PRO FILES: MATT BESSETTE

The journey of a martial artist is never finished


“That’s what I love about martial arts: there’s always something to learn. There’s always something to get better at.” — Matt Bessette

Matt “The Mangler” Bessette — a mixed martial artist from Hartford, Connecticut — has overcome a remarkable amount of adversity during his brief thirty years. A well-documented childhood combined with a well-documented MMA career, Bessette has built his stellar professional reputation on a single mindset: be ready to fight back.

Despite a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from the University of Hartford, the former Lightweight-turned-Featherweight continues to strive for goals outside of the academic and professional norm. A tremendous athlete and experienced martial artist, Bessette has accomplished nearly everything imaginable within the sport. His focus and determination are now honed in on his final goal: a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Understanding his professional record expands his potential:

  • Six losses: no knockouts / one disqualification (illegal up-kick)
  • One loss to decorated UFC veteran Joe Proctor (11–3)
  • One loss to decorated Bellator Season Ten Featherweight Tournament winner Daniel Weichel (35–9)
  • One victory over decorated UFC veteran Diego Nunes (19–6)

Bessette has garnered an affinity for seeking opportunities whenever and wherever possible. In June 2015, Bessette made his Classic Entertainment & Sports debut and earned his fifteenth victory: a second-round KO over Khama Worthy (7–4) on the CES MMA XXIX card at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

Bessette has now fought for five organizations (Reality Fighting / Full Force Productions / Global Fight League / Bellator MMA / CES MMA) in five different states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Utah.

Scheduled to return to Twin River Casino for CES MMA XXX on August 14th, 2015 against Lenny Wheeler (8–3), Bessette simply refuses to stop his journey until his destination — and destiny — has arrived. In between training sessions, Bessette took the time to speak about internal fortitude, self-belief, freedom and mental discipline.


MATT “THE MANGLER” BESSETTE

  • 15–6 professional mixed martial artist (Featherweight)
  • Reality Fighting Lightweight Champion (2010)
  • Global Fight League Lightweight Champion (2011)
  • Brown Belt — Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Fabiano Teles)
  • Brown Belt — Judo (Serge Bouyssou)
  • 2x consecutive Fight of the Year (2010 v. Kaponis / 2011 v. Proctor)
  • Upset of the Year (2014 / Nunes)
  • Performance of the Year v. Nunes (2014)
  • Mass MMA Upset of the Year v. Nunes (2014)
  • Bellator Season Ten Featherweight Tournament Semi-Finalist (2014)

ON COMPETING IN DIFFERENT STATES

I’ve fought in Connecticut most, but at the same time I didn’t fight in Connecticut until like my tenth fight. That being said — it all feels the same when you’re in there. I like fighting in Connecticut because the crowd is more lively; it feels like they’re more into it for me, like I have more of an army behind me. But once you’re in there, the fight is still the same.

As long as I get to go in there and scrap, I’m happy at the end of the day.

ON THE MAN OUTSIDE v. THE FIGHTER INSIDE

It may have something to do with adopting a new personality but … you either have it or you don’t. My everyday life, I’m very happy, I’m easy-going, I’m joking. Without my cauliflower ears, you would never know I fought. And that’s how I like to keep things. When I get in the gym, I’m competitive, I am. But I don’t really try to hurt anybody. That’s a completely different mindset: it’s all about growth and having fun there and being better from day-to-day.

As the closer it gets to a fight, the more violent you become in your own mind. The more you want to hurt your training partners, but you have to hold back. The more you want to finish them. It’s just the more focused you become, really.

Then when the fight comes, you know you don’t have to hold anything back. You can just be you — all the confidence is going to shine through. Any fears that you have are going to shine through — it’s a really interesting kind of evolution that your mind goes through before the fight. And that’s such a fun part about the whole process — going from that normal, everyday person to the competitive person and then finally to that whole, completely different Jekyll-and-Hyde character that you are deep down.

And that right there, that’s the fighter. That’s the fighter. When someone says, “Oh, you’re a fighter, or do you like to compete?” Some people just like to compete. And I can see it in them. And then, other people love to fight. Like Jeff, he’s a nut, man. The kid loves to fight; I love to fight. Not everybody has that. You call yourself a fighter; you call yourself a mixed martial artist but not everybody loves to fight.

ON FREEDOM DURING COMPETITION

This is something I’ve never told anybody — anybody. This is the first time I’ve ever said it. Ever since I was a little kid, I would look into the mirror. And I would look into my own eyes and I would know that there was something inside of me that needed to be violent. And it wasn’t in a hurt-my-friends kind of way, or kill kittens or anything crazy like that. But it was like — I need to fight.


I’d be shadowboxing at eight, ten years old in the mirror. I’d be flexing — just really testosterone-driven acts I would do every day — and I still do. And it’s something that doesn’t go away.

I actually feed more into it now. And as soon as I found mixed martial arts it just made complete sense. Like all along, I’ve been this alpha male that needed some sort of outlet. And then I found it. And now I get to express myself, who I am actually. And the person I am is not the quiet or fun-loving Matt; it’s the rage-monkey.

There’s two different me’s, and I like to be able to express that one, too.

ON FIGHTERS WHO DON’T LOVE THE FIGHT

I don’t even understand that. What do you mean, you want the fight to be over with? I don’t get it. That means you’re not a fighter. If you want the fight to be over with — you’re not a fighter. I can’t wait until that bell rings. Like this is what I’ve been training for. To come up to me, and say that you fight, and you train because you love it — and then you say, “I can’t wait for the fight to be over” — it confuses me. I’m like, then what the fuck are you doing?

Putting all this time in, and then going out there in front of your family and your friends to fight, if you want it to be over before it starts? That makes no sense to me.


Go embrace it. Every thing that you don’t know that’s going to happen, embrace that and just take it as it is and go out there and express yourself. And do everything that you want to do. Don’t hold anything back. That’s the ultimate good feeling: when you can just go out there and be yourself.

ON COMPETING AND TEACHING

Anytime you teach anything, you get a lot of mental reps in. You end up looking at things from different angles. So it automatically makes you better. That alone has helped me evolve. For the simple fact — I’m only thirty and I’m only getting stronger, more flexible. I’m learning how to train even better and smarter. Coupled with the fact I get to do a lot of mental reps when I’m teaching — I’m also growing physically and mentally as a fighter.

Right now, I’m in my prime. I’m just getting better — and I feel it from day-to-day, I’m getting better, too. I see punches before they happen; I know what the person is going to throw at me.

And then grappling is a lot less of what you see a person is going to do, and more of what you feel the person is doing. The more reps you get in with feeling the grappling, too, you just become a better fighter overall, a smarter fighter. And the teaching, like I said coupled with that and the spot I’m in my career right now, it just feels like everything is working out.

ON COMBINING MENTAL WITH PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE

At the very minimum, I hope to be in this kind of prime for the next three years, barring any injuries. In this zone. To a certain point, you get a little older and your physical capabilities and your mental capabilities go up at the same time.

But then, at a certain point your physical capabilities will go down, even though your mental capabilities continue going up. And you have to be at that spot where they’re both continuously going up and are both at the pinnacle where they should be. And that’s when you want to be competing at your highest level.

And fighting the best guys; I don’t want to be fighting the Diego Nunes’ six years from now when I’m like, “My knees are messed up, my elbows are messed up.” I want to fight them right now.

ON ADMIRED FIGHTERS

I’m a really big guy on the effectiveness on the economy of motion and movement. And I think guys like Anderson Silva and Conor McGregor — they have it down, completely. The way they move is phenomenal. Machida moves really well, too. Although Anderson’s getting older, although he’s not as fast in his response-time, it’s just crazy how well he moves, how confident he is with his movement. And those things really, really impress me.

I didn’t grow up wrestling, I’m not an explosive person. I’m not like — you shake hands with this guy and you’re like, “Oh my God, he’s super-strong.

I don’t have those physical gifts. The thing I understand well is how to roll with punches, being confident getting hit, being comfortable in that weird gap in a fight. On top of that, the economy of motion. I think those things really help my game, specifically.

ON BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU

I didn’t start off with jiu-jitsu. What happened was, I’ll tell you straight-up: I started off — I love fighting, man. The reason I got into fighting is because I enjoy it. I enjoy it. I love being hit, I love hitting the person. For nothing more than just the feeling of the fight. I don’t like hurting people, that’s not it at all.

But the reason I got into fighting is because I could take a punch, and I could give one back.

It wasn’t because I wanted to start jiu-jitsu. The reason I got better at jiu-jitsu faster is because I was at Team Link, who specialized in jiu-jitsu. So up to like my fifth fight, I was just practicing jiu-jitsu, over and over over. It was a lot of jiu-jitsu, a lot of grappling. So I wasn’t striking much in my fights. And then one day, I was like, “You know what? I got to get different training partners; I got to get some damn striking.

And then went to Underdog, and then that’s where I established my striking. That right there is where I figured out: I’m a striker. I am a striker. I have submissions — I have a brown belt in jiu-jitsu for three-and-a-half years; I love jiu-jitsu, I’m very good at it. But by no means am I a jiu-jitsu player. I am an MMA fighter, I’m a scrapper, and that’s what I do. I love to throw hands.

ON FINDING A WAY TO WIN

You have to. And a lot of times, you go in there with an idea of what you want to do and it’s just completely different than what you thought it would be. You just have to adapt on the fly.

I figured I was going to go out there, strike a little bit, maybe hurt Khama Worthy (7–4) — my last opponent — take him down and submit him.

I took him down and he held half-guard really tight. To the point where I’m looking at his leg and it’s shaking he’s holding it so tight.

And it ended up creating a scramble, we got back to our feet, and I was like, “Alright. Let me hurt this guy standing.” And then I figured out that my overhand-right was landing, so I threw it a few more times, and ultimately that’s how I finished him with the right hand. And it’s just like: what you have in your arsenal can be your go-to or it can be your back-up. You just have to have a big arsenal.

ON ACADEMIC ASPECT

It depends on the style of fight. If it’s more of a jiu-jitsu match, I’m sitting there and I’m enjoying the transitions; I’m enjoying the jiu-jitsu. If it’s more of a technical striking match, I’m enjoying the little nuances, the little things in the striking match. I’m like, “Wow, look at that jab. Look how he rolls with that punch. Look at how he’s countering that with a leg kick. Look at how he catches the kick, sends it off and then throws a head-kick after.” Those things amaze me.

But at the same time, like if Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez are in a fight, I don’t care what they’re doing, I’m just watching them brawl out. The brawler in me loves the brawls. The technical guy in me loves the technical fights. The jiu-jitsu artist in me loves the jiu-jitsu fights. I love watching every fight, as long as the guys are going out there and putting in work and expressing themselves and their whole style — that is really impressive to me. I’ll watch it every single day of the week.

ON CORNERING TEAMMATES

The closer you are to the person, the more you put into their training camp and the more you help them out — the more you feel like it’s your fight, too. The only difference is you have no control over what’s happening in the fight. So actually, I get more nervous.

Like, when Jeff fought — I was so nervous. I wasn’t even able to say the things I wanted to say in the corner. In my heart, I was like, “Let’s go, baby! Fucking kill him, take his head off!” I wanted to be that doofus, beer-drinking fan in the stands, just yelling, “Take his head off! Take his head off!” That’s my boy in there, I want him to win.

It’s really difficult. And I’ll get used to that, too. I’ve cornered dozens of times. It gets easier, but you still want your guy to win so bad, because you know what they’ve gone through and you know how bad they want it, too. You know what it feels like to win; you know what it feels like to lose. I’m glad Jeff won, and I’m glad Johnny won.

ON AMERICAN AUDIENCES

It’s the American culture. Everybody thinks they’re entitled to everything. They’re entitled to having the fight the way that they want it. And the way they want it is a brawl, where both guys are bleeding. They need the ultimate entertainment every single fight. That’s what they need. Because they’re entitled to a perfect life. That’s American. And that’s how you’ve grown up.

This is how kids are raised: they’re given everything. They’re taught to speak their minds, to be yourself — which is awesome. But at the same time, it doesn’t translate well in a crowd-setting, or a sport-setting. Because you get the booing, and this-and-that.

A guy misses a shot in a basketball game, and he’s booed. Like, come on man, this guy’s working his ass off every day of his life shooting the ball a thousand times a day because he loves it, and you’re going to tell him he sucks, and boo? Get out of here. American fans want it the way they want it, and if it’s not exactly how they want it … even then, even if it’s exactly how they want it, they’ll find an excuse. Find a negative in every positive. And I’ve never understood that.

ON MENTAL STRENGTH

I think it still needs to be learned, I think everything still needs to be learned. Even from a coaching point-of-view, there’s coaching in the gym, and then there’s coaching in a fight. I just think there’s so much to learn. There’s people yelling in the background, and there’s such a mental game being played.

There’s a lot put on the growth of a fighter physically, but not a lot put on the growth of a fighter mentally. And I think once we really start to dwell on that as coaches and trainers, even fighters … I can look at myself, and I know for a fact — I’ve known for years — that I need to work on my physical game as well as my mental game. I think some of the best coaches, I think they work on the mental game and the preparation of their fighter.

I wonder how good GSP would be if he were as mentally strong as Conor McGregor? Because he was like 23–2 or something like that (ed. note: 25–2), and he avenged both of his losses. There were points where he was just — he had to quit. He had to retire, at least for the present-time. He had to retire, because he was just so nervous for his fights. He couldn’t sleep, he was dreaming of aliens and shit. For real, it’s a lot. I just wonder how good he would’ve been dominant-wise, been able to finish his opponents, had he the mind-set of a Conor McGregor.

I’m a strong supporter of Conor, because he’s so confident that it’s almost cocky. And I don’t think he’s cocky, because he’s very respectful, too — you just have to see that part of it. He’s so confident, he’s almost cocky — and I think that’s where you need to be as an individual. If you’re not, then you’re going to be questioning yourself. You’re going to be second-guessing everything.

And in a sport that’s so demanding for individual confidence — more than any other sport, this is the one where you have to be more confident with every single thing that you do. It’s so important, it’s paramount that we start to teach everyone else how important being confident is in a fight. And not just the physical aspect.

ON MARTIAL ARTS

I wish I found it earlier. It’s helped mold me as a person, as a man. I’ve learned a lot about myself. Outside of my soon-to-be-wife, it’s really the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m grateful for finding it and I’m grateful for having the dedication that I do to stay with it and the mind-set that I do. I know for a fact that I’ll be with it — as long as I can physically be with it, I’ll be with it.

Even if I can’t physically be with it, I’ll try to somehow mentally to be with it. Coaching, sitting on the sides and helping out. I think it’s something I need in my life. It’s like a drug for me; it’s just something that calms me and gives me that rush that I need.

ON CAREER ACCOMPLISHMENTS

I’m constantly a person that’s always trying to progress, and I’m always looking towards the next thing. I live in the present, I don’t really focus on the past. So to think about what meant the most, as stupid as it sounds? I really, really appreciate my losses the most. They propel me, they catapult me to the next level — every time. I just get so much better after I lose. I learn a lot whether I win or lose, and the win feels a ton better.

At this point in my career, I’m always looking to progress. I’ll look at how proud of myself I am when I’m done. But right now — I have a lot to accomplish. So the focus is not being content with what I’ve done in the past; it’s appreciating my wins and losses in a reverse-fashion. I like my wins, but I love my losses. I learn a lot about them, and that’s where I grow the most.

ON RONDA ROUSEY

I take judo as well, and I’m around that kind of atmosphere, as well. The mindset, the physical and mental toughness of a judo player is insane, man. Insane. It’s on that caliber of a wrestler. And I don’t know why I have it, because I never did judo or wrestling growing up, but they’re just so tough. So tough. There’s little kids in those classes — like four, five-years old and there’s national champions that are like twelve-years old — brown belts in judo — that will throw you. And it’s really cool to see.

They may never have started that path without looking up to somebody like a Ronda Rousey. To the point where, “I can see men doing it. But I’m just a woman, so I’ll do this. I’ll be a police officer, because there’s women police officers.” But you see one doing judo and you’re like, “Wow, she’s tough. She’s tough, and she’s confident and she walks with a proud chest. She’s this, and she’s that. I could do that.

I think Ronda being the face of women’s MMA and one of the faces of MMA in general, I think is absolutely something to embrace. And I can appreciate every single time she fights. I love it. Love it, love it, love it.

ON HAVING NO END-GAME

That’s what I love about martial arts: there’s always something to learn. There’s always something to get better at. Whether you’re Chris Weidman and you won the championship over Anderson, the following day people will say, “Well, you know it was kind of a fluke; Anderson’s hands were down.” When you win again, you check a kick: “Well, it was a fluke again, you checked a kick.” No, Weidman was beating the crap out of him before that.

There’s always going to be people putting that doubt in your head; even yourself, you’ll pull back and go, “Oh, I checked his kick and broke his leg. I didn’t really finish him. What if he was just playing with me?

There’s always going to be something in your head saying, “I should be doing better. I want to do better.” As long as you never put limitations on what you can do, you’ll always find that mindset in itself is that of a champion: a person that’s truly trying to better themselves every day.


I’m actually happy with that. I’m happy I don’t dwell on the past. I’m happy I got those regional championships, I’m happy with all my wins. But I’m not content — ever. I’m always moving forward.

You know what they say, they say, “You gotta sit back and enjoy the journey sometimes” and this-and-that. Like, I’m enjoying the journey. “You gotta wake up and smell the roses; take time to smell the roses.” Listen, I’ve smelled the roses; I’ve taken time to smell the roses.

But listen — the roses die. I’m moving on. I’m moving on to bigger and better things. And the moment you’re stagnant and stay in the same place, mental and physical atrophy will kick in. You can’t grow. Keeping the same mindset about physical and mental growth and constantly being a better you every day — I think that is the mindset to have as a true champion.

I’m going to explain to you real quick how my career has gone:


I started off wanting to fight. So I was like, “I gotta fight in a cage, this looks awesome. I gotta do it.

So I fought, and I was like, “Yeah, that was cool. I gotta fight again, that was really cool.

Then I lost, I was like, “There’s no way I’m gonna let that happen again. I gotta win.

Then I won a couple, and I’m like, “Alright, I’m gonna test myself: I’m gonna fight a guy that I really shouldn’t be fighting right now.

And I fought him and I lost, and I was like, “Ugh, I gotta win.

So I went back and I won and I won and I got better and I then was like, “I gotta get a championship; I gotta fight for a title.

And I won a title and I was like, “That felt awesome. I gotta win another title.

And I won another title and I’m like, “That felt awesome. I gotta fight for Bellator.

And I fought for Bellator, and I fought six more times for Bellator. And was just constantly setting goals for myself.


So my next goal now is to fight in the UFC. My one and only goal in MMA: to be the best that I can be. To fight in the UFC. Once I fight there, I guarantee you as soon as I’m done and I get back on that plane to go home or whatever, I’m going to be thinking, “Who’s next. Who’s next? Who’s Joe Silva or Sean Shelby gonna give me next?” I’ll never be content. My only goal — my very last goal I have right now is to fight in the UFC.

I guarantee you when that goal is met, I’ll be thinking about the next.


Written By: Matteo Urella / July 2015

Photography: