Fighting is an interesting dichotomy.

On one side, a fighter, and only that fighter, is in the ring with his opponent when it’s time to do work. Everything hinges on what that fighter does in the ring. The fight is classic mano-a-mano, hand-to-hand combat with no interference, apart from the rules and the referee of course.

Bessette (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Bessette (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

But what makes a fighter fight? The environment surrounding a fighter can make or break the fighter before the fight even happens. Training, conditioning, distractions, friends, enemies, motivation…everything that leads up to the bout will shape that fighter and influence the fight.

Ever since Matt Bessette was a child, his environment has been shaping him and preparing him for the biggest fight (so far) of his life. He was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 3, and he’s been fighting since then.

“For the longest time I didn’t know why I was so hard-nosed and resilient, and my mom and I talked. My mom is forward, she faces things head on and doesn’t beat around the bush, and after that talk, I put it together,” Bessette told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I have a high pain tolerance. I’ve been through a lot of stuff. Life can change or end at any moment, so you have to do what you want and live the way you want to live.”

Bessette played sports throughout his childhood despite battling asthma and being outsized. He found MMA through retro UFC videos and started fighting just four months after he started training. Since then, Bessette has been on a tear, going 12-4. One loss was to UFC fighter Joe Proctor and another was due to disqualification. Underdog BJJ has been Bessette’s primary training home, but a lot of other gyms have helped shape him.

“You can get comfortable with the same faces, same timing. You can start to get lazy,” Bessette admitted. “So I do other places to get out of my comfort zone, because the fight is not comfortable, not even a little bit. I get to spar with people who are worse and those who are much better. I think a lot of other fighters do this, but many don’t mention it. Plus, New England is a tight-knit MMA community and I go to a smaller school. [American Top Team] is a much bigger school and you can always find new guys, fresher faces, so I imagine guys who go to those schools don’t have to look for more sparring and training partners.”

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been a love of Bessette’s, but he has a very well-rounded game. He has worked hard to make wrestling his base. His striking might be his weakest aspect on paper, but he has strong hands and his last fight at Bellator 98 ended with him knocking out Nick Piedmont in the first round.

Now, Bessette is in the Bellator season-10 featherweight tournament. In the quarterfinal round, which takes place Friday night at Bellator 110, he meets UFC veteran Diego Nunes.

Bessette (top) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Bessette (top) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

“He’s mainly a Muay Thai striker, with strong kicks, elbows, punches from all angles,” Bessette said. “I like to do that as well and expect this fight to be a brawl. I know I have a good chin, and I can’t wait to test his. I am more creative. Even though he has a lot of strikes in his arsenal, hopefully I can see a pattern or keep him from getting into one and make him fight my game.”

Focusing on one’s opponent too much can hinder a fighter’s growth. Bessette’s game has primarily been one of chokes, with the guillotine as his favorite technique.

“I love the chokes, but guys are getting much better at defending them,” he said. “I used to love working the guillotine earlier in my career. Nick Newell and I are friends, we train a lot, and you can see similarities in our set-ups. He, of course, has a different grip, but the squeeze is the same. But I think guys expect the guillotine more, so I have something new—a new submission that I would like to surprise Diego with.”

Bessette’s surroundings have helped prepare him for this fight. His coaches, his training partners, his friends and his family have all helped him get ready for the fight of his life. On Feb. 28 at the Mohegan Sun, when the door closes and the bell rings, Nunes had better hope he did all he could to prepare for “The Mangler,” because there is no doubt that Bessette will be ready.

Matt would like to give a huge shout-out to everyone in New England who has helped him—all the coaches, students, training partners. He would also like to thank his sponsors: NAGA, Damato Chiropractic, RobLucey.com tattoos, Bad Ass Fight Wear, and Revolution Environmental Consulting Services. Follow Bessette on Twitter: @ManglerBJJ

About The Author

Staff Writer

Amber currently resides in Tampa, Fla., a hotbed of MMA. She was introduced to the sport Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and quickly became addicted. Amber loves the fact that the biggest and strongest don’t always win, the respect the competitors show and that women are finally getting their shot. She also writes a blog for Fight It Out gear. When not watching MMA, Amber can be found at the beach playing volleyball, in the gym learning from Tampa’s only female BJJ Black Belt, cheering on her eight-year-old daughter in tae kwon do, or at her day job. She has a girlfriend, daughter, too many dogs and a cat who lives in the attic. Communication highly encouraged at amber at fightitout dot com.