Shit’s about to get real.
Finally it seems like the era of “the money fight” and the era of merely talking your way into a big fight seems to be dead, the body is mangled and it was a closed casket service.
I’d argue the two men featured in the November 2nd main event at UFC 244 are mostly responsible for putting the final nail in the coffin.
Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal are two of the toughest men in the history of MMA and arguably two of the most skilled and experienced with 78 fights between the two. This is an ultimate fan-friendly matchup – the best fight that could be made in the sport right now that we never knew we wanted!
Cuz I’m a soldier. I just release ’em on a war path, not your average dealer. I’m a soldier
West side Outlaw, Bad Boy killer…
The emblematic song by rapper Tupac Shakur blared through the speakers as Nate Diaz stalked to the octagon that night at UFC 196, a late replacement for Raphael Dos Anjos who pulled out of the fight with Conor McGregor due to injury.
This was more or less at the height of “Conor Mania,” his face was everywhere, NFL wide receivers were doing his “Billie Strut” in the end zone after scoring touchdowns. Conor McGregor was untouchable, the most popular figure in Mixed Martial Arts – nigh the most popular public figure ‘round the world!
Nate Diaz parachuted into that main event slot largely on the back of a memorable sound bite he shared with Joe Rogan in the Octagon following his win over Michael Johnson–he accused McGregor of snatching spotlight he didn’t deserve being handed a top spot and with it top money he didn’t deserve, or as Nate put it “Conor McGregor you’re taking everything I worked for motherfucker! You know what the real fight is – what’s the real money fight – I’m a fight your fucking ass!”
Have to admit, Nate has a way with words.
Nate and his older brother Nick have always been fan favorites. The controversial unequivocal “Bad Boys” of MMA flouted rules wherever they could often to their professional and financial detriment. To be honest, the reason Nate enjoyed mostly mid-card status at this point despite an impressive resume of wins was his anti-establishment stance, his outspoken nature regarding the power structure in the UFC, his pay and the treatment of his brother Nick, whom Nate idolizes, by the various state commissions in particular Nevada with whom the UFC is closely linked. The NSAC famously handed Nick Diaz a five-year ban for testing positive for weed in January 2015. The suspension was eventually reduced to 18 months – time served but the damage was done. In view of the multiple violations by Jon Jones of legit PEDs the outrage of the Diaz Bros is understandable.
So, needless to say Nate didn’t have a lot of real friends in the business.
Nate grew up with his back against the wall. It’s all he knows.
Raised in Stockton California, a hardscrabble low-income town on the San Joaquin River in Northern California, both Diaz brothers struggled to fit in, fought constantly and lived a nil-by-mouth existence and dropped out of high school.
As a young boys he and brother Nick discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and boxing, and became regulars largely out of necessity as many of the gym regulars would buy the Diaz brothers a burrito or some other small meal after training. Often it would be their one and only that day.
Fast forward about ten years and Nate found himself on The Ultimate Fighter: Season 5 which premiered in Summer 2007. The season featured a coaching duel between B.J. Penn and Jens Pulver. Nate wanted to be selected by B.J., a fighter he admired thanks to his scrappy nature, but once selected by Pulver he embraced his coach and his teammates and he vowed to rep his team hard.
On one of the very first episodes B.J. Penn’s team had tagged the house in marker with silly insults of Team Pulver, Nate was the first – the loudest – and most aggressive at responding to the insult. Why? Because Nate is from a place where reputation is everything! A kill or be killed environment where weakness is brutally.
This was an early glimpse into what makes Nate such a respected fighter to this day, fearlessness.
Fearlessness to a fault.
Nate is a soldier, a self-described West Coast Gangster.
But even Gangsters grow up, at least a little. Nate has mellowed some with age, he will be 35 in April. He still smokes weed like it’s going out of style and will do so in the middle of open workouts like he did prior to his last bout against Anthony Pettis which he won decisively coming off of a three-year absence from the MMA.
He has a one year old daughter, Nikayla, who he has with long time girlfriend Misty Brown, whom Diaz has been with for more than a decade. He’s got an exclusive sponsorship with Represent. LTD a clothing and lifestyle brand, management complete with PR that helped guide him into the opportunity that I started to discuss above – his surprise bout with Conor McGregor at UFC 196.
Most thought was that he was simply a lamb being led to slaughter, a relatively one dimensional fighter – sometimes sneered at as nothing but a beta copy of older brother Nick. He was too heavy on the front foot, too reliant on his boxing with limited take downs and mediocre take down defense.
Many thought Conor’s dynamism would just be too much for him despite Nate’s size and reach advantage.
What Nate did bring to the table was pressure and work rate that comes from almost constant training and a love of Triathlons which he does for fun and to aid in his fight based cardio … and as we’ve discussed fearlessness.
For much of the first round Conor had his way. His punches were just sharper, straighter and seemed more effective as Nate was cut almost immediately thanks to the many wars he’s already been in, the fragile scar tissue on his brows split and Nate was bloodied.
However, round two was very different. Conor had unloaded and Nate just simply wouldn’t go away. Conor had not budgeted his energy well and Nate’s durability began to turn the tide. Nate began to land cleanly with textbook 1-2s. Tired, stunned and taking more damage than any fight before in The Octagon Conor blundered and shot for a lazy single leg take down on Nate – the bigger man – with a legit BJJ black belt from Cesar Gracie. Predictably, Nate easily reversed position, gained Conor’s back, one well placed short left hook to the face pushed Conor’s neck into the bend of Nate’s right elbow and allowed the Stockton native to sink the rear naked choke.
Nate shut the mouthy Irishman up, not for the last time, but laid the blueprint for beating Conor that in the intervening three years since UFC 196 has been followed by none other than Floyd Mayweather and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Take Conor into deep water and drown his ass.
Of course Conor won the rematch with Nate at UFC 202, to Conor’s credit the rematch was fought back up at 170 pounds, the weight the first fight was contested at. Conor had a scary moment near the end of round three where he was getting absolutely battered by Nate and was close to being stopped but Conor dug deep – deeper than ever before or since and won a split decision.
Nate didn’t seem too fussed about a third fight but did say in no uncertain terms that if he returned to The Octagon again it would against Conor or a similar fighter of note and for BIG money as it was reported that Nate made several million between the two Conor fights many multiples more than he’d made in his career to that point.
Now Nate finds himself after more than a three year absence in another main event slot, headlining at Madison Square Garden.
A lot has changed in a few years, Nate’s star has surpassed his brother, once inseparable Nate hinted at the press conference that went down this past Thursday September 19th that not only would Nick not be in his corner but that Nick may not be that involved in his prep for Masvidal. You never really know with the Diaz brothers, they are mercurial and moody, prone to disappearing in the middle of press conferences and from the public eye altogether in this most recent case for years. They keep everyone but their inner circle at arms length, they are the UFC’s ultimate anti heroes.
The unexpected rise of Jorge Masvidal in 2019 has been the best thing to happen to MMA this year by far. Masvidal is comeback fighter of the year, rookie of the year and MVP all rolled into one. He became a walking meme after his backstage brawl with Leon Edwards at UFC on ESPN 5 and viral social media mega-super-duper star after unleashing that unholy flying knee strike that flat-lined the shit talking Ben Askren in 5 seconds, making Masvidal the new owner of the fastest KO in UFC history.
Yet, Masvidal takes it all in his stride, an iconoclast similar to opponent Nick Diaz. Masvidal is a veteran of the sport with an impressive resume, a similarly mysterious background who has never done anything by the book.
Hailing from Miami, Florida, Masvidal made his name initially by fighting in backyards under the watchful eye of the late Kimbo Slice, the former underground YouTube street fighting sensation. Some of the grainy videos in potato quality of Masvidal throwing down with other thugs for some dough are still searchable.
Though nearly two decades removed from those backyards the 16-year MMA veteran has barely changed in terms of his approach to fighting and his love of violence and he makes no secret of either.
Masvidal is a self described Goon.
Not a thug. Not a gangster.
I’m from the northeast originally where this term and this attitude is familiar to me. The former descriptions hint at some kind of organization or a person who lives outside the bounds of normal society because in his mind true or not he needs to. Half the reason a goon breaks the rules is because he likes to.
One of the most iconic and terrifying sights in recent memory is Masvidal standing with his hands behind his back in or outside the cage intimating a non-aggressive posture, a sure sign that ‘this man truly does not want trouble.’ I see right through it. It’s a trap.
Since a goon looks for even the slightest reason to take off on some fool, he’s just hoping you’ll take the bait and get close enough.
Leon Edwards took the bait.
Following Masvidal’s brutal KO of Darren Till at UFC on ESPN 5 Masvidal was engaged in a post-fight interview in the backstage area of the London venue. Leon Edwards, an up and coming welterweight prospect harangued Masvidal off camera – in the ‘Conor Era’ mouthing off is matchmaking 101 in the UFC. After a quick back and forth Masvidal approached Edwards with his hands behind his back (setting the trap) the view is obstructed by production crew, security and various members of Edwards’ entourage, but Masvidal unloaded a quick succession of punches to Edwards’ face cutting his cheek, literally drawing first blood in their simmering feud. Later on, quite comically Masvidal claimed in an interview that Edwards’ had made a threatening gesture and put his hands up signalling he wanted to fight/strike him and Masvidal ‘fearing for his safety’ struck first in order to defend himself, “so I had to give him the 3-piece and a soda.”
And the internet legend was born, a phrase that launched a thousand memes, and a new line of t-shirts available for purchase for a while on his merch website.
Next came his sensational KO of Ben Askren.
It was such a clash of styles in and out of the Octagon. The collegiate wrestling star Ben Askren was the perfect stand in for every white meat college frat boy you’ve ever met, he talked an absolute gang of shit about every fighter on the UFC roster but saved his most venomous vitriol for the other welterweights he was claiming he would dominate after campaigning in Bellator and ONE FC primarily.
Askren was undefeated, 19-0 coming into the Masvidal fight, but many critics thought that his competition in these other promotions was simply less than… his debut fight against former Welterweight Champ Robbie Lawler ended somewhat controversially after Askren scored a first-round technical submission win over Lawler, but many thought it luck as within seconds of engaging with Lawler Askren was violently slammed on his skull and nearly had his face caved in by one of the hardest punchers in MMA history. Askren survived and sunk in a bulldog style choke in the midst of scramble and got the win.
That setup the fight with Masvidal and the antagonism by Askren began immediately.
This approach rubs men like Diaz and Masvidal the wrong way, to say the least.
Where they are from you don’t talk unless you actually want to fight. To them having the “Conors” and “Askrens” of the world receive the praise and the best opportunities based merely on what they say on a mic or Twitter is anathema to their whole world view. All that should seem familiar.
So it was with glee that Masvidal stormed across the Octagon launching a picture perfect flying knee to the side of Askren’s head.
He was out before he hit the canvas, Masvidal reacted immediately, landed two shots to Askren’s head, who was completely defenseless, his body totally rigid, a sign of decorticate posturing a phenomenon where the body takes on an abnormal posture with clenched fists and stiff extended legs – a sure sign of trauma to the brain. Askren had to escorted out of the arena and was taken to the hospital immediately.
During the post fight press conference Masvidal passionately defended both his ‘late strikes’ to the downed opponent and his ‘celebration’ after mocking Askren’s unconscious state:
“There’s not too many people that I’ve disliked, I have over 50 pro fights, and he’s one of them,” Masvidal said. “He talked about my manhood, talked about my culture, my ethnicity, where do we draw—Why do certain people get to do stuff online? So you can do anything, everything is cool before a fight, you’re allowed to do and say whatever you want… talking about people’s religions, wife, even kids, that’s cool? But after a fight I’m not allowed to showboat and rub it in your face so you and guys like you can see it and be like, ‘Maybe I don’t talk so much shit because when I cross one of these real motherfuckers, they’re going to make me pay for it. They’re going to embarrass the shit out of me.”
Like rapper Ill Bill’s track I’m a Goon, don’t blame Jorge Masvidal; Forgiveness is between you and god I just arrange the meeting…
So incredibly we find ourselves on the cusp of witnessing a super villain fantasy matchup – ever wonder who would win between Magneto and the Joker?
The analog is about to play out in approximately six weeks time when Diaz and Masvidal face off.
Following Diaz’ win over Pettis at UFC 241 he immediately called out Masvidal, respectfully acknowledging that they were arguably the last two ‘fighters’ left in a game top heavy with athletes trying to be fighters and Instagram models. Diaz claimed the honorific title of “Baddest Motherfucker on The Planet” and was willing to defend his ‘title’ against Masvidal.
The UFC have stepped in and have jumped on the BMF title bandwagon and at the aforementioned press conference promoting the Nov. 2nd fight UFC president Dana White assured everyone the literal BMF title belt is in production and will be finished by fight night. What’s more, Masvidal invited Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of WWE and action movie fame to wrap the belt around the winner’s waist!
Yes, this is real life!
Hard to say what the winner gains beyond this ‘title’ within the spurious and utterly arbitrary UFC rankings. Despite their recent wins Diaz is 1-1 in the last three years. Masvidal has fared slightly better but still is only 4-2 in roughly the same time period.
The rankings more often than not trade simply on popularity. The UFC and Dana White in particular have positioned themselves as good old fashioned capitalists, wanting nothing more than to put on entertaining shows for the fans so they can make money; it’s supply and demand. But the myth of the American meritocracy extends beyond the broken down neighborhoods that Diaz and Masvidal call home to the UFC, as well.
The great experiment of manufacturing star fighters began with Ronda Rousey and involved other fighters like Sage Northcutt and of course Conor McGregor, all of whom fell to men and women who may not have excelled at being a product for mass consumption but were in fact legit fighters – Bad Motherfuckers in their own right.
So the UFC has had to pivot, getting behind men like Khabib Nurmagomedov who only speaks English as a second language with a heavy Russian accent from the mountains of Dagestan and Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal, gritty veterans who have given their blood sweat and tears to MMA for a dozen years because otherwise they might be dead or in prison.
It all manifests on Nov. 2nd in a classic prizefight pitting two fan favorites against each other, free of shit talking and full of violence, there’s no vitriol between the two other than the kill or be killed attitude that both men bring to the octagon and has followed them their whole lives.
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