Cage Warriors champion Matthew “The Beast” Bonner (10-6-1) is set to make the first defence of his middleweight title next month when he faces Djati Melan (7-0) at Cage Warriors 131, but he’s also setting his sights on a future move to welterweight to chase double champion status. The newly-crowned champion believes that a move to 170lbs after a successful title defense could be on the cards.
“In terms of where I see myself going in the very near future. I’ve still got that eye on that double champ. Maybe dropping down to welterweight and becoming a two-division champ. That’s something I think is possible.” Bonner told MyMMANews.
A Cage Warriors belt has long proven to be a potential golden ticket to the UFC, and while Bonner relishes that prospect also, it is the opportunity to become a simultaneous two-division champion that interests him most.
“The hardest thing will be dropping the weight. I’m a decently sized middleweight, but I do think it’s possible. Either that or the UFC would be brilliant, but I tend to lean towards the double champ. I think at this moment in time it’s most important to me.” Bonner explained.
While “The Beast” now sits atop his Cage Warriors throne pondering title defenses and multiple championships, the beginning of Bonner’s career was a far cry from his current success. The 30-year-old Next Generation Liverpool fighter lost his first two pro bouts, and after 13 fights owned an unimpressive 6-6-1 record. His last loss came via decision to Jamie Richardson in March 2020. That defeat ignited a fire under the Englishman’s belly, and Bonner would go on to win his next 4 fights in impressive fashion en route to capturing Cage Warriors gold.
“I think the most pivotal moment [of my career] will be the Jamie Richardson loss. That’s gone on to define this 4-fight win streak and winning the title. In terms of the most challenging, I think it was losing the first two fights in my pro career. That was a disaster, worst case scenario. I do look back and wonder how I overcame that, but that was certainly the most challenging time of my career.”
The champion credits the adversity he has faced in his career for his current success, and he believes that dealing with loss has forged him into the
“I think what separates me from most of the other guys in the division is going back to that initial disappointment of losing the fight and being able to bring myself back from that, recover, and get myself back to a winning record. I think some of these younger guys, they’re brilliant and they’ve got fantastic records and what not, but there’s plenty of guys out there who have got solid records, undefeated records. There’s not many guys who have managed to come from either losing their first two pro fights, or being 6-6-1. There’s not many characters who can come back and win a world title. So, I think that’s probably what separates me from everybody else. That ability to refocus, to regroup, and to have a bit more tenacity than most other fighters.”
After suffering that last defeat to Richardson, Bonner went on a phenomenal tear through the middleweight division. In the space of 9 months, he stopped a prospect in George Smith, bested Smith’s coach and Cage Warriors legend Matt Inman, finished the former champion James Webb via strikes, and submitted the sitting champion Nathias Frederick.
As he now shifts focus to his next opponent, Bonner knows that he will have his hands full when he faces the undefeated Djati Melan. The champion previewed how he sees the matchup going, and the difficulty assessing an opponent who hasn’t fought in recent times poses.
“He’s quite tricky, he’s got a unique style. He’s quite passive. He’s quite happy to stand back and just wait and be patient and then he’ll explode into a takedown. He’s obviously a southpaw as well which can bring a few challenges for some people. But we have got that 2-year gap. He’s not fought since COVID, and his last fight on Cage Warriors was 4 years ago. It’s gonna be a bit of a tricky one I think. It’s easier sometimes when people have fought more recently, you can get an idea of what they’re bringing to the table. But he could have spent 2 years dossing about, or he could have spent 2 years improving in the gym. So, I’ll have to wait and see what he brings on the night.”
No longer an underdog, Bonner wants to prove himself as a champion, and he’s eyeing up a stoppage against Melan:
“In terms of what I’m bringing to show now that I’m champion, I want to keep finishing fights. I finished 3 out of the last 4. I choked Nathias in the fourth round of the last fight. I’d like to think I’d be getting finishes whether it’s a sub or a TKO or whatever. I do think it’s going to be quite a challenge with this one because he doesn’t really engage. He’s very passive, he’s patient. I’m going to have to hunt him down and not get frustrated. But yeah, I’d like to put on a good show for everyone and finish the fight.”
While the task at hand is beating Melan on Friday 10th December, Bonner reaffirmed his intentions to drop a weight class and vie for the welterweight belt should he emerge victorious over the Ivory Coast born French fighter.
“We’ll get this French guy out of the way in December, and then hopefully there’ll be some news on this welterweight title shot. It’s up to them [Cage Warriors]. It’s their decision, but there doesn’t seem to be any more direction I can go in in terms of fighting any more middleweights.”
As far as who Bonner would like to fight at 170lbs, there is a certain former UFC fighter from Ballymena who stands out from the crowd.
“I think Rhys McKee is probably the most appealing. He’s the one who jumps out most of that division.”
Matt Bonner vs Djati Melan will headline the Cage Warriors 131 card on Friday 10th December. Fans can watch LIVE on UFC Fight Pass.
Andy Stevenson is an MMA writer, interviewer, and occasional podcaster based in Dublin, Ireland.