UFC 244: Masvidal vs Diaz is About More Than Just the BMF Title

Nate Diaz, UFC 244
Nate Diaz, UFC 244 Open Workout Credit: Marcus Rebelo/Cageside Press

The evolution of Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz is a story on its own, but their collision feels so organic and natural that the entire MMA world is ready to crown the winner the “BMF” at UFC 244.

On the outside, the fight is very simple.  Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz are two of the most exciting and popular fighters of 2019 and matching them up in a pay-per-view headliner in Madison Square Garden is a no-brainer.  But while fans will regard the winner as the “BMF™” in the UFC, a victory gives the winner a lot more than the one-of-a-kind championship hardware.

If you think Jorge Masvidal’s 2019 campaign has been impressive, then you will find it all the more astounding when you take into account his entire professional career.  By all accounts, the term “journeyman” would not be incorrect.  For the past decade, he has flirted with a breakthrough only to be turned back in disheartening fashion.  In the early tournament days of Bellator for example, he fell victim to the Submission of the Year by Toby Imada.  In Strikeforce, coming up short to Gilbert Melendez in his lone shot at the lightweight title.  In his UFC run, he put together several victories only to be halted when making a big jump in competition.  Racking up decision after decision, not the knockouts that he is known for today, he struggled to put that special run together to the title picture not unlike his teammate Dustin Poirier.

Looking at his key victories, especially at welterweight, it is clear the ingredients were there.  His stoppages of Donald Cerrone, Michael Chiesa, and Jake Ellenberger are all evidence of his dangerous abilities.  But 2019 has been the perfect storm.  His finish of Darren Till, fresh off a title shot and in Liverpool no less, was an upset that shocked many considering he had spent more than a year away and the most activity he had seen was on a Spanish reality competition show.  The cherry on top, a true lightening in a bottle moment, his post-fight skirmish with Leon Edwards and viral line of “three piece and a soda” that made the rounds faster than he could could cross the Atlantic back to the United States.

In July, he had the perfect dance partner.  Ben Askren, an entertaining but distinctly different type of entertainer on the mic, helped to brew a collision of personalities with Masvidal that made fans hyper focused on their fight at UFC 239.  “Gamebred” would get the stoppage of his career, the jaw-dropping five second knockout that set the UFC record and social media ablaze.  If a shot at the welterweight title was not finally assured, then certainly a blockbuster match-up with a massive payday was.

This brings us to the other side of the coin: the enigmatic Nate Diaz.  I’ll reiterate something I said prior to his battle with Anthony Pettis in August: he is proof of just how valuable winning a “money fight” can be.  The majority of the general public had no idea that he had only one UFC title shot where he was thoroughly stifled by Benson Henderson.  Truth be told, nobody cared after that night in 2016 where he stepped in on eleven days notice and choked out featherweight champion and pay-per-view lightening rod Conor McGregor in what was then the most bought pay-per-view event in UFC history.  The rematch was one of the most anticipated fights ever seen in mixed martial arts.  The event broke records again and produced a fight that not only lived up to the hype but was even called the best fight in UFC history by the promotion during their 25th anniversary last year.

Then Diaz did something both unexpected and yet completely on-brand: he disappeared.  Diaz would not fight for nearly three years, being offered fights along the way but simply not returning to action.  By all accounts, the financial windfall from 2016 was enough that he no longer needed mixed martial arts if he wanted to step away forever.  The desire to see Nate Diaz back in action was high, which of course made his absence all the more perplexing.  In August, it became clear that his time away had only helped to make his return all the more impactful.  On a night that saw Stipe Miocic and Paulo Costa in incredible fights, Diaz was the one who stole the show with his throttling performance against Anthony Pettis.

This is what makes Saturday all the more vital.  The upcoming title fight between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington is a deserving battle for the championship, but there is little question that the BMF belt winner will be the biggest star in the division and arguably among the biggest in the UFC.  A victory on Saturday will complete the swing for both of them to cement both stardom and elite status.

The offensive output for both men gives plenty of reason for fans to be excited, and how the two will look to stop the other is a question with many conflicting opinions.  Diaz is known for corralling opponents to the fence and attacking with a blistering pace that often leaves his rivals battered within the distance.  On the ground, he has a dangerous submission attack and figures to be the more dangerous fighter should they get into exchanges on the mat.  Keeping the fight in close quarters will neutralize much of Masvidal’s offense and put him in a great position to do damage.

Masvidal is expected to do more damage with a single shot and that will likely be the key to coming out with a victory against the durable and well-conditioned Diaz.  “Gamebred” figures to do his best work in the center of the Octagon but will have to be the aggressor and use his footwork to keep the fight at his distance.  Diaz is an excellent boxer with impressive reach so Masvidal will need to push forward to take away the opportunity for him to get his offense going.  If he is able to effectively execute his strategy, he figures to be ahead on the scorecards with damage inflicted or give himself the best chance to land a fight ending sequence.

The winner of this fight sets up an intriguing match-up with the winner of Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington next month at UFC 245.  In particular, Masvidal’s tension with Covington who also trains at American Top Team figures to be one of the biggest fights to be made in 2020 should the two emerge victorious.  More importantly, the winner will likely have the star power to be headliner on virtually any card that they are scheduled for next year.