A special belt is being made for the winner of Saturday night’s Jorge Masvidal-Nate Diaz fight. In true mixed martial arts fashion, the UFC is going over the top and calling it the “BMF” championship. As if additional pomp and circumstance is called for, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be on hand to present the championship to the winner of the welterweight fight, which headlines UFC 244 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The hype for this event, which is expected to be the UFC’s biggest-selling event of the year, is such that President Donald Trump, a friend of UFC leader Dana White, is going to risk going out in public again in front of an audience he didn’t pre-screen, just six days after getting lustily jeered at the World Series, just to see what all this fuss is about.
UFC 244: Jorge Masvidal (-167) vs. Nate Diaz (+125), Saturday at 10 p.m. ET (UFC PPV)
So what’s the cause of all the hullabaloo, enough to bring out a celebrity president, a Hollywood superstar, and the creation of a one-off title? ironically enough, all this hype is the end result of one of the most real things to happen in the sport of MMA in quite some time.
Both Masvidal and Diaz have double digits in the loss column — Masvidal’s record is 34-13; Diaz’s 20-11 — and neither have held a major weight-class title.
But since the ascension of megastars Ronda Rousey and particularly Conor McGregor, and since the company was sold by the casino magnate Fertitta brothers to titanic Hollywood agency Endeavor in 2016, the UFC has drifted more than ever before toward hype, trash talk, and storylines.
And Masvidal and Diaz’s records represent the everyman, the person who insists on doing things their own way, whether or not their corporate overlords approve, fighting as much for the love of the combat as the money. And their paths crossed in a spectacular manner this year.
Masvidal, for his part, has been grinding away for years, through an alphabet soup’s worth of organizations. He had a run of three losses out of four in 2015-16. But the Miami native came up through the late Kimbo Slice’s legendary backyard fighting circuit and doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.
When he endured a barrage of taunting from cocky opponent Ben Askren going into UFC 239, then answered with a hellacious flying knee knockout at the five-second mark of the opening round (setting a UFC record for fastest KO), the fans responded by making the clip go viral.
“You’re not going to tell me jump or wear a suit or do this,” Masvidal said. “I’m going to do what the (expletive) I feel like, and when I want to do it. It’s part of the reason it’s taken the UFC so long to get behind me.”
Less than two months later the other piece fell into place.
Diaz, of Stockton, Calif., and older brother Nick, have long been MMA antiheroes, advocating for marijuana’s medicinal effects long before it became cool, and presenting a mix of militant veganism and street-fighting ethos only a Californian could understand.
So, when the younger Diaz became a star by splitting a pair of fights with Conor McGregor in 2016, then sat out for three years until the UFC hit him with a monetary offer he liked, the fans embraced the decision as a man holding firm to his ideals. And he was treated like a conquering hero when he returned at UFC 241 in Anaheim, Calif. in August, and put on a clinic against former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
When Diaz called out Masvidal, who was in the building, rather than the expected McGregor callout, the explosive fan response was such the UFC pretty much had to make the fight.
“He’s been a real fighter and said who he is the whole time, and that’s the baddest (expletive) that there is,” Diaz said. “So, I call it how I see it and everybody else felt the same way. So that’s what it is. This is for the best fighter and the baddest (expletive) man, the best fighter in the whole game.”