Cage fighting is nothing compared to what Matt Bessette overcame in his youth

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
After overcoming asthma, Bellator's Bessette says cardio is a strength of his. (Photo credit: Bellator)
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After overcoming asthma, Bellator's Bessette says cardio is a strength of his. (Photo credit: Bellator)

Matt Bessette has been a fighter long before he knew there was such a sport as mixed martial arts.

Bessette was just three years old when doctors delivered the stunning news to his parents that he had just a 50-50 chance of making it to his fourth birthday due to leukemia.

He later became asthmatic and required use of an inhaler.

This is a guy who is accustomed to staring long odds in the face, and winning.

And so he'll enter the Bellator featherweight tournament by meeting Diego Nunes on Friday at Bellator 110 with the same attitude he used to beat leukemia and asthma.

"The better fighter doesn't always win," Bessette said. "Sometimes, the more talented fighter doesn't win. It's the more prepared fighter and the more confident one, the one who believes, who usually wins."

Bessette, 29, has won four in a row and five of his six fights since an Oct. 8, 2011, loss to Joe Proctor in Uncasville, Conn., that was a turning point in his career.

Much of Bessette's game is based upon lateral movement and working on angles, but the canvas was slick and it made it difficult to move the way he wanted and to quickly set his feet and throw.

As a result, he was forced to be more stationary and that was a fight he was ill-equipped to win.

"I learned a lot about myself in that fight," Bessette said. "One thing I couldn't change was that the ring was a slip and slide, and I like to move around quite a bit. I couldn't do that and it was really, really frustrating. My entire game plan, my entire striking game, had to change on the fly."

Losing his striking game led him to understand that he wasn't well-rounded enough and had plenty of work still do to in order to reach his goal of becoming the best.

Bessette then spent hours on the lessons he learned inside the cage with Proctor that night.

"Aside from the slipping and stuff, what I learned from that fight was that I really had to focus on my boxing, my pocket boxing," Bessette said. "I needed to work on my Thai clinch game. I needed those things in my game, because what if I couldn't move? And so those are things I've focused on and honed in on as areas to improve.

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Matt Bessette is 12-4 in his MMA career. (Credit: Bellator)

"Now, it's a strength. My boxing has gotten really strong. My clinch game is really strong. Losing that fight is the best thing that's ever happened to me in my career."

The only loss he's suffered in six fights since was by disqualification when he hit Andres Jeudi with an illegal upkick at a Reality Fighting match at the Mohegan Sun casino, also in Uncasville.

It shows the perseverance that led Bessette to overcome his childhood ailments to make it in one of the toughest sports in the world.

He was three when he was diagnosed with leukemia, too young to grasp the entire gravity of the situation. But there were a lot of machines and doctors and strange things around for a 3-year-old.

He was fearful, but showed the inner strength that would later define him by fighting hard to beat the leukemia.

"I remember a lot of it being scary," Bessette said. "But for the most part, I've always been a very positive person. I was taught to be very positive, and I think a lot of me being cured of that disease, I really believe, was my outlook on the whole thing.

"I've been taught this and I've always been this way, to be positive; to be strong. A positive mental attitude can change your environment like that. I was walking around with an IV bag as my best friend, all day, every day. But I stayed positive. If you don't stay positive, it can weigh you down."

And so Bessette, Bellator's Mr. Positive, looks forward to beating Nunes and advancing in the tournament toward an eventual shot at the title.

Nunes, who was 3-3 in six UFC fights, is the biggest name Bessette has faced. It would be no surprise to learn that Bessette is not intimidated.

"I'm expecting him to come hard and go for broke," Bessette said. "He's on a two-fight losing streak and he's 31 years old. He may be feeling he needs to go out and get a win and fight a great fight. I expect a brawl, but that's exactly the way I like it. More power to him if he wants to bring it to me like that.

"I'm not investing in how he's going to approach me and I'm not hoping he fights a certain way. I know how I'm going to fight. I'm going to stay in his face and use my superior cardio to push the pace. Hopefully, I'll bring his hands down when he's tired and take advantage, but I'm just looking to constantly stay on the offense."

It's a big fight for him and a critical juncture in his career. But Bessette is so calm and so confident, it's as if he's going to spar with the same training partner he's worked with for years.

He's calm and confident and he believes.

A lot of the time, that alone is enough to determine success.

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