Matt Bessette has already won his most important fight. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Matt Bessette’s life was almost over before it began.
Diagnosed with leukemia when he was just 2 years old, he had to undergo chemotherapy to try and cure the disease; he was given a 50-50 chance to survive. The treatments were successful and Bessette has gone on to not only become a successful professional mixed martial artist but someone who actively helps those who now suffer from the same disease with which he was afflicted.
“I’ve gone to hospitals and talked to kids,” said the 30-year-old Bessette, who has been cancer-free for some 19 years. “It’s very humbling to go to the hospital and talk to kids. It’s very difficult to see them in that state, but they’re excited to see me. Being able to brighten their day is a way I can give back. They make my day, and I make theirs. It’s just awesome to be able to give back there. It’s not a regular thing, but I try to do the best I can to always give back, even in other ways than talking to cancer patients. I try to reach out to people as much as I can.”
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, leukemia is the most common cancer in children, adolescents and young adults under 20 years of age. In 2014, about 4,100 children and adolescents under 20 were diagnosed with leukemia. Despite advances in treatment that have increased the chances of survival, leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children, adolescents and young adults under 20.
“I was diagnosed at 2 1/2 years old,” Bessette told Sherdog.com. “My mother saw me running high fevers a lot and took me to the hospital to see what was wrong. At first, it was thought I was anemic. They ran some tests and I wasn’t anemic, but I had leukemia. I did chemotherapy for quite a while. I believe I was 11 years old when they finally declared me cancer-free. Once you go six or seven years completely clean, they declare [that] you’re cured and don’t have cancer. My mom was extremely happy when the doctors cleared me. I think in the back of her mind there would always be a chance that something could come back.”
Bessette concedes that because he has been cancer-free for so long, the idea of the disease returning is not something he thinks about too often. However, having had leukemia previously does make him more predisposed to contracting cancer later in his life.
“There’s no chance of [leukemia] coming back, but there’s an easier chance of getting another type of cancer,” Bessette said. “It might be brain cancer or lung cancer and there’s a better chance of getting it when I get older, but the leukemia’s not coming back.”
Bessette will meet Kevin Roddy as part of the Bellator 144 undercard on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., and plans to use the fight to help raise awareness for “Fight for the Forgotten,” the book co-authored by fellow mixed martial artist Justin Wren. Proceeds from the book go towards land, water and food initiatives in the Congo.
“This fight, I reached out to Justin Wren,” Bessette told Sherdog.com. “I’ve raised almost $2,000 for ‘Fight for the Forgotten,’ and I’m going to have the logo on my walkout shirt and on my fight shorts. I’m supporting what he’s doing in the Congo, and it’s phenomenal. I’m supporting it for a reason.”
The fight with Roddy will be Bessette’s seventh under the Bellator MMA banner, as he has compiled a 4-2 record in his first six fights with the promotion. He recorded three straight wins before consecutive unanimous decision losses to Daniel Weichel and Scott Cleve in 2014 slowed his momentum. Bessette rebounded with a doctor stoppage victory over Josh LaBerge at Bellator 134 in February but stepped away from Bellator to record a second-round knockout of Khama Worthy on the regional circuit four months later. However, his two-fight winning streak came to a screeching halt in his most recent outing -- a 39-second knockout loss at the hands of Lenny Wheeler at a CES MMA event in August. It marked the first time Bessette had been knocked out in 22 professional fights.
Now sporting a record of 15-7 that dates back to September 2007, the Stafford, Conn., native is back in Bellator and looking to start another winning streak against Roddy. Though he holds the kind of record one would expect from a journeyman at 15-15-1, Roddy has won back-to-back bouts and five of his past six.
“My opponent has 30-something fights and been around quite a while,” said Bessette, who fights out of the Underdog Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu camp. “He’s crafty and quick, but that’s where I excel and it’s where I’m going to run away with it. I hit a ton harder than him, and I have good knockout power. He’s going to be in a barnburner of a fight. It’s going to be a good fight.”
Bessette has eight finishes -- four knockouts and four submissions -- to his credit and has no plans to go the distance with Roddy.
“Getting a finish, that’s my fight,” he said. “Other than a year where I was just doing jiu-jitsu, I focused on hitting hard and knocking people out. I train to hurt the guy, and I love standing and trading. I was caught early on in my last fight, but if anything, it makes me more aware of watching what I’m doing. I want to keep things standing, but if he goes to the ground, I want to finish him with strikes and submissions.”