The sacrifices made to be great are scarcely witnessed by the average joe. For this reason, those such as Georges St. Pierre and Jose Aldo (who attained notoriety on the biggest stage) are recognized as legends.
If you aren’t successfully tearing through the UFC or any other major organization, you’ll never be one. Yet some achieve greatness in other promotions, regional ones that, while not be as high up on the pecking order, are still able to produce numerous talent and firefights.
Without the regional circuit, it is safe to say you wouldn’t have a UFC or Bellator to binge most Saturday nights. Smaller promotions such as Titan FC, CES MMA, and LFA – feeder organizations, if you will – have provided a multitude of talent to the big leagues. Some make it, some don’t, while some manage to do both: fight for the best and return to the banner that made them.
On a cool September night, regional great Matt Bessette (25-10-1) made his final walk towards sanctioned combat. He was once more headlining for CES MMA in a bid to claim lightweight gold; with two promotional title reigns down at featherweight, he had already secured himself as a favorite with the organization’s audience.
Ryan De La Cruz awaited him in the cage, eager to send waves through the MMA community. A win over a veteran like Bessette, a Bellator and UFC alum, would do nothing but wonders for the career of the Hawaiian. But Bessette had other plans; his final dance only ever had one outcome.
In the third-round of their championship encounter, Bessette locked in a deep reverse-triangle choke. As his adversary tapped to signal defeat, a series of emotions ran through the mind of the gritty vet. Celebration’s occurred, a speech was made and gloves were laid to rest. Another retirement in the world’s greatest sport…
“I just don’t have the time needed to compete at this level anymore,” explained the three-time CES champion. “There was a time where all I did was train. I didn’t have a toddler or a time consuming full time job and there was never a thought of having to stop fighting.”
“It’s my time to stop competing in MMA. I’ll never stop training, learning and getting better, but competing I am done with.”
In a career spanning 14 years, Bessette took the road less travelled, clawing his way through various regional promotions en route to multiple Bellator and UFC appearances. Even when in the big leagues things weren’t so cushy; “The Mangler” would routinely face a tough stretch of competition. Kurt Holobaugh, Jeremy Kennedy, Khama Worthy and Kevin Croom are just a few names that sit on his register of violence, each being current or former UFC competitors.
“There are many highlights [looking back at] my career,” he told The Scrap when reflecting on the wild ride he’d lived. “Fighting at TD Garden for my first UFC fight, defeating Diego Nunes in the Bellator [featherweight] tournament at the Mohegan Sun Casino, winning my first regional championship in a bloodbath of a fight and going to an opponent’s hometown to fight him for $1 – and coming out the victor – [are all great moments].”
“And that’s just a few examples. There are so many beautiful memories that I’ll carry with me after retirement.”
He first encountered the sport of mixed martial arts aged 22, a number many consider fairly late in the journey of those aiming to make a profession of it. The appeal was simple, and it wasn’t money-driven. Matt Bessette wanted to live the lifestyle.
“The draw to the sport was watching two guys in an all out brawl, blood everywhere, people cheering and treating the fighters like kings. Belts and women [were] promised as trophies” joked the Connecticut native, “all of that sounded wonderful at 22 years old.”
If it wasn’t clear already, the now 36 year old is a fighter at heart; his style perfectly fits into the quote of ‘a fighters fighter.’ Never taking the easy road, risk taking and throwing heat until the very end has always been a code for Bessette. And as he puts it, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s absolutely the legacy to leave” he explained. “I want to be known as the guy who showed up in order to outwork everyone else in the gym, every single day, no matter the circumstances. I want to be known as the guy who fought the top guys in ever since he was able to, constantly testing himself against great competition throughout the duration. I want to be known as the guy trained a very specific way – I’ve said for years that I don’t train to prepare to fight, I train not to die.”
“I won’t be the one tired after all is said and done. Gassing out and giving up was never an option. I want to be known as the guy who signed a contract and showed up every single time – never a good enough excuse to back out, though I had MANY. I wasn’t ever willing to sacrifice my reputation for the possibility of a safer fight.”
Closing the Book
As previously mentioned, Matt Bessette was no stranger to an arduous journey. He’d went from the regional scene to Bellator and back again numerous times, a move that’ll rattle and wear down lesser men. Yet despite all of the promotions he’d represented, none quite hit home like CES MMA.
Based out of Rhode Island, CES MMA was established just over a decade ago and have featured a number of notable figures such as top ranked bantamweight Rob Font. Since streaming on UFC Fight Pass in 2019, the organization has reached the next tier in terms of viewership, now reaching a wide audience and hosting shows larger than initially imagined.
CES has been home for Matt Bessette more than once over the stretch of his career. In 2015, he first walked the down the ramp and into the promotion’s cage, excited to once more fight his way back into the Bellator roster. While he would return to Bellator two fights later, CES had a long-lasting impact on him.
In total he’s competed for the organization ten times, headlining four events and capturing three titles. Although he’s earned everything given to him, he doesn’t quite see it that way.
“CES has given me so much – too much, in my mind. The opportunities given to me are what everyone wishes are given to them. All it took was to leave my heart in the cage every time I fought, but that wasn’t ever a thought. That’s just something I would have done regardless of the opportunities presented to me.”
The knowledge bestowed to him through years of harsh competition is something which young up and comers would kill to have, nevertheless it’s part of the voyage; work ethic remains a key portion of advice he dishes out to today’s prospects.
He detailed some important advice for those seeking to make a living on the grandest stage:
“Be focused on nothing but the task at hand. Work harder than everyone else, including you from yesterday. Be good to others who deserve good. Remind people of what heart and courage looks like every day. Love first. Laugh often.”
“Most importantly, enjoy every single part of your MMA experience because there’s so much to be scared of – embrace that part of it because it’ll show its face regardless of whether you want it to or not.”
Following his recent retirement at CES 64 – an event which saw him become a multi-division champion – Bessette‘s been able to close the book on his MMA career. Whilst his days competing are done, fans can expect to hear more from him over the next few months.
“I told people that one heavy door was just closed as I prepare to open two more amazing doors. You’ll hear about [them] when I’m ready to make it known. I promise.”