Six months after winning the title in a thrilling come-from-behind win, reigning CES MMA Featherweight World Champion Matt Bessette defended his title Friday with a knockout win 32 seconds into the third round of a scheduled five-round bout against challenger Kevin Croom in the main event of “CES MMA 41” on AXS TV from Twin River Casino.
Croom (17-8) was effective early in the clinch, landing short, right uppercuts and knees to the body, but Bessette (21-7, 6 KOs), the No. 1-ranked featherweight in the northeast, countered with a knee to the ribcage, momentarily staggering Croom. The reigning champion and Stafford, Conn., native began to find his distance toward the end of the round, countering Croom with clean shots upstairs to the body and opened the second round with more of the same, bloodying Croom’s nose in the opening seconds.
As the second round continued, Bessette began to pick Croom apart, a stark contrast to his title bout in 2016 against Joe Pingitore in which he used his ground game to counter Pingitore’s flurries. A vicious, three-punch combo in the closing moments temporarily stopped Croom in his tracks, but the challenger kept coming forward, displaying a tremendous chin and will to compete as Bessette kept unloading.
The cageside physician examined Croom between rounds and allowed the fight to continue, but Croom couldn’t sustain much more damage. Bessette picked up right where he left off in the second and continued to unload on Croom until a head kick sent the challenger into the cage, prompting referee Kevin MacDonald to mercifully stop the bout.
The upset of the night belonged to Virginia’s Keith Bell (8-9-1, 5 KOs), who stunned Massachusetts’ heavyweight Tyler King (12-5) via first-round knockout at the 1:38 mark.
The two traded barbs via social media prior to the bout, leading to a heated opening round at Twin River. King, who took the fight on two weeks’ notice when Juliano Coutinho suffered an injury, tried to dictate the pace, but got caught with a counter right to the chin while delivering a short kick and crashed to the canvas. Bell pounced and delivered a series of hammerfists before MacDonald stopped the bout. The loss snapped King’s three-fight win streak.
In what might’ve been the Fight of the Night, East Providence, R.I., bantamweight Dinis Paiva (9-6) continued his successful comeback tour with a hard-earned 29-28, 29-28, 29-28 unanimous decision win over New Mexico’s Jordan Espinosa (9-5).
Espinosa came out swinging early, but tried to control the pace by circling the cage over the final two rounds. Paiva picked his spots, cut off the cage effectively and landed effective counterstrikes to earn the narrow victory, his second since returning to the cage in November following a 13-month layoff.
Also on the main card, Stoughton, Mass., vet Pat Walsh (10-2) made history in the first sanctioned cruiserweight bout in Rhode Island history by submitting New Hampshire’s Kevin Haley (6-4) via guillotine 23 seconds into the second round. Walsh dominated on the ground in the opening round, attempting several submissions, but Haley survived until his opponent locked in a quick guillotine at the start of the second.
Coming off a stunning knockout loss in his last bout, Providence, R.I., heavyweight Greg Rebello (21-7, 13 KOs) punished Minnesota vet Danyelle Williams (8-6-1) in the opening bout of the main card, stopping Williams via strikes at 2:59.
Rebello, as promised, applied pressure and came out swinging, landing at will early in the bout and used his footwork to sidestep Williams as he tried to charge at Rebello and landed counterpunches to keep his opponent at bay. When Williams got momentarily blinded in his right eye courtesy of the overhand rights by Rebello, the Providence native kept charging and eventually knocked Williams to the canvas before finishing him off with a series of unanswered strikes. Rebello now boasts 21 wins, 13 by knockout.
New Britain, Conn., flyweight Carlos Candelario (5-0) continued his impressive climb on the AXS TV Fights main card, submitting Miami’s Miguel Restrepo (4-3) via rear-naked choke at 2:11 of the second round. The unbeaten Candelario, making his fourth appearance with CES MMA, took over with his dominant ground game to sink in the chokehold midway through the second round.
Continuing his climb back to the top of the bantamweight division, former CES MMA world title challenger Kody Nordby (8-4) earned his seventh career submission win Friday, finishing Illinois’ vet David Garcia (4-3-1) via guillotine choke at 4:20 of the second round. Nordby took some time to get used to his taller opponent, but landed a flurry of strikes early in the second before slamming Garcia to the canvas. Nordby then used his wrestling background to wear down Garcia before locking in the 10-finger guillotine for his second consecutive win.
Mike Rodriguez set a new CES MMA record and Kris Moutinho nearly followed as the two highlighted Friday’s preliminary card with lightning-fast knockouts.
Rodriguez (6-2, 4 KOs), fighting out of Quincy, Mass., set a new CES MMA record with the fastest knockout in the promotion’s history, stopping Woonsocket, R.I., light heavyweight Hector Sanchez (3-14) just seven seconds into the opening round.
Sanchez, who actually owned the record for the fastest knockout entering Friday, got caught with a kick to the chest right from the opening bell and took a barrage of right hands while lying on his back before referee Dan Miriaglotta stepped in and stopped the bout.
Fighting in the final preliminary bout of the evening, Moutinho (3-0, 1 KO), the Milford, Mass., bantamweight, caught Ohio’s Jason Rine (0-2) with a knee to the chin, finishing his opponent just 10 seconds into the opening, three seconds shy of tying Rodriguez’s record.
In the opening preliminary bout, Framingham, Mass., flyweight Maria Rivera (1-0, 1 KO) earned the win in her professional debut, stopping Sarah Click (1-2) of Bourne, Mass., at 2:40 of the opening round. Rivera caught Click with an overhand right late in the round, sending Click to the canvas, and finished the bout with unanswered strikes, forcing Miragliotta to wave it off.
Also in the flyweight division, Bellingham, Mass., native David Baxter (4-1) earned his second consecutive win, submitting Pawtucket, R.I., vet Dan Cormier (4-7) via triangle choke at 1:42 of the second round in his third appearance with CES MMA.
Milford, Mass., bantamweight Richie Santiago (3-0) kept his perfect record intact on the preliminary card as Ohio vet Raymond Yanez (4-9) was forced to tap due to injury 42 seconds into the second forth. Yanez dislocated his left shoulder on a takedown early in the round and verbally tapped as Santiago rained down with unanswered elbows. Santiago is now 3-0 under the promotional guidance of CES MMA.
Fresh off a submission win at “CES MMA 39” in November, Stoughton, Mass., lightweight Connor Barry (2-0) earned a split-decision win over tough New Jersey veteran Travis Foster (0-3), 29-27, 28-29, 29-28. Foster showed off his strength throughout the match, twice slamming Barry to the canvas, but Barry was more consistent with his strikes and maintained the edge on the ground for his second pro win in as many bouts.