Which part of the world produces the best fighters? This is a popular topic of debate for fans of mixed martial arts. For many, the first answer that comes to mind is probably Brazil, which has a plethora of fighters who have graced cages in numerous promotions worldwide. Of course, an argument can also be made for countries in Asia and Europe, too.
UFC featherweight Matt Bessette has a different answer. He’ll argue that the northeastern United States is not to be overlooked when it comes to producing top-level talent.
“There is outstanding MMA coming from the Northeast,” Bessette told Combat Press. “I’m proud to have come out of there, and there are veterans like Joe Lauzon, Kenny Florian, Gabriel Gonzaga, Rob Font and myself. There was already good boxing in the Northeast, and MMA is growing and is becoming a natural thing. It’s a tribute to TV and to the UFC. Guys now want to get into MMA instead of boxing.”
A Connecticut native, Bessette made a name for himself on the Northeast regional MMA circuit when he turned pro in 2007 and competed in promotions like Reality Fighting and CES MMA, where he captured the promotion’s featherweight title in 2016. Bessette mixed in some appearances for Bellator MMA, which included a bout with current title contender Daniel Weichel and a victory over Diego Nunes.
“It was good, and it was necessary,” Bessette said of his time in Bellator. “It made me feel like I made it to the next level. I fought some really good guys on TV, and it did a lot for my confidence. But I also don’t feel like they did more for me than just bringing me in to lose to Nunes, and I spoiled that. It was bittersweet — my goal is to never go back there. I’m in the UFC now, and I’m ending my career here.”
Bessette is also involved with Fight for the Forgotten, which is a non-profit organization that supports the Mbuti Pygmy people of the Congo in Africa. It is also part of an organization that has the goal to bring clean water to remote regions of the world. The Fight for the Forgotten cause received a lot of promotion through the involvement of Bellator’s Justin Wren. After Bessette heard Wren talk about it on the popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, he knew he had to do something.
“I can’t represent them as much now in the cage, but I always did in Bellator and in CES,” Bessette said. “I also read Justin’s book, and I was so moved that I had to donate. We raised more than $4,000 and helped to build two wells there in 2016 and 2017.”
Bessette’s stint in CES really prepared him for his opportunity with the UFC. His extensive experience on the regional MMA circuit gave him a front-row seat to its growth.
“It’s tremendous now, especially at the amateur level,” Bessette said. “Guys who are amateurs now would smash the pros. Guys just want to be killers now and smash people. I joined a MMA school after my second fight. It was completely different than what I had experienced.”
Bessette’s resume at both the regional and pro level enabled him to land a spot on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last year. It was actually the second UFC program on which Bessette had the opportunity to compete.
“I first tried out for The Ultimate Fighter in 2011, but I was among the last to be cut,” he said. “But [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby knew me and my manager for about four to five years, and I knew I was in really good shape to go three rounds. I won seven in a row by finish, and I was asked by Sean about the Contender Series, because I had a teammate who he wanted to put on there. But then he offered it to me, and I couldn’t say no.”
Unfortunately, Bessette suffered a first-round knockout loss to Kurt Holobaugh on the show. However, Holobaugh admitted to using an illegal IV to rehydrate after the weigh-ins for the fight, and it was ruled a no-contest. Bessette received another opportunity at UFC 220 in January, but came up short in a decision loss to Enrique Barzola.
“I thought I did really well,” Bessette said. “I wish I had a few weeks more to get ready, because I was dealing with some injuries and I wasn’t in the best shape. I was pretty gassed in the third round.”
Bessette, whose record now stands at 22-8, expects the third time to be the charm. His next UFC bout comes against Steven Peterson, who holds a 16-7 mark, at The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale on July 6 in Las Vegas.
“I always have the mindset to win,” Bessette said. “If you prepare mentally and physically, then the fight is extremely easy. But not because of your opponent, but because your body and your mind are prepared and you’ve done everything humanly possible to be ready.”