The Heartbreak of Defeat & The Journey Back

Written by @NickRiznerMMA

Mixed marital artists are viewed with a certain air of invincibility.

This illusion creates an unrealistic demand for perfection, causing the weight of a loss to greatly exceed that of a win. As the sport grows, and the media and fan base continue to gravitate towards discussions of greatness and dominance, this expectation is further perpetuated until it becomes necessity.

In order to make it to the big show,  you have to win. And win. And win some more. But don’t you dare lose.

On Friday, August 14th, Matt Bessette stepped into the cage against a streaking knockout artist in Lenny Walker. He was supposed to win. The fans believed it. The oddsmakers believed it. Matt believed it.

But this sport has a cruel way of shattering beliefs.

At 39 seconds into the first round, Lenny handed Matt the first knockout loss of his career. As a fighter, the mentality required to achieve success is the same mentality that makes failure so difficult to accept. Therefore, just moments after the knockout, Matt’s reaction was one of bewilderment.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to just completely break down and cry. I was favored to win the fight for a reason. I truly believe I have the tools to compete with anyone in the world at 145 lbs, and it was all shoved in my face, all at once.

I have a very good chin. I didn’t see the cross thrown but immediately was getting back up when he threw an uppercut. That’s what put me back down. As soon as Big Dan stepped in, I was heartbroken. I was fully aware of what just happened and could have stood up right after that. But at the time, I just wasn’t defending myself. The right decision was made and I’m ready to learn from it all.

This was not his first time tasting defeat. But for a fighter who prides himself on his heart and his chin, losing via knockout was a different beast entirely.

The difference is black and white. As a man – proud and stubborn – nothing compares. That’s why people don’t even put themselves in the position in the first place.

Everyone out there thinks they’re the toughest guy in the world, that they can’t be beaten, so they don’t fight MMA. They use “life getting in the way” as one of a thousand different excuses to not do it. And yet, they’ll stand on the sidelines, secretly wishing they could muster up the balls to do it too.

While time tends to change a person’s view of past struggles, Matt has not lost site of the adversity behind him, nor the difficult journey ahead.

My emotions are different now. I’m doing the best I can to not think about it, but we both know that’s impossible. Losing is part of the game, but I just never thought I’d be stopped with strikes. It takes the wind out of your sails and then proceeds to blow that same wind straight up your ass. A supremely uncomfortable feeling.

Simply put, every second spent on questioning your misfortunes and dwelling on ‘what could have been’ is time that could have been spent getting better; growing as an individual and a fighter.

Atrophy is your enemy.

Back in February, coming off a second round TKO of Josh LaBerge, Matt Bessette was starting to generate some serious UFC buzz. The media began taking notice in a big way, sharing his story on every corner of the internet and drawing more attention to his next fight than ever before.

He responded by stringing together one of the best performances of his career, putting on a striking clinic and finishing Khama Worthy with a highlight reel knockout in the second. By all accounts, the call-up was right around the corner, and it seemed that it would only be a matter of time before we saw “The Mangler” inside the Octagon.

With the result Friday, Matt was forced to deal with one of the most difficult setbacks of his career, all while sitting within arms reach of his dream job.

Knowing that I am potentially another year or more away from my chance in the big show… I just don’t think there’s anyone who wants it more than me.

I’m not the most technical, not the hardest hitter, not the fastest or quickest, and I’m not the most talented. But I just can’t think there’s anyone out there who wants it more than me. I can’t accept that there’s another person out there that obsesses about their success in MMA as much as me. And I can’t think there’s anyone that is willing to do as much as me to get their shot in the UFC.

If that alone were your ticket to the big show, I’d fight on every main card.

While this may not be the literal criteria for fighting in the UFC, it is most certainly the driving force behind the fighters who ultimately reach this plateau. Matt has always had the intangibles to succeed. Each time he faces adversity, he bounces back with overwhelming success.

After his first loss, he scored back-to-back finishes. After his second, he won four in a row. His third loss was followed by victories in six of his next seven bouts, and the first losing streak of his career spurred two of the best performances we’ve ever seen out of Bessette.

There’s no doubt that August 14th was a low point for Matt. But if history is any indicator, that makes Matt a very dangerous opponent for whoever he draws next.

With one fight left on his contract with CES MMA, his fighting future is somewhat of a mystery. Outside of the cage, however, his future is more certain than ever. On August 30th, Matt is set to marry his long time girlfriend and fiance, Ashley Williams. I had the chance to interview both of them a short while back, and one thing was made abundantly clear.

No matter what challenges MMA throws his way, Matt is made stronger by her support. Thus, it should come at no surprise that in his most difficult moments, his focus was singular.

All I wanted to do after that fight was see her. I needed her to know that I wasn’t hurt at all and that she could breathe.

The day after the fight, all of the stress and emotional trauma was lifted just by listening to her for 30 minutes. We spoke about everything that had to do with the fight. She can say, time and time again, that I am the strongest and best person she knows. But she is my rock. Without her, I simply wouldn’t be where I am today.

Matt’s journey as a fighter is far from finished. But for now, he’s focused on life. Congratulations to you both.

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