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18 hours after accepting he'd never be in the UFC, Matt Bessette was in the UFC


At 33 years old, Matt Bessette wasn’t ready to walk away from MMA, but he felt like he probably should.

Nearly 30 fights into his pro career, the UFC had yet to call, and he just assumed they probably never would.

“Wednesday of last week, I’m in the kitchen; it’s night time, and I’m with my wife, and we’re talking about what’s next,” Bessette told MMAjunkie. “Right now, I’m trying to get a full-time police job at a few gigs. It’s always something I’ve wanted to do. I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, so it’s always been kind of on the backburner just because of MMA. We’re talking, and I’m like, ‘I don’t want this to be on the backburner anymore. I think this is going to be my last fight. I feel like, at times, I’m holding the family back from just really moving on.”

Bessette was preparing to defend his CES MMA featherweight title at a February event, and he decided he would call it a career after that. After all, he had come close to a UFC berth this past July, competing in the main event of the inaugural Dana White’s Contender Series card, but he broke and dislocated his thumb on the very first punch he threw and ended up being finished in the first round by Kurt Holobaugh.

The result snapped a seven-fight winning streak for Bessette, and he figured the injury was the added insult he needed to realize the UFC wasn’t in his future.

“You go there, you train all this time – years and years and years – you finally get your shot in front of Dana White, and boom, first punch you land,” Bessette said. “It just takes the wind right out of your sails, and you’re like, ‘What the hell, man? What do I have to do to get some luck around here?'”

Apparently, the answer may be simply accepting the UFC isn’t going to call. Because 18 hours after reaching that conclusion, Bessette (22-7 MMA, 0-0 UFC) reached out to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby via email after hearing that Enrique Barzola (13-3-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) needed an opponent at UFC 220, which takes place Saturday at TD Garden in Boston.

“I said, ‘Barzola can get these hands,’ and that’s all I said,” Bessette recalled.

Shelby gave him the opportunity, and while it means he now competes on a little more than one week’s notice, Bessette had one more piece of luck on his side.

“I don’t know why this happened – it was just kind of a fate-like thing, but for the past year-and-a-half, maybe, I’ve been looking at him,” Bessette said of Barzola. “I’ve been looking at guys very, very regularly, and he was one of the few that I was looking at, thinking to myself how awesome of a first fight in the UFC that would be. So I knew all about him even before his name popped up on Twitter as an opponent. I’ve studied him, what I need to do, and this is a really, really good fight for me.”

While Bessette understandably declined to reveal his strategy, he did say he’s identified two specific areas where he believes he can attack Barzola and plans on doing exactly that.

It’s been an incredible turn of events in an incredibly short period of time, but Bessette is thankful for the opportunity. And after considering a change in career course, Bessette said he’s again focused 100 percent on his fighting future.

“Less than 18 hours later, I get a call that I’ve got a fight in the UFC; it was the most incredible thing,” Bessette said. “I can’t even tell you what that feeling was like. It was life changing.

“I’m not (expletive) going anywhere. You’re going to have to rip this Reebok gear off me because I’m not leaving the UFC for a while.”

For more on UFC 220, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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