Travis Lizotte "Full Contact Writer"
Perhaps no name has been more synonymous with New England MMA over the last decade than Matt "The Mangler" Bessette (24-9), a fan favorite throughout the region, Bessette carries with him one of the largest fan bases in all of New England MMA, and rightfully so. The two time CES MMA Featherweight World Champion is not only one of the region's most decorated Mixed Martial Artists, but also one of the most down to earth ambassadors, in our sport today. Since capturing the CES Featherweight title against Joe Pingitore (7-3-1) at CES 37 in 2016, Bessette's only loss on New England soil came at UFC 220 in Boston, where he came out on the wrong side of a decision against Enrique Barzola (16-5-2). The Mangler returned home to Hartford, Connecticut and CES MMA, following his run with the UFC, in March of 2019 with a decision win over Tim Dooling (9-8) at CES 55 before regaining his CES Featherweight strap at CES 60 with a third round TKO of Charles Cheeks III (14-8) in January of this year.
Enter: Novel Coronavirus; and after fighting just once in 2019 following the birth of his 18 month old daughter Harper, Bessette was staring down another long layoff from competition due to the pandemic, until an old friend came calling. Prior to signing with CES MMA in 2016 and becoming that promotion's biggest star, nine of Bessette's first 25 professional bouts took place under the Bellator MMA banner, where Bessette is an impressive 7-2 in his career for one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world. With it looking less likely that CES will be able to execute another fight card before the end of the year, Bessette's hope to compete again, especially in New England, before the end of the year lied, ultimately, in the hands of Bellator MMA matchmakers.
As any New England MMA fan that hasn't been living under a rock for the last 7 months knows; Bellator MMA has held all of its stateside fightcards at Mohegan Sun Arena, in Bessette's home state of Connecticut, since the worldwide impact of Covid-19. So when Bellator began looking for a match-up with fellow, former UFC Featherweight; Jeremy Kennedy (15-2), they had to look no further then their own back yard, to find the always game; Matt Bessette. Kennedy could prove to be one of the toughest tests of Bessette's 34 fight career, as the Canadian born grappler has tasted defeat just twice in his professional career, across stints with both the Professional Fighters League (PFL) as well as a run with the UFC. Kennedy started an impressive 3-0 inside the UFC Octagon before being finished in the second round by future and current UFC Featherweight Champion; Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) at UFC 221 in 2018. Kennedy would go on to compete in the PFL Featherweight tournament in 2019 going 2-1-1 in his four fights for the promotion. Now looking to make his Bellator debut Tomorrow night at Bellator 253; Kennedy will have the warm welcome of fighting the fan favorite, Bessette, at a venue that might as well be Bessette's second home, in the Mohegan Sun Arena following his days with both Reality Fighting and Bellator.
Although the arena will be all too familiar to Bessette, the environment will have drastically changed, Bessette is used to playing to a sold out audience at Mohegan Sun but this time with the Covid restrictions in place, Mangler Nation; Bessette's loyal fan base, will have to send their support from their couches, rather than the stadium seats of the Mohegan Arena. The Mangler will undoubtedly have an outpouring of support from the New England MMA faithful surrounding tomorrow's bout with Kennedy, where Bessette looks to prove that he is still one of the toughest Featherweights not in contract with a major promotion, as he draws his toughest test since returning from his shot in the UFC.
Kennedy is a dangerous grappler with heavy top control and long limbs that help him control his opponents on the ground as well as set up his takedowns with stinging jabs on the feet. Bessette will have to use his angles and counter punches on the feet to eliminate some of the length Kennedy will posses on the feet. It will be interesting to see if Bessette will allow the threat of takedowns to prevent him from throwing kicks, kicks that have become a big part of Bessette's offense and could pay dividends in stopping the advance of Kennedy. The longer this fight goes the higher the likelihood of this bout making it to the mat, where the out of town Kennedy should find himself comfortable even against the skillful Black Belt of Bessette. Kennedy has been tough on the ground in the past and his ground and pound could pose a big problem for Bessette, but one hole in the flow grappling of Kennedy and Bessette could find himself hunting for this 9th career submission and his 17th career finish as he looks to notch his first Bellator win in over four years.
Bellator 253 comes to you live tomorrow evening (Thursday, November 19th) starting at 4:15 pm on the Bellator MMA YouTube channel with Bessette vs. Kennedy likely to kickoff somewhere around the 6 o'clock hour here on the east coast with the main card following on CBS Sports Network starting at 7 pm. For the first time, in what seems like a couple months, Bessette will be the only New England MMA representative, on what is a stacked card at Bellator 253. Check out the entire fight card below and be sure to tune into Bellator 253 tomorrow as we get set for the Mangler's return to Bellator MMA!
Bellator 253 Main Event:
Featherweight Grand Prix.: Darrion Caldwell (15-3) vs. A.J. McKee (16-0)
Bellator 253 Main Card (7 p.m. ET CBS Sports Network):
170 lbs.: Benson Henderson (28-9) vs. Jason Jackson (12-4) 170 lbs.: Joey Davis (7-0) vs. Bobby Lee (12-4)
Bellator 253 “Prelims” Card (4:15 p.m. ET Bellator MMA YouTube):
135 lbs.: Raufeon Stots (14-1) vs. Keith Lee (7-3) 145 lbs.: Jeremy Kennedy (15-2, 1 NC) vs. Matt Bessette (24-9, 1 NC) 170 lbs.: Jaleel Willis (13-2) vs. Mark Lemminger (11-2) 145 lbs.: Jay Jay Wilson (6-0) vs. Sergio De Bari (5-1) 155 lbs.: Kevin Ferguson Jr. (3-2, 1 NC) vs. Kaheem Murray (3-3) 205 lbs.: Sullivan Cauley (0-0) vs. Jason Markland (0-1