by Jordy McElroy
A one-off fight between Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal at UFC 244 on Saturday will decide the “baddest mother [expletive]” on the planet, but more importantly, it will serve as proof that world titles and manufactured drama aren’t necessary to sell a fight.
The right venue, a cage and two savages hell-bent on letting their fists do the talking is all the UFC needed to sell the concept of a fake title.
This event is proof that a pay-per-view card doesn’t need a world title shoehorned into the top slot to somehow legitimize an event. For the first time in years, the UFC is abandoning that ridiculous model by simply giving fans the fight they want to see for five, five-minute rounds.
I can understand how the very nature of this bout could be frustrating for the other top welterweight fighters in the world. UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is slated to defend his belt against Colby Covington on December 14, and that fight has been dwarfed to the point of complete invisibility by the Diaz and Masvidal bout. It’s the very nature of the art of prizefighting that would have fans more intrigued by two lower-ranked fighters competing for a made-up belt over watching top-ranked guys in the division fight for the real title.
This is how fight matchmaking should be.
Of course, there are some hardcore enthusiasts that would scoff at the idea of ever straying away from rankings and titles. These are the same individuals pounding the table about taking the legitimacy out of the sport without actually doing their part to support their own argument.
At the end of the day, they’ll fork over the money to see Diaz and Masvidal fight, while either watching the highlights or illegally streaming the same fights they’ve vehemently disputed over. Giving fans the fights they want to see for their hard-earned dollar eliminates those issues, and the pay-per-view headliner between Diaz and Masvidal is the first step in the right direction towards change.
As for the actual fight, Masvidal will enter the cage as the more well-rounded fighter on the feet. He puts together combinations well with a more diverse attack of punches, kicks, knees and elbows. Meanwhile, Diaz is content to work his way inside with his boxing and smother opponents with constant pressure. One round with a Diaz brother can feel like eternity when they’re marching forward like punch-drunk zombies with high-volume strikes.
The key to the fight will be Masvidal’s ability to keep his back off the cage and force Diaz to fight in the open. There should be no consideration for Diaz’s punching power as far as him being able to load up and finish with a single strike. His gift has always been outworking the opposition and eventually overwhelming them with a heavy striking output. How many times have we seen some of the best strikers in the world effectively taken out to sea and drowned by Diaz’s insane work rate?
I’m going to assume takedowns are taboo in qualifying as the “baddest mother [expletive],” leading me to believe the only ground fighting will come in the event of a knockdown. Diaz, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, can twist human limbs into pretzels on the ground, but it would be a big mistake to underestimate the submission prowess of Masvidal as well.
He’s a 16-year veteran of the sport with a highly underrated guard game. It typically goes unnoticed due to the fact that he’s baptized more opponents striking than a Sunday school teacher. His greatest “Wade in the Water” moment would come on Saturday if he’s able to stop Diaz with a knockout.
The co-main event features an important middleweight tilt between Kelvin Gastelum and former welterweight contender Darren Till. Gastelum is coming off a tough decision loss to current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, while Till has lost back-to-back fights with Masvidal and Tyron Woodley.
Perhaps the winner of the fight could join the No. 1 contender’s conversation with Robert Whitaker, Paulo Costa and Yoel Romero. This is a tough draw for an opponent for Till, who hasn’t fought at middleweight in over five years. A loss on Saturday could bury him as a title contender and put his future with the UFC in jeopardy.
Gastelum, on the other hand, has been seeking a rematch with Adesanya ever since he let the interim title slip through his fingers. He’d love another opportunity to rearrange The Last Stylebender’s face and take the throne as the new middleweight king.
Also on the main card: Vincent Luque will be looking for a seventh consecutive win against former title challenger Stephen Thompson; Derrick Lewis finally makes his long-awaited return against World Sambo Champion Blagoy Ivanov and lightweight contender Kevin Lee takes on undefeated New York native Gregor Gillespie.
UFC 244 is slated to take place on pay-per-view on Saturday, November 2 with the backdrop being Madison Square Garden in New York at 10 P.M. ET.