually 5-1, submitting three of his opponents. He’s only been knocked out twice, but Bessette is ready to increase that number.

“Fans just need to know that every time I go into the cage, it’s going to be exciting,” Besstee said. “I’m not one of those Jon Fitch-style guys, grinding out a decision. You’re going to see a fuckin’ barnburner every time. I always go for the finish, even if I don’t get it.”

Bessette keeps his battles between the cage and Africa, but outside of that, he’s just a normal guy. He was recently married to his wife, Ashley, and he has become a typical family man.

“I’m either always in the gym or always at home with my family,” Bessette said. “I’m trying to get a gun permit now. It’s one of those things on the side. Other than that, just train and family. I got married at the end of August. I have a stepson with my wife. He’s seven years old and he’ll be eight in two weeks.

Bessette is a fighter through and through. He’s ready to light up the night at Bellator 144. It is something he has done his entire life. Coincidentally, his son Caleb is following suit.

“He’s in jiu-jitsu and he loves it,” explained the Bellator vet. “We’re probably going to look into youth wrestling in the near future too. He loves grappling and he’s really good at it too. Super aggressive.”

Decades after his bout with leukemia, the battle has not stopped for Bessette. He had the fight of his life when he was a kid. Now, it’s time to fight for others. His career is one thing, but helping the Pygmy people is a fight for a civilization. The fireworks will certainly fly at Bellator 144, but the people he plans to bring clean water to will continue to live for generations, and it’s all because of his generosity.

Matt would like to thank his coaches and training partners at Underdog BJJ, Fighting Arts Academy and New England Combat in Providence. He would also like to thank Justin Wren and Fight for the Forgotten, his family, his friends, his fans and his sponsors: Whelen East Coast, Baddass Incorporated, Cutting Edge Chiropractic, RVLVR Graphics, Crossfit Hartford, Oral IV, 360 FCU, World Gym, wecanbeawesome.com, Combat Sports Nation, Tommy’s Tattoo, Rob Lucey and PMR NY & CT. Follow Bessette on Twitter: @ManglerBJJ

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Manager

Dan Kuhl has been following MMA since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993. He holds belts in multiple martial arts disciplines, and currently trains in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under a decorated black belt. Dan has an M.B.A. in Finance and Investment Management and a B.S. in Horticulture. Prior to joining Combat Press, his work appeared on The MMA Corner.

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