Matt Bessette emerged victorious at CES 60 with a third-round knockout win over Charles Cheeks III. However, the fight was more than just another notch in the ‘W’ column for Bessette. “The Mangler” earned his CES featherweight belt back in the vacant title bout on the heels of one of the toughest camps of his 34-fight professional career.
The finish came after a back-and-forth bout in which Bessette had some rust to shake off, as he hadn’t fought since March 2019. He also didn’t get to spar much in a camp that saw him balance fathering his newborn daughter, Harper, caring for his 12-year-old stepson, and working a night job as a corrections officer.
“It took me a little while to get the distance and feel my comfort in there striking,” Bessette told MMASucka. “As soon as I did, like halfway through the second round, it was like, ‘Alright. My turn.’ I think I would’ve got the knockout sometime in the second round, but it took me a little bit longer.”
Instead, the finish came just over four minutes into the third round of the five-round bout. Bessette had secretly predicted the fight would end via knockout or heel hook.
“I didn’t want to jinx it or anything, but people kept asking me how it was going to end,” he said. “I was like, ‘It’s going to be one of two ways. I’ll let you know if one of those two ways comes true after the fact.’”
Lo and behold, one of them did. Not bad, considering most of Bessette’s gym sessions happened after 12:30 a.m. During the day, Bessette would care for his daughter, feeding her breakfast and lunch, and putting her down for a nap. He’d leave for work at 3 p.m. and get off at midnight. He’d then drive 35 minutes to the gym, warm it up, and do hard bag-work or sprints. A couple of times, he was able to get his coach or some partners to come and train with him.
“It was not easy at all, but I made it work,” he said. “I’m lucky to have had 33 fights before that, so I was able to know what it was like to be in shape and know what I needed to do to actually get there. Once I got in the cage, I was comfortable.”
Bessette would train at a reasonable hour on his days off, though it was a lone-wolf training camp for the chunk of it.
“Those times I trained at 1 in the morning, it made a man out of me a little bit. It showed my will to succeed and how motivated I was. It sucks, man. But I’m definitely blessed to have training partners and great friends to show up when they did at super-off hours.”
The win marked Bessette’s second in a row. He set up his crack at the title with a win over Tim Dooling in his return to CES. Bessette had fought twice in the UFC before that, coming up short against Enrique Barzola and Steven Peterson.
At 35 years old, Bessette doesn’t know what’s next for his career. The opportunity to defend his CES title is always there for him. However, Bessette is eyeing a stint in one of the larger organizations – especially the Professional Fighters League, where each weight class’ champion earns $1 million.
“Obviously, PFL is handing out quite a bit of money to scrap,” Bessette said.
He says the promotion passed up on him for its 2019 tournament as he was coming off his two UFC losses. With two wins in a row and the CES title back on his waist, he hopes this year will be different.
“Hopefully that’s enough. If not, then we’ll play it by ear and see what happens.”
Bessette said a return to the UFC isn’t out of the picture, especially with his two wins. But he also said he’d love to fight for PFL, Bellator, ONE Championship, or RIZIN.
Wherever he does fight next, Bessette intends for it to be as soon as April. It could be a CES title defense, a debut fight in another promotion, or he could hold off in anticipation of the PFL tournament.
“We’ll see,” Bessette said. “A bunch of ‘we’ll sees’ right now. I’m not in a super rush. I just want to hang out with my family and have a couple of beers. Eat breakfast. Not eat a bowl of cereal at 1 in the morning after work.”
With the win, Bessette improved to 24-9 with one no contest.