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Doherty, Matsuda collide in bantamweight war

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (April 22nd, 2014) — As far as big fights go, this is a “must-win” for Tateki Matsuda.

Matt Doherty isn’t quite as desperate, but he will be once the bell rings Friday.

“It’s do or die for him,” Doherty said, “but that’s the mentality I’m going with, too.

“I know he’s hungry. I’ll be hungrier.”

Two fighters laying it all on the line inside the cage generally makes for an exciting fight, and the Doherty-Matsuda showdown will be no exception in what could be the Fight of the Night Friday, April 25th, 2014 at “CES MMA XXIII” at Twin River Casino.

Doherty (3-0, 2 KOs), a 25-year-old Salem, Mass., native, is one of the Northeast’s rising stars in the bantamweight division looking for the signature victory that could take his career to the next level. Boston’s Matsuda (8-5, 4 KOs), for years considered one of the toughest, most technically-sound bantamweights in the region, is coming off back-to-back, split decision losses in 2013 and needs a win Friday to get back on track.

Two fighters with different backgrounds and different mindsets reaching for the same goal could make this the most hotly-contested bout Friday on a stacked card that also features CES MMA featherweight champ Rob Font and hard-hitting heavyweight Josh Diekmann.

“Every single match is important to me,” Matsuda said. “All I want is that ‘W.'”

The 28-year-old Matsuda has been a fixture in the Northeast for nearly half a decade and was once considered the No. 1 bantamweight in the region until losing to Saul Almeida at Bellator 48 in 2011. Shortly thereafter, he qualified for Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, but failed to make it into the house when he lost to Dustin Pague in the season debut.

It appeared Matsuda had righted the ship with wins over Johnny Campbell and Myung Hwan Lee until the split-decision losses to Matthew Tran and Paul Gorman dropped him back into the middle of the pack in his weight class, a bitter pill to swallow considering he lost each fight by only one round.

Asked if he thought he won those fights, Matsuda politely deferred and instead focused on the bigger picture.

“You should ask people who watched my fights, or watch those fights, and see what you think,” he said. “In my mind, I wasn’t defeated, but I learned a lot about my fighting style and my mental preparation. Although I was frustrated at the fact they hurt my record, those experiences will make me better for sure.”

Even with the back-to-back losses on his resume, Matsuda is still Doherty’s toughest opponent to date, a challenge Doherty willingly accepted when presented with the opportunity.

“To be honest, I’ve wanted to fight a top guy since I got into the game,” said Doherty, who last fought at Twin River in January when he beat Shaun Marmas.

“Even as an amateur, I wanted the best. When I first turned pro, I listened to the smarter guys, like my manager and my trainer, but I’ve always wanted to fight the best.

“Tateki’s got a lot of experience. He’s been on The Ultimate Fighter. He’s fought in Japan. I want to take his spot. When I heard his name, it made me work that much harder.”

Why step up so soon after only three fights? The way Doherty sees it a win over Matsuda could raise a few eyebrows on the national circuit and make him a household name beyond the Northeast, plus the two shared a common opponent in Campbell. Matsuda needed five full rounds to beat him while Doherty knocked him out at the end of the second round of their scheduled three-round bout. That gave Doherty the confidence to step up and face Matsuda, and while it’ll take more than one big win to make a dent among the elite 135-pounders, putting his undefeated record on the line against a seasoned veteran is a chance Doherty is willing to take.

“I figure if I can go in there against the top guys around the Northeast and compete with them despite being so inexperienced I can start competing with more and more of the top guys,” he said. “That’s how you get to the big show, and he’s definitely one of the best around.

“If you make a mistake against him, he’ll take advantage. I’ve been training a lot differently and preparing smarter for this fight. Sometimes I’d go in there just doing what I wanted to do, but I know I have to listen to my coaches word-for-word this time. You can’t make mistakes against a guy like this.”

Doherty’s expecting the technical, fundamentally-sound Matsuda we’ve grown accustomed to seeing through the years, but knows there’ll also be a hint of desperation in Matsuda’s approach given the fact he’s lost his last two fights. Having come up short on the judges’ scorecards, Matsuda might be more inclined to try to finish this fight and control his own destiny rather than leave it someone else’s hands.

“I always look for the moment for any chance to finish a fight or an opening for a knockout or submission,” said Matsuda, who hasn’t earned a win by stoppage since 2010. “All I can say is I’m always ready for anything.”

Though his career isn’t at quite the same crossroads, Doherty promises to fight with the same desperation, if not for the chance to earn the biggest win of his career, then at least to keep his unbeaten record intact. There’s a lot at stake for both sides, and somebody will be one step closer to the top come Friday.

“Each fight is more critical than the last one,” Doherty said. “One loss can set me back and put me right back at the beginning again. Keeping that record intact and staying on the right path is what helps keep me motivated.”

Tickets for “CES MMA XXIII” are on sale now at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesmma.com or www.twinriver.com or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254. All fights and fighters are subject to change.

Coming off an impressive win in January, Font (9-1, 2 KOs) will return to face Tristan Johnson (8-4, 3 KOs) of Nova Scotia, Canada, in the main event. The 30-year-old Johnson has won three of his last five fights, including a split-decision victory over Bellator vet Will Romero in 2012, while Font has won his last eight.

Diekmann (14-5, 10 KOs), a Groton, Conn., native, will face Keith “Bad News” Bell (5-3-1, 3 KOs) of Newport News, Va. Bell has won three out of four since 2013 and appeared on the undercard of Bellator 109 in Pennsylvania.

“CES MMA XXIII” also features the return of fan-favorite Andre Soukhamthath (7-2, 4 KOs) of Woonsocket, R.I., who will face Joshua Killion (10-4) of Defiance, Ohio, in a bantamweight bout. Also on the undercard, Pawtucket, R.I., welterweight Abe Pitrowski (5-2, 1 KO) will face Samuel Almeida (2-0) of Framingham, Mass.; lightweight Bobby Flynn (4-1, 1 KO) of Mashpee, Mass., will battle Providence’s Tundee Odumuso (2-2); and featherweight Pete Rogers Jr. (0-1) of Baltic, Conn., will face Franklin Isabel (3-7) of Chelsea, Mass. Two-time Bellator vet Rico DiSciullo (1-0) of Peabody, Mass., will face Jordan Espinosa (3-3) of Findlay, Ohio in a three-round bantamweight bout, and East Providence, R.I., heavyweight Eric Bedard (6-4, 4 KOs) will battle Matthew Thompson (18-9, 7 KOs) of Austin, Tex.