Most fighters would be angry if their scheduled title shot was scrapped due to the champion’s injury. Not Pat Bennett.
He will fight Kenny “Deuce” Garner tonight in the main event of M-1 Challenge XXVI on Showtime at 11 PM EST.
While Bennett wouldn’t collect the M-1 heavyweight title with a win tonight (due to an injury suffered by champ Guram Gugenishvili), he would gain redemption from one of the losses on his 4-2 record.
Bennett is a three-time All-American wrestler: once at the junior college level and twice at The College at Brockport in New York.
Like many college wrestlers and football players, his competitive fire was still burning so he turned his attention to mixed martial arts.
“I was going stir-crazy,” he said. “Lifting weights wasn’t doing it for me. A friend got me to try MMA, and in the first week we scheduled my first fight. I fell in love with the sport.”
Bennett won three amateur fights before turning pro less than two years ago. He won his debut by TKO in one minute. Then, a funny thing happened: nothing.
“I couldn’t find anyone to fight me. People kept backing out,” he said.
Bellator finally gave Bennett his second fight after a nine-month layoff. He lost a unanimous decision to Cole Konrad, but he earned a spot in M-1’s 2010 Selection Americas tournament.
“I liked working for M-1 because I knew the fights were going to happen,” Bennett said. “I wouldn’t get all these back-outs.”
In fact, Bennett kept very busy, with three tournament fights in less than three months. He knocked out Ryan Nick Smiley in 37 seconds and won a unanimous decision over Mehdi Hassan.
That put Bennett in the finals against tonight’s opponent, Kenny “Deuce” Garner. Late in the first round, Garner won the fight and the tournament with a TKO.
The loss wasn’t the end of the road for Bennett, who traveled to M-1’s home base of Russia to defeat Alexander Volkov by unanimous decision.
That was last December, and Bennett has been eagerly awaiting another chance to step into the cage for M-1. With Guram dropping out, Bennett will be in the main event with a chance to even the score with Garner, who said Bennett won’t make it out of the first round…again.
“I won’t be too cautious,” Bennett said. “I feel like I have nothing to lose. He’s the type of fighter where if you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile. That’s what happened last time.”
“I have to be in a position when I don’t give him anything,” he added. “I know he will bring it and push the pace.”
With a victory, Bennett would feel a deep sense of satisfaction that would outshine the belt he would have won if he had beaten Guram.
“I don’t get caught up in that, where I need to have a title belt,” he said. “It’s more important for me to get the win back than to win a title.”
That attitude is consistent with Bennett’s outlook for his MMA career:
“I just want to be happy and fight.”
MMA Announcer Jeff Gorman interviewed two other M-1 fighters on tonight's show, so check out the thoughts of Tyson "The Anti-Hero" Jeffries and Beau "Blackjack" Baker. Plus, go to jeffdgorman.com tonight at 11 Eastern for a live blog of M-1 Challenge XXVI.