Diaz vs Masvidal: How Two of MMA’s Realest Changed the Game

By Jacob Debets Nov 1, 2019

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 244 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

The road to UFC 244 has not been without bumps, but having made it into fight week with the highly-anticipated main event intact, we are seemingly just days away from seeing Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal duke it out to decide whom is “The Baddest Motherfuc*er in the Game.”

The fight itself, and the respective paths its principals took en route to the historic Madison Square Garden arena, lend themselves to grandiloquent prose.

Diaz, the cannabis-smoking, sound-bite-producing West Coast mutineer who spent years toiling on absurdly low remuneration in the shadow of his older brother Nick, only to emerge as one of the sport’s biggest starts after lamping promotional golden boy Conor McGregor on 11 days’ notice back at UFC 196. A historic rematch, followed by a prolonged hiatus, culminating in a triumphant and dominant return over former lightweight champion and nemesis Anthony Pettis, has Diaz back where he always should have been: in the spotlight and at the top of the marquee, sharing his aphorisms on the fight game all the while casually transforming it. A late brush with the United States Anti-Doping Agency over a “vegan, plant-based daily multivitamin,” which led to his fast-tracked exoneration in a potentially precedent-setting win for athletes’ rights, has served to underscore what fight fans have known for years but the UFC is only just now admitting: Diaz moves the freakin’ needle, and in more ways than one.

Masvidal, the “thugged out goon from Miami” with a similar proclivity for memory-searing quotations who just happens to be riding high on two of 2019’s best knockouts. From fighting in unsanctioned bare-knuckle fights on the Kevin Ferguson circuit to main events in the UFC, Masvidal is a throwback fighter in an age of corporatized, Reebok-clad inauthenticity. He’s a hitter, with strong views on his trash-talking counterparts and a religious need to baptise them with fire; a guy who has seen and done things in his past that make a padded cage with doctors on site seem more like a jumping castle than the colosseum. Like his counterpart, Masvidal, AKA “Gamebred,” AKA “Street Jesus,” has spent years as an under-appreciated and under-promoted B-side, whose rise to mainstream prominence came via viciously melting two of the division’s prized assets. He took out former title challenger Darren Till inside two rounds in Manchester, threw an extracurricular “three piece and a soda” Leon Edwards’ way in the middle of a post-fight interview, then stole Ben Askren’s soul (and his undefeated record) in a record-setting five seconds three months later in the T-Mobile Arena. The shots he landed on Askren after the knockout were “super necessary,” and Masvidal’s demeanour -- equal parts cold-blooded and bemused -- had people talking about this BMF with long hair and catchy lines; it set this whole damn train in motion.

The fight is one that feels guaranteed to deliver on the action metric, with both men doing their best work on the feet, and a viral post-fight interview all but in the bag. Volume strikers, who keep making PSAs about the violence they intend to inflict on the other, makes this thing mandatory viewing on any event and during any era.

But the fight is much more than a compelling styles’ match-up; it’s a game-changing disruptor that challenges everything we know about the UFC’s promotional philosophy.

Since even before the Endeavor era, the mandate has been clear and rigidly enforced: non-titleholders don’t headline pay-per-view events. Whereas McGregor and Diaz turned in massive numbers for their pair of non-championship bouts in 2016, the posters and press conferences still featured the Irishman’s 145-pound title; by contrast, in negotiations for his beltless return earlier this year, the promotion insisted that McGregor would be relegated to a co-main event spot. Other efforts to buck the UFC’s brand-over-athlete principle, including a fan-led push to see Diaz and Poirier headline last year’s MSG show, have similarly come to nothing, with the only pay-per-view featuring two non-champions in the past four-plus years coming at the 11th hour in Melbourne courtesy of Robert Whittaker’s collapsed bowel.

Diaz and “Gamebred” though, against all odds, flipped the script, creating a narrative that caught like wildfire and forced the UFC, which is forever balancing the scales between rigidly controlling its athletes while generating obscene amounts of cash for its investors, to get behind them in a way it’s never has with their peers. It took a combined 41 UFC fights, and a heck of a lot of detours, but come Nov. 2, two of the realest MFs in the game will make the walk, in a five-round main event, in the most famous arena in the world.

They’ll bang it out over a new “title,” which will in turn create a whole new title lineage, that’s captured the collective imaginations of fighters, fans and media alike. Even McGregor, the man half the roster seems to be in eternal pursuit of, has thrown his hat in the ring to face the winner, along with everyone else from Donald Cerrone to Mike Perry to the real champion of the division in Kamaru Usman.

It marks a mould-breaking, and frankly long-overdue innovation, an amalgam of ideas and attitudes so palpable it feels like an institution, even though the concept is barely two months old.

In this game, with a promotion that has a very specific and not particularly imaginative way of doing things, creations like the BMF title are as rare as they are refreshing. Diaz’s internal compass told him long ago told him that the UFC titles weren’t all that, and that he was the money fight; in 2019, with help from his upcoming dance partner, he proved himself right.

Jacob Debets is a law graduate and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com. Advertisement
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