New England’s Next: For undefeated Air Force veteran Connor Matthews, fighting is “peaceful”

Connor Matthews has his hand raised in victory. Credit: Connor Matthews.

Undefeated featherweight Connor Matthews kept his perfect record intact at last month’s CES 61 with another dominant first-round finish, his third in as many fights.

Matthews, 28, has been fighting for far longer than his two-year professional career… it just wasn’t always inside the safety of a cage. The Fall River, Massachusetts, native may seem oddly calm when entering the cage, and that’s because Matthews has been in much tenser situations, serving the United States Air Force as a combat controller.

The Air Force’s official website describes the role of a combat controller as the following: “Some of the military’s most difficult missions are carried out by Combat Controller (CCT) specialists who operate in remote, often hostile areas. Acting as a one-man attachment to other special forces teams, these highly specialized Airmen are trained in a wide range of skills, including scuba, parachuting, and snowmobiling, as well as being FAA-certified air traffic controllers in order to establish air control and provide combat support on missions all over the globe.”

Matthews was deployed in Afghanistan during the height of the Iraq War. After that, nerves heading into a sanctioned fight don’t seem so necessary.

“I was jumping out of air planes, scuba-diving, was deployed in Afghanistan,” Matthews told MMA-Prospects. “Once I got out I started training again, 100%. Fighting is nothing to me, I’ve jumped out of planes in the pitch black. I’ve been around a lot of crazy shit. Fighting, with a referee in there, is nothing. It is actually peaceful to me on fight day.”

In August of 2019, Matthews expounded on this point.

“I realized that the skills that I still utilize most are cerebral rather than physical. I have come to believe that the most transferable skill I learned in the military was to prepare and plan for my battles so that I am calm during a fight. There were two times in my life I can vividly recall experiencing utter tunnel vision where all I could focus on is staying alive. The first time was in my first amateur MMA fight. The second time is when I had my first High Altitude/Low Opening (HALO) jump at Army free-fall school. Luckily both of these terrifying events worked-out well for me, but that’s not how you want to deal with stressful or life-threatening situations. Special Operation Forces (SOF) training teaches you that when you have planned and prepared for every eventuality, you can better handle these extremes,” Matthews wrote as a guest contributor for SOFREP.

Matthews love for mixed martial arts began early in life. In fact, his first amateur fight took place while Matthews was still in high school, in 2011.

“I had anger issues like any other high school kid,” Matthews laughed. “Punching holes in the wall… my parents were like, ‘You need to do something,’ and for me, that was martial arts.”

The Lauzon MMA product returned to fighting after his deployment, turning pro in 2019. Most recently, Matthews stepped into the CES cage, one of New England’s premeire talent-producing organizations.

Despite scoring an impressive first-round finish, Matthews was prepared to show off his skills in a longer fight, so as to prove to fans and talent evaluators more of his abilities.  

“I wanted to show the high-level striking [I’ve been working on],” Matthews stated. “I want to show I’m not getting lucky, early in fights. I want to set things up and showcase for the UFC. Wins are wins, and anything can happen so I finish them when I can, but I’m always ready to go the distance.”

It was special for Matthews to perform on the CES 61 card not only because it was his debut for the well-known UFC breeding ground, but also because his head coach, the legendary Joe Lauzon, was calling the action for the UFC Fight Pass broadcast.

Matthews spoke highly of the UFC legend, whom he also considers a close friend.

“I’m pretty lucky to be a member of that team,” Matthews said. “Coach doesn’t usually give all those compliments like he did on the broadcast. I learn from all those guys. Joe is one of the best leaders I’ve ever experienced, in and out of the military.”

Although his record currently stands at 3-0, professionally, Matthews has tasted defeat inside as an amateur (4-2), but he doesn’t plan on doing so again.

“A loss is always humbling,” Matthews explained. “Especially in fighting: you have a camp and training, [so] to take that loss is brutal. A KO in 4 seconds was one of my losses; the other I had the flu the day before the fight… If I get a loss on the record it won’t stop my overall goal for myself, this is a sport and it won’t stop me.”

Matthews is enjoying the CES 61 win with his friends and family, but he is already back to training and looking for an opportunity on an upcoming card.

Looking ahead to where he plans to be a year from today, Matthews radiates determined optimism.

“I’ll be 7-0 at least,” Matthews predicted. “I’ll get to 4-0 and hop on the Contender Series, and get right on a card after that. I want to secure a contract with the UFC; these are my dreams, and I feel I’m close.”