If you watched UFC 244 last weekend simply from the standpoint of entertainment, the main event bout to declare the promotion’s inaugural BMF champion lived up to expectations from the standpoint of entertainment.
Save for the somewhat anticlimactic finish of the cage side physician ruling Nate Diaz was unable to continue due to cuts around his right eye, the welterweight showdown provided violence and drama in its absolute most pure and fun way.
But despite how much the can’t-miss fight from New York’s Madison Square Garden may have succeeded from the standpoint of drawing the interest of casual fans, one would’ve needed the full context of Jorge Masvidal’s remarkable journey over the past two years to understand what really took place.
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For the first time in a 48-fight pro career that began in 2003 (after a run on the backyard, bareknuckle scene), Masvidal looked the part of an elite on the verge of both crossover stardom and a UFC title shot.
It’s not Masvidal hadn’t enjoyed success before, including both a title shot with Strikeforce in 2011 and a trio three-fight win streaks after joining UFC. But he had never been able to put it all together when it mattered most, with everything from bad luck on the scorecards to a lack of elite cardio to blame for him never getting over the hump.
The low point likely came two years earlier in the exact same building when Masvidal lost a hapless decision to Stephen Thompson at UFC 217 that left him visibly overmatched.
Something happened to Masvidal, however, during the 16-month layoff that followed as he took a step back from the sport to heal physically and rejuvenate mentally. That something was coming to terms to what he wasn’t doing to maximize his ability and building the confidence necessary to start a self-proclaimed tour of “baptizing” opponents.
What happened next was a year so successful and resurgent, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to see Masvidal end up with year-ending honors for best fighter, comeback, most improved and knockout. The highlight-reel wins over Darren Till and Ben Askren, along with the backstage beatdown he gave Leon Edwards, was surely fun but he never would’ve reaped the attention he got form them had it not been for the remarkable improvements to his game.
The stoppage win over an equally resurgent Diaz was the perfect tipping point to the idea that Masvidal has legitimately become one of the best and most dangerous fighters in the world — who just so happens to be the epitome of what the BMF title represents as a counter-culture hero who is as real as it gets. The ease with which he took Diaz apart over the first two rounds in such damaging fashion was an eye opener.
While Masvidal showed class in saying he would be willing to give Diaz a rematch considering how much the crowed booed the early stoppage, the rightful next stop for him after such a transcendent year — save for a super fight with cash cow Conor McGregor — is a title shot against the winner of Kamaru Usman-Colby Covington in December.
For CBS Sports’ updated divisional rankings, click here.
Men’s pound-for-pound rankings
Dropped out: Robert Whittaker
Just missed: Whittaker, Colby Covington, Dustin Poirier, Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero, Tyron Woodley, Conor McGregor
Women’s pound-for-pound rankings
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Rose Namajunas, Tatiana Suarez, Jessica Andrade, Ketlen Viera
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