Less than a week ago, Johnston, R.I., featherweight Joe Pingitore spoke about his desire to one day climb to the top of the rankings in the northeast and perhaps headline a future CES MMA fight card.
He'll get his chance much sooner than anticipated.
Originally scheduled to fight Bill Jones Friday night on the main card of "CES MMA 37" at Twin River Casino, Pingitore (6-2-1, 2 KOs) will now face the region's top 145-pounder, Matt Bessette (19-7, 5 KOs) of Stafford Springs, Conn., in a five-round bout for the vacant CES MMA Featherweight Title, one of three title fights airing live on AXS TV.
Pingitore stepped to the table with Bessette's scheduled opponent forced to withdraw from the fight. Jones (12-10, 3 KOs), fighting out of Somersworth, N.H., will remain on the card in a separate three-round bout.
"When I have nothing to lose in a fight like this, that's when I'm most dangerous," Pingitore said Tuesday. "I've really got nothing to lose here."
For Bessette, it's more than just business as usual as he prepares for his third opponent in the past six weeks; it's now become personal.
While talking about his originally scheduled bout with Jones, Pingitore mentioned he was interested in seeing how Bessette's fight turned out that same night, hinting at a possible matchup down the road. When CES MMA announced the planned Bessette-Cervantes bout three weeks ago, Pingitore threw his hat into the ring via social media.
"He wrote, 'I would've taken that fight.' I laughed. I thought it was a joke," Bessette said. "I thought he was kidding for a while because that's Ping. Ping jokes a lot.
"But he started being fucking serious and then he started going on my Twitter talking more shit. I told him, 'You need to stop.' For one, I thought we were cool. We've trained together 30 times. We've gone to places together. We've traveled to train places together. Then this dude just up and calls me out like that? It's a fucking slap in the face.
"It's just not who I am. If he never did that three weeks ago, there's a zero percent chance I'd say yes to taking the fight with him. I just wouldn't do it. It's not me. I'm not a guy who goes behind your back and fights good friends. If he didn't do that and put himself in that position, he would not be in this fight. Ping talked his way into a fist-fight and he's going to get a fucking fist-fight."
Challenging Bessette, a nine-time Bellator and four-time CES MMA veteran, is a major step up in opposition for Pingitore, who carries a two-fight win streak into what is now the biggest test of his career and his first shot at a major mixed martial arts title.
"These opportunities come along and I just go out there and grab them. It presented itself to me and I saw no reason not to go out and try to get that upset," Pingitore said.
"All of the preparation, everything has been the same. I still train for a five-round fight even though it was only a three, but now it's actually five rounds. Everything worked out. I had a great camp either way. It's not like I showed up to camp just because I was fighting Bill Jones."
Friday will be Pingitore's fourth consecutive nationally televised fight. He last fought in March when he knocked out Taylor Trahan in the third and final round of their rematch at "CES MMA 33."
Since suffering a stunning loss to Lenny Wheeler in August of 2015, Bessette has caught fire, winning his last four bouts, including an impressive submission win over Taurean Bogguess at "CES MMA 33" and a victory over veteran Ran Weathers two months ago at "CES MMA 36."
"He's the pound-for-pound [No. 1] in the rankings for a reason," Pingitore said of Bessette. "He'll come out and he'll come straight forward and I think that's where I'll have my opportunity to catch him. He's got tricky standup. His wrestling is decent. His ground game is pretty legit. He's been around. He's probably one of the next kids to go to the UFC, unless I upset him."
For Bessette, the last-minute change has become an all-too-familiar dilemma in recent months. Pingitore is the third opponent scheduled to face Bessette for the title. The original opponent, Pedro Gonzalez, suffered a back injury midway through training camp. Weathers was also a last-minute fill-in five months ago forJairo Soares, who was forced to withdraw during the week of his scheduled fight against Bessette.
"It's insane," Bessette said. "In my own mind, I was positive no one was going to take this fight because it's a 25-minute fight on five days' notice against me on national television for a world title. An opportunity, yes, but people have got to be in shape for this. It was just good timing that Ping was on the card already and was already prepared to fight.
"They gave me several names and I said yes to them, but, in my mind, I said, 'I'm going to smash these guys because none of them have been training.' Ping was in shape, so this will be cool.
"Ping likes to bang, that's for sure. He's going to get what he wants, but it's not going to be the way he wants it."
As for the theory that Bessette has everything to lose while Pingitore has nothing to lose, Bessette laughed and said, "I've had 27 fights. I've always had something to lose. It doesn't matter. I always have something to lose. It doesn't matter who's in there with me. I'm going to run fucking through them. I was going to run through this guy, I was going to run through Pedro and now I'm going to run through Ping. He just stepped up to get ran over."
Tickets for "CES MMA 37" are priced at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesmma.com, www.twinriver.com,www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
The Pingitore-Bessette fight is one of three, five-round title fights on the main card. Woonsocket, R.I., native Andre Soukhamthath (10-3, 6 KOs), now fighting out of Boca Raton, Fla., defends his CES MMA Bantamweight Title for the first time against Cambridge, Mass., vet Kin Moy (8-2, 2 KOs) in the main event, a rematch of their back-and-forth war in January of 2014 in which Moy won by unanimous decision, while Providence's Greg Rebello (20-6, 12 KOs) faces Oklahoma's Ashley Gooch(9-4, 6 KOs) for the vacant CES MMA Heavyweight Title.
Also on the AXS TV main card, middleweight Chuck O'Neil (16-8, 5 KOs) of Bourne, Mass., faces Roy Jones (7-4, 3 KOs) of Waterloo, Iowa.
The preliminary card features four exciting bouts, highlighted by a middleweight showdown between Berkeley, Mass., vet Pat McCrohan (2-0, 1 KO) and RussianRuslan Melikov (3-1), fighting out of Fairfield, N.J. Providence bantamweightMarquis Brewster (1-0) faces Turtle Creek, Pa., native Roosevelt Archie (0-1); and Dylan Lockard of Derry, N.H., makes his professional debut against Seldon, N.Y., featherweight Mak Kelleher (1-2). Quincy, Mass., middleweight Mike Rodriguez (3-1, 1 KO) battles Stephfond Ewins (3-3-1, 3 KOs) of Pennsylvania.
Visit www.cesmma.com, www.twitter.com/cesmma or www.facebook.com/ces.mmafor more information and use the hashtag #CES37 to join the conversation.
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