From Miami backyards to Madison Square Garden: How Jorge Masvidal made it to the UFC 244 headliner

Jorge Masvidal
Image via @ufc on Instagram

As the clock continues to tick towards UFC 244, fans, fighters and media alike are excited for the main event between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz, who will collide for “BMF” title inside Madison Square Garden.

There are many places this excitement can be focused on: Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal fighting each other, the creation of the BMF title, or maybe, two of the biggest throwback fighters in the UFC today grabbing the spotlight in the Mecca of the fighting world.

There is no doubt that after his two thrillers against Conor McGregor and the incredible return performance he put on Anthony Pettis at UFC 241, that Nate Diaz deserves a major fight. What many didn’t expect is that he would make the fight, pick his opponent, and have a belt made for this specific fight. A guy who previously battled comments about being a needle-mover, Diaz has not only grabbed the spotlight, but he’s grabbed the UFC, and he’s doing things his way, no questions asked.

As for his opponent, Jorge Masvidal, this is exactly where he knew he’d wind up, although it’s been a long and winding journey.

To tell the story of Masvidal, you must never forget to mention the days he spent in Miami as part of Kimbo Slice’s backyard fighting league. It was there in which Masvidal began fighting, but his professional fighting career began in 2003, and then his skyrocketing rise that has taken place recently, started with some real conversations with himself and his team.

With 47 professional fights (34-13 pro record), Masvidal has yet to taste UFC gold but has faced some of the best names in the sport along his journey.

In a conversation with BJPENN.com, two people in the corner of Masvidal spoke about the changes that were made, the conversations that were had, and how they’ve all led to the grand stage of Madison Square Garden in a fight between two “gangsters” of this sport.

Abe Kawa, Masvidal’s manager, who he’s been working with “Gamebred” for the last five years, said it was a conversation between the two that has led to this skyrocketing of success and popularity.

“I think the biggest progression he’s made has been the ability to end fights,” Kawa told BJPENN.com. “He told me prior to the Till fight, he was like ‘Look, I saw what’s been going on in my career for a long time now and it’s usually me letting judges determine whether I win or lose.’ He made it very clear to me he no longer wants to allow any single human being to determine whether he wins or loses, except the opponent in front of him and himself. That’s the only two people he feels should be able to determine whether he wins or loses.”

Jorge Masvidal, Darren Till, UFC London, UFC rankings
Image: @ufc on Instagram

Kawa continued on by saying Masvidal’s recent success isn’t just about being a part of the headline main event at MSG, rather, but about becoming one of the most popular names in the UFC.

“The progression is not just main eventing MSG, it’s being one of the biggest superstars in the game,” he said of Masvidal. “You know we all fall in love with Mike Tyson, Conor [McGregor], with those guys because what they do is they finish fights. They go in there and they knock people out. So that’s really what I’ve seen in terms of the progression, it’s the idea of saying ‘Hey, tell the UFC save their money on the judges, we’re not going to need them for my fight.’ I’m like man, that’s music to my ears.”

Making a commitment to himself and his team to leave the judges out of it has gone well for Masvidal who is currently riding a two-fight winning streak (three if you count his altercation with Leon Edwards in London back in March), and that streak is accentuated by the violent fashion with which he’s ended his recent fights.

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Finishing Darren Till in enemy territory was one thing, but defeating a trash-talking Ben Askren at UFC 239, and doing so in record-breaking fashion with a five-second knockout, Masvidal arrived to the masses and put himself among the biggest names in the sport.

After plenty of back-and-forth with Askren, a cool and calm Masvidal decided he would put an end to their brief rivalry as quickly as possible and the record-setting flying-knee knockout soon followed.

Jorge Masvidal, Ben Askren, Conor McGregor, Chael Sonnen
Image via @gamebredfighter

It’s important to note that Masvidal was cool and collected heading into the fight against Askren because, as his head coach Mike Brown told BJPenn.com, that’s a major sign of maturity for any fighter.

Brown, one of the most respected coaches in MMA, has worked with Masvidal for approximately his last 10 fights and he said there are specific traits he looks for when working with fighters, and Masvidal possessed them all.

“My job and my goal is to create MMA champions. Some of them are fighters at heart, some of them are just really skilled, but I’m only kind of looking for guys who I think can have some gifts either physically or mentally that can get them to the upper-echelon

“These days everybody knows technique, everybody trains hard, everybody has a good idea of what they should be doing, with Jorge it was, one: the ability to focus and learn technique and accumulate weapons and [two]: to stay relaxed and calm in the fight. That’s maybe the most important attribute you can have as a fighter, the ability to stay relaxed and calm when it’s showtime. That’ll allow you to have better conditioning, that’ll allow you to use all the skills you’ve been developing.”

That ability to stay calm became somewhat of a trademark for Masvidal, as before the fight began against Askren, cameras captured him smiling, leaning against the cage, and his hands placed behind his back, before he threw the flying-knee that he and Brown had worked on plenty before the fight.

Jorge Masvidal
Image via @gamebredfighter on Instagram

Leaving decisions and judges out of his fights was not only a key conversation for Masvidal to have with his team but as Brown put it, the sport doesn’t reward for defense inside the cage.

“You don’t get credit from defense in mixed martial arts, it’s all offense. Even if you’re not landing, the guy who’s throwing more is usually the guy who is going to be on top of the fight, or get the decision, or win the ground. It’s usually the guy who throws more volume unless somebody was rocked or there was a major takedown. So yeah that conversation has been made, about ‘hey we’ve had these close fights and we’ve lost because of inactivity, sheer volume, and sheer aggressiveness.”

Despite the pre-fight USADA scare on Nate Diaz’s side, the fight will go on as planned, and Jorge Masvidal has arrived at the biggest stage of his career. Mike Brown notes that the finishes and Masvidal’s charisma have been key to his rise, but so has his decision to move up in weight.

“I would say another big part that is overlooked is moving up in weight,” Brown said. “Moving up in weight was a good thing for Jorge, he’s filling into the weight class. He’s always had a very charismatic personality, I’ve always been shocked that they didn’t put a mic in front of his face a long time ago, or put a camera on him. He’s very charismatic, he’s a very entertain guy, he’s super cool to be around, he’s fun to be around, and it really shows, he doesn’t get nervous in front of cameras.

“He’s always had amazing skillful performances but for whatever reason, they always didn’t take notice. I think part of it could be him moving up in weight. One, he’s healthier, he has more energy and power. Also, he has that much more weight behind the shots. You got 15 more pounds of weight behind each punch, each kick, so the ability to get your opponent out of there is also going to be easier and more efficient. So I think now he’s getting more KO’s and that’s what people want to see.”

Having real conversations with himself and his team about decisions that have led to his recent success, Jorge Masvidal is not just a BMF because of flying-knee knockouts, but rather, because he recognized a weight class change was needed, because he recognized he needed to leave the judges out of it, and to the delight of fans, he recognized that the best way to keep feeding his hunger was by closing the mouth of brash opponents with brutal finishes.

But what truly makes a BMF title fight and UFC 244 special? Mike Brown explains:

“I think these are guys who treat fighting more than just a sport, are as game as they can be, and are willing to fight anytime, anywhere, and against anybody. They’re not trying to squeak out decisions, they’re not trying to hold on to a victory, they’re in there to inflict damage at all costs, and are also game and willing to take any type of damage that can be delivered to win.”

Those around him have seen the progressions, but the story is only partially told in mainstream media. Yes, Jorge Masvidal has had two incredible knockout victories in a row, yes, he served a three-piece and a soda backstage at UFC London in March, but it was those tough conversations he had with himself and with his team, that have led him down the path to the BMF title fight.

The stage is now set, Jorge Masvidal has come from the backyards of Miami to center stage inside Madison Square Garden, and if he does what is super necessary to win the fight, he’ll have his friend, The Rock, wrapping the BMF title around his waist at UFC 244.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 10/30/2019.