Matt Bessette is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the northeast. He has been for a while now. But as a featherweight and former lightweight, he’s smack dab in the middle of the biggest divisional log jam the UFC has to offer.
It’s simple biology. When you look at the distribution of human heights, you see a bell curve. In other words, there are a few percentage points that fall into the big guy category and a few that can be classified as little guys. However, the majority of people on this planet, while cutting weight, fall somewhere in between, meaning featherweight, lightweight or welterweight.
Therein lies the problem for Matty Mangler.
You see if Matt Bessette fought at 135 pounds, he’d be in the UFC by now. If he fought at 205 pounds, he’d be in the UFC by now. But because he’s gunning for a shot in the two most populated weight classes in the world, he’s stuck waiting his turn. Well the wait may nearly be over.
You see, the UFC rarely seeks out new prospects these days. That’s not to say they don’t keep their eyes open, but they’re not really signing young talent just because it’s out there. The sport has grown so much that the roster is essentially full at all times. So if you’re on the outside looking in, the most likely scenario for a jump to the big stage comes in the form of a last minute call-up. A replacement fight.
Matt is on the short list for this exact situation and when someone drops out, he gets a text from a UFC executive to see if he’s ready to go. He must then agree to the bout, which – according to Bessette – he always does. But he’s not the only fighter on the list, and therefore, he’s not the only fighter receiving this text.
Matt only gets called up if every fighter listed above him passes on the opportunity and there’s really no telling how many fighters are above him. In fact, it may not even be set in stone, as different factors shuffle the list around for any given fight. Stylistic matchup, proximity to the event, etc.
So when featherweight Zubaira Tukhugov got pulled from UFC Albany for a potential anti-doping violation, the notion of seeing Matt Bessette fight inside the Octagon seemed closer than ever. Quite literally, it’s only about 100 miles away from his hometown in Connecticut. There’s your proximity.
Stylistically, he’s an exciting opponent for anyone. For someone who began their career as a striker, he’s managed to develop into one of the best MMA grapplers outside of the UFC. As a result, his fights are entertaining in all facets of combat and there are no obvious weaknesses in his game.
He’s always had solid stand-up. Mixing in heavy leg kicks with traditional boxing combinations, using high level footwork and head movement to slip his opponents punches and counter effectively, he’s a puzzle on the feet. That being said, he would occasionally get taken down and ground out in the early days.
He responded by increasing his focus on jiu jitsu and improving his ability to attack from his back. The result? He’s finished four of his last five opponents via submission, two with a heel hook, one with a triangle choke and one with a guillotine. This includes a second round heel hook back in August to win the CES Featherweight Championship.
Oh yeah, he’s the featherweight champion of one of the top regional promotions in the world and the top promotion in New England. Almost forgot that part.
He’s also got a hell of a chin and a quick recovery time in the rare occasion that he does get rocked. We saw a little bit of that in his last fight as well. In fact, in 25 professional fights – the majority of which took place on the feet – he’s only been knocked out once. And as easy as it would be to dismiss this loss as pure probability or bad luck, the one time I tried, I was immediately corrected.
Matt doesn’t want to ignore this loss because he feels he has learned a great deal from it. And his resume certainly seems to back this up.
He’s currently on a five fight win streak, finishing all five of his opponents; two in Bellator and three in CES. Actually, after losing the only two back-to-back fights of his career back in 2014, he’s entered the cage eight times and won seven. Not a single one of those fights made it to the third round.
It’s simply time. He’s in his fighting prime, he’s got a gigantic, loyal fan base, he’s the embodiment of all that hunger and grit Dana White is always talking about wanting out of a new fighter.
UFC Fight Night 102 takes place on December 9th in Albany, New York. Tiago “Trator” dos Santos is currently without an opponent. In the immortal words of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone…
I know a guy.