Two of the sport’s most popular fighters will throw down in Madison Square Garden for a truly unique prize in a matchup that promises to be one of the best fights of the year.
If you had told me back in 2015 that the famously anti-authoritarian Nate Diaz would be able to strong-arm the UFC into creating a (supposedly) one-off novelty title to celebrate the so-called ‘baddest motherf**ker’ in the game, I’d have likely laughed in your face.
Now, who knows exactly how much of a part he actually had in making this belt a reality, but once the cage doors lock on November 2, the eventual winner will leave with his own special slice of mixed martial arts history.
It’s a divisive concept, for sure.
Does it devalue the traditional notion of what a UFC title should represent? Perhaps. But through the pairing of Diaz and Jorge Masvidal for the inaugural BMF belt, Dana White and co. have successfully added another level of weight to this clash of red-hot commodities.
And if I’m being completely honest, I am completely ready to turn off my mind and get behind this gimmick.
Looking at Nate and Jorge, the question, for me, is one that deals with our perception of each of their respective revivals in recent years.
What we have here is a pair of perennial contenders who, after recording a signature run of wins, has found themselves catapulted to the top of the fight-game.
A lot here will come down to how much has actually changed for both of these fighters, despite their respective bursts in popularity of late.
Masvidal had historically been criticised for lacking that killer instinct or that necessary gear to see him over the line when his fights come down to the wire.
In his UFC run alone, he has tasted defeat by way of split-decision of four occasions and without delving into each of those losses too much, the general consensus has been that his pre-UFC London promotional record of 9-6 did not tell the full story of his ability to hang with the elite of the elite.
He’s tough as nails, of course, but in the past, Jorge could have no doubt saved himself from numerous narrow defeats had he possessed that added level of heat necessary to sway crucial rounds in his favour.
That being said, I believe that a crucial change happened in Gamebred post-UFC 217.
After being nullified by a prime Stephen Thompson, a year-and-a-half would pass before we would be reintroduced to what I, along with many others, saw as a second-coming of Jorge Masvidal at UFC London in March.
The core-skills were no doubt still there. The polished boxing, unbreakable chin, and the veteran savvy that had seen him avoid a loss by finish in 45 pro-fights. But on top of that, there was a hunger in the eyes of the Miami-born brawler. A hunger buoyed by an unmistakable level of calm and contentment.
Perhaps I’m wrong here but everything from the smooth, collected, but cold and detached nature of his interactions with Darren Till to his memorable appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast seemed to indicate that Jorge, as a human being, was in a very good place mentally.
And, of course, this translated with awesome results in the two fights he has taken since.
We all know that Masvidal is not to be trifled with. His background as a formidable street-fighter and his overall demeanour would leave no doubts about the type of man that he is.
But now, following his lengthy break from the sport, I honestly believe that we are seeing Jorge mature into a supremely confident athlete who is using his refined skillset and core characteristics to become the type of fighter who will not allow the past to repeat itself.
This is a dangerous, dangerous competitor. A former-lightweight who has finally filled and grown into the 170lb class, one who now packs the power and the confidence necessary to impose himself upon his opponent. With his five-second destruction of Ben Askren and his flatlining of the aforementioned Till, he now has the signature victories needed to create a genuine level of notoriety for himself.
What makes his bout with Nate so fascinating is that the Stockton, California hero has in many ways undergone a similar transformation – one that most people have completely overlooked.
From where I’m standing, Diaz’s UFC run can be split into two contrasting halves, halves that, in a similar vein to Masvidal, are separated by a period of inactivity.
If Jorge’s drive to find that extra gear had been the defining factor of his pre-UFC 217 career, it was Nate’s stubborn approach to both his training and in-octagon execution had seen him consistently faltering at the highest levels.
Perhaps the most telling defeats of this time for Diaz came at the hands of Rafael dos Anjos, Benson Henderson, and the patchy trip to 170lbs that saw him run into Rory MacDonald.
Whether it was his unflinching commitment to a boxing and jiu-jitsu-heavy approach or his almost-frustrating inability to deal with leg-kicks, the Nate that stepped away from the sport after losing to RDA was a very different man to the one who returned a year later.
Now don’t get me wrong, although his impressive recent victory over Anthony Pettis showcased a newfound appreciation for keeping his legs away from harm, what I’m trying to say is that Diaz too returned to the octagon a more content, confident and refined version of himself.
Where the Nate who made his first run at UFC gold was weighed down by his very apparent weaknesses, when we speak about Stockton’s finest now, our focus is on his cardio, his boxing, and his ability to strangle you on the mat.
When Diaz was matched up against the then-surging Michael Johnson, he was the betting underdog – and with good reason.
But like Masvidal, that time off served to mature him into the man who would later find a way to reach the point he now finds himself at.
Whether it was through a perfectly-timed call-out, a stroke of luck, or an unwillingness to bend the knee and play the UFC’s game, we are seeing a composed, fully-committed, and unquestionably focused Nate Diaz and based off of the four performances he has given since late 2015, it’s starting to show inside the octagon with very impressive results.
Both Jorge and Nate entered the sport with a set of attributes that made them something more akin to a complex puzzle for their opponents to solve. The toughness, the grit, the skills as elite pugilists, the reputation they share as hardened products of a bumpy road through life.
Sometimes reaching your potential can be a slow-burn and now, with both in their mid-30’s, I think it’s fair to say that the stars have aligned and we’re getting a fight that – had it happened in 2014 – would have likely been a waste of this perfect pairing.
Watching them over the years has been frustrating to no end, but as Nate himself famously said at UFC 241, both he and Jorge have earned their stripes the hard way. This was no record-time ascent like we saw with Israel Adesanya or a cross-promotional switch-up that guarantees a quick route to the big-time in the vein of a Ben Askren or Marlon Moraes.
These two guys have put it all together at the most crucial time in their career and now, through the merits of their work inside the octagon and their ever-blossoming ability to draw admiration and respect from the fans, they find themselves in a position to achieve something truly great.
This is a marvellous piece of match-making and fight-promotion from Jorge, Nate, and the UFC – a bout with a manufactured prize that would have undoubtedly fallen flat on its face in the eyes of the fans 99% of the time.
And yet, as far as most of us are concerned, is there a more important belt in the sport this year?
Sure, the BMF title was always going to be a front-and-centre in everyone’s minds during UFC 244 fight-week but the fact that this admittedly farcical championship has been widely accepted for what it is proves that the fans are aware of exactly how impressive these two have been in their ascent to this point.
Scrap the belt when all is said and done if you want, but to say that these two aren’t fighting for something tangible just isn’t true.
This a very special fight between two very special athletes and in all honesty, I cannot wait to see how it plays out and above all else, what the future holds for the eventual victor.