Updated: Oct 14
Scrap to the Future is a series that looks back on memorable fights in New England over the years. We talk with the fighters involved, get some perspective on the fight, and rewatch the scrap.
At a fourth of July party in New Hampshire a few years back, Mike Bezanson and Tayler Mears wouldn't have thought that they'd be kicking the shit out of each other in late November of 2019 locked inside the Combat Zone cage. But that's exactly what happened.
Bezanson and Mears first met in person at that party a few years ago. They made small talk, chatted about training and MMA, and had a pretty standard conversation. Their paths crossed again in Manchester, New Hampshire on November 23rd, 2019 when Jerome Brashears, Calvin Kattar, and the boys at Combat Zone asked the two to dance for the fans at the Radisson. The both obliged, and the date was set. It would be for the vacant Combat Zone amateur welterweight (170) belt, and would be one of the showcase fights in front of the raucous New Hampshire crowd.
I happened to be a judge for this fight sitting cage side, and this one sticks out in my mind because of the back and forth nature of it. Both guys threw, both guys received, and it was a banger! I remember turning to my friend sitting next to me and saying, "This is a high-level amateur contest"! And to this day I still feel that this is one of the most entertaining, high-level amateur fights that I've seen in some time.
I was able to catchup with both fighters and get some commentary on the training leading up to the fight, the scrap itself, and where they are in their MMA careers.
The Skinny on Bezanson
This is an interesting matchup, as Bezanson, who trains under Greg Williams at Kaze Dojo, was a flashy kicker who bursted out of the amateur MMA gates by roasting his first two opponents at NEF 18 and NEF 24 using his striking to entertain the crowd, and more importantly, to open some eyes to who this new kid on the scene was. Well, this hype-train was derailed when Bezanson was absent from the sport for more than 3 years after his 2nd win over Shawn Bang. Where'd the kid go? Well, like so many hiatuses from the sport, this one was also do to injury.
"The 3 year layoff was due to a major knee injury. I had tore my ACL and meniscus twice on the same leg back to back years, which lead to having multiple surgeries and proper PT to make sure everything was 100% before I got back in the cage."
Bezanson was 100% and ready to return to the sport, and he didn't take a cupcake fight upon his reemergence at NEF 40: School of Hard Knocks. He took on a 2-0 Jason Landry who was an ultra-aggressive striker who wouldn't back down from anyone. The fight was :41 seconds of craziness, as both guys engaged in a high-paced firefight on the feet with Bezanson eventually getting the TKO stoppage victory.
This chaotic return to the cage against Landry in September of last year was another feather in Bezanson's cap, but he knew he needed to keep fighting top-flight competition in order to capture attention, and the belts that he wanted......from multiple promotions........in multiple weight classes. This set the stage for his battle with Mears.
When asked how his camp was leading up to the fight, he said "There were no injuries leading up to this fight except the first couple weeks after the Jason Landry fight I was healing from I believe was a small hip flexor which I did before the (Landry) fight......Camp for this fight was about 6 weeks. The camp was great but I could have trained way harder for it and I will be the first one to admit it."
So you have Bezanson who has a ton of talent, coming off of a 3.5 year layoff, only having been tested :41 seconds in the cage, ready to get to the next level of competition in order to progress to his goal of fighting on PPV cards. That next level of competition came in the form of fellow partygoer, Tayler Mears at Combat Zone 72: Unforgiven.
The Skinny on Mears
24 year old Mears, like Bezanson, is also a Granite State boy, and he just so happens to like to stand and bang too. He's a full time corrections officer by day, and runs his own boxing gym, Mittman Boxing, in Laconia by night.
Mears was 2-0 as he stepped in the cage against a super tough Zac Lawrence at Combat Zone 71 in August of last year, winning a unanimous decision. He was now 3-0, has proven he can beat legit competition, and he had his sites set on that Combat Zone 170 pound belt.
"After my last fight in August against Zac Lawrence I had a conversation with Combat Zone owner Calvin Katter and the matchmaker Jerome about what was next. They congratulated me on my victory and said they would like to see me fight for their ammy 170 title next if I was up for it. I had a plan of going for the title if I was successful in my bout against Zac. After the fight it seemed we were all on the same page so it worked out perfectly. I said yes to the offer and jumped back into a camp only a few weeks later."
Mears' camp leading up to the Bezanson fight was fortunately uneventful. 8 weeks, no serious injuries, just some bumps and bruises that are expected during camp. He had focused heavily on his cardio, expecting a battle with the lanky red head from the mountains, and a battle he would get.
I was able to take this one in from cage side, and as they were being introduced by John Vena you could feel the energy in the room! It was palpable! You got two young, talented, local fighters who like to stand and trade fighting for a belt in front of their home crowd. It was a recipe for success, and you have to give Calvin and Jerome props for getting this one setup for the fans.
You knew you were in for a treat when you saw the power that both fighters were throwing their kicks with. About a minute into the fight Bezanson throws a heavy high kick that is partially blocked by Mears, and follows it up with a stinging right cross that sends Mears falling to the mat and covering up. Bezonson smelled blood in the water and did the right thing by following Mears to the mat with punches. Mears was able to cover up, secure an under hook, and get back to his feet - weathering the storm that "Bugaloo" threw at him.
At this point Bezanson knew he was in for a battle. "After that first flurry he survived I realized that I need to conserve my energy. I saw he could take a hit very well and will be tough and he is ready to put it all on the line. So after round 2 you may be able to notice I was a little more selective of my shots and had more patience." The remainder of the 1st round was a battle of exchanges between the two. Hard high kicks, hooks and crosses landing, and the crowd fired up! It was one of the best rounds I've ever seen in the amateur ranks!
With both fighters knowing they were in for a hard fought battle in the coming rounds, they settled into a more measured pace in the 2nd round. Both threw mostly kicks, but Bezanson was more active and landing more consistently than Mears, so you have to give him the edge in round 2, putting him up 2 rounds to none going into the 3rd.
Mears was hoping his gas tank would be the difference in the later rounds; "My conditioning was a huge focus in the fight camp so I felt very good going into the forth with my energy levels. Understanding it was a five round fight, there was an emphasis on keeping the pace and not getting too excited early on in the fight. I felt the fight was close in regards to the scorecards although I may have been a bit behind for the drop in the first round. I was excited to test out Mike's gas tank as well as mine in the championship rounds.....Whether it was first round or last, behind on the cards or not, If the opportunity to finish an opponent is there I will always try to make that happen so I feel like I always need to finish my opponents."
Round 3 highlighted Mears' toughness and willingness to compete. He continued to throw heavy kicks, but did a better job of mixing in his boxing, connecting with a handful of jabs and hooks that gave him a slight edge on my card. Mears was smart and didn't get baited into a slugfest with Bezanson. Whenever Bezanson would start to flurry Mears would shoot for a takedown, forcing "Bugaloo" to change his focus from office to defense. Although Mears wasn't successful with any of these takedown attempts in the 3rd round, it did prevent the Kaze Dojo product from committing to a potentially fight-ending flurry. I now have it 2 rounds to 1 Bezanson going into the championship rounds.
Both fighters seemed to have pretty solid gas tanks going into the 4th, although you have to think that Bezanson may be the one to be concerned about due to the energy that he puts into his kicking game, and the fact that he had only fought in a cage for :41 seconds in the last 3.5 years. When asked about his cardio heading into the later rounds, here's what Bezanson had to say:
"My gas tank was pretty good. I felt comfortable still. Honestly the first round is what I was trying to play catch up from. The end of the first round I had the worst cotton mouth ever... like never before. I think it was because of the hard weight cut possibly, but i couldn't breathe simply because my mouth was so dry. If you watch the corner time after the first round you can see me taking water and spitting it in a cup that was just to hydrate my mouth because it was so dry."
Although both fighters looked like they were settling into a pace that would allow them to see the final bell, that wouldn't be the case, as Bezanson connected with a monster head kick, rocking Mears and sending him to the mat! Bezanson followed up with punches on the ground while Mears covered up, but referee Steve Rita had seen enough and called a halt to the fight at :37 seconds into the 4th round, and crowing Mike Bezanson as the Combat Zone 170 pound amateur champion.
In regards to the sequence of events that unfolded in the 4th round, here's what Bezanson had to say:
If you watch through out the fight I threw multiple leg kicks working his lead leg. The reason for that is to set up other strikes, but to also weaken his lead leg to the point where his muscle wasn't functioning the same way it would as if it was 100%. That 4th round you can see I do a switch stance with my legs to see how he would react then I throw a fake right kick, and thats where I knew that there was a good possibility that a head kick would land."
Well, a head kick did land, and it was a big one, cementing Mike Bezanson as one of the top amateur welterweights in New England. You can't ignore Tayler Mears' performance in this fight though. He was the underdog coming in, and he proved that he's got a chin, can strike, and has the heart to compete with anyone inside that cage. Like a true professional in a loss, Mears recognized Bezanson's efforts; "Mike did a great job with his game plan and he executed it well. Most of his fights have been fast and finished standing up so it was not to our surprise that he would like to stand and bang. That was our plan exactly to stand and strike with him and put on a hell of a show for the fans." Well, a hell of show you accomplished my friend! It was a competitive amateur striking battle that looked like two seasoned professionals were going at it.
Both of these guys have a legitimate shot to continue to build on their current careers and make it to the next level. Mears may fair better at lightweight in the future if he can get down there, but regardless, we know that this kid comes to bang and put on a show for the fans! When asked what he sees in his MMA future, Mears said "As for whats next I'd like to get in another amateur fight to display some new things I've been working on, then see about taking it up to the next level. I can't say I have anyone in mind for who I'd like to fight next and I have always trusted the matchmaker to get a good fight lined up not only for me, but the fans also. So I truly don't care who is lined up across from me as long as I'm able to create fights like that to not only better myself, but get that crowd up on their feet for the entire fight."
Bezanson had his hands full with Mears, but he was taken into the later rounds and proved that his striking can maintain its effectiveness. Reflecting on the fight, Bezanson had nothing but praise for Mears, saying "Taylor is a warrior and is a huge part of why that fight was so entertaining to watch. He kept coming and gave 100% heart in that cage as did I, and that is what makes a great fight! Two people giving it their all and having a great time all at once to put the fans on their toes."
Bezanson has some specific aspirations in the near future, and before he decides to go pro he still has more to accomplish in the amateur ranks. "I want to hold 2 amateur titles before I make the jump to pro. That is my goal, 3 possibly because I would like to potentially bump up to 185 pounds and fight for a middleweight title to hold 2 belts at 2 weight classes...... just for the hell of it."
Mike Bezanson is taking all comers at welterweight (and possibly middleweight). He wants to put asses in the seats, kick his opponent's heads off, and eventually be headlining PPV cards on the big stage. There's a long way to go, but Bezanson has already overcome a lot after a 3 year layoff due to injury, and has proven to be one of the most exciting fighters to watch in New England. He's not only a lethal striker, but he's a pretty nice guy too, and I wouldn't be surprised if you saw him holding Tayler Mears' legs for a keg stand at the next 4th of July party in New Hampshire.
Check out the banger between Bezanson & Mears below: