Pizza, The Rock and Jorge Masvidal's 'awesome' UFC 244 ride
Nov. 04, 2019
NEW YORK -- As Jorge Masvidal sat at the dais in Madison Square Garden late Saturday night enjoying a slice of pizza, the craziness of the previous nine days seemed like a distant memory.
But it wasn't too long before that victory slice that Masvidal was binge-eating pizza for an entirely different reason.
Masvidal picked up his phone on Oct. 24 and saw the text messages come in one after another. He counted about 15 of them, each asking some variation of the same thing: Was the biggest fight of his career off?
Masvidal saw a screenshot of a Nate Diaz tweet, which stated Diaz had an issue with a drug test and he would not be fighting Masvidal at UFC 244. There would be no BMF bout, after all.
At first, Masvidal thought it was a Photoshop prank. He called his manager Abe Kawa and asked if it was just Diaz playing mind games.
The uncertainty gave him "tremendous anxiety," Masvidal said, and he deals with that by eating. He downed two full pizzas with pineapple and jalapeño, plus a side of hot fries and a soda that night.
"My dad (Jorge Sr.) lives with me," Masvidal said on ESPN's Dan Le Batard Show. "He's a spy for the coaching staff, so he was able to get a hold of the cavalry and inform them of what's going on.
"I had access to credit cards at the moment and they quickly came over and removed Uber Eats from the phone applications, and the credit cards were taken from me. But the damage had been done already."
Nine days later, Masvidal was being escorted to the Octagon in a packed MSG by his childhood hero Roberto Duran while President Trump sat in the second row. By the time UFC 244 ended, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was wrapping the BMF belt around Masvidal's waist following a third-round TKO of Diaz.
The improbable year for the 34-year-old Masvidal, a 16-year veteran from Miami who some would have called a journeyman not long ago, reached yet another level in his sudden ascent to superstardom.
"All these things, I had to put them aside [beforehand] and be like, this is a fight," Masvidal said in the post-fight news conference. "Now I can elaborate a little more. F---ing awesome, man. The f---ing Rock? My favorite action star put the belt on me, my f---ing favorite fighter of all times [Duran] f---ing walked me out. That's insane, man."
Masvidal didn't know there was anything going on with Diaz until the Oct. 24 tweet. Kawa got on the phone with UFC senior vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky. Kawa said Novitzky wasn't exactly forthcoming, but he knew if the fight was in jeopardy the UFC would have come out and said it.
"I went back and told Jorge that the only person that can stop the fight from happening is Nate Diaz," Kawa told ESPN. "Do not worry."
Masvidal was concerned -- how could he not be? This opportunity was the culmination of everything he had worked so hard for. He bounced back from a two-fight losing streak when he knocked out England's Darren Till in London on March 16, and he followed that up with the fastest KO in UFC history -- five seconds -- against Ben Askren at UFC 239 on July 6.
This meaner, nastier version of Masvidal wasn't relying on the judges after suffering four split-decision losses from 2015 to 2017. He was finishing people -- "baptizing" them, the man nicknamed "Street Jesus" called it. That led to Diaz calling him out after his own impressive win over Anthony Pettis at UFC 241 on August 17. Diaz wanted to fight the baddest m-----f----- in the game, and so the "title" was birthed by the UFC.
And then Diaz's tweet seemed to put everything in jeopardy.
UFC president Dana White said he wasn't concerned because he knew Diaz is a clean fighter, but White couldn't comment the night of Diaz's tweet because he was having dinner with the president, adding to the almost surreal sequence of events.
Masvidal, Kawa said, was not completely sure the fight would happen until he was informed Diaz had boarded a plane from Northern California to New York on Oct. 26. USADA and the UFC had exonerated Diaz from any anti-doping violation -- it was a tainted supplement and a very trace amount -- on Oct. 25, but Masvidal knew ultimately it would be Diaz's call.
"Once Nate got on the plane, that's when I think Jorge knew it was going to happen," Kawa said.
Masvidal's mindset quickly snapped back to the fight. He blocked out all the peripheral distractions, like the significance of Madison Square Garden and the well-known figures who would be in attendance. Masvidal boiled it down to a one-on-one battle, the kind of fights he used to have in the backyards and boatyards of Miami-Dade County. The fights Kimbo Slice put together.
"I kept Men in Black'ing myself," Masvidal said, referring to the movie's depiction of instant memory loss.
The Masvidal that showed up at MSG was the same one that flat-lined Askren, knocked out Till and threw a "three-piece-with-a-soda" combination at Leon Edwards backstage in London. Masvidal dropped Diaz with an elbow and a head kick in the first round, opening up gashes around Diaz's right eye. Masvidal continued doing damage with right hands, left hooks and rippling body shots in the second and third rounds.
Before the start of the fourth, the New York State Athletic Commission ringside physician entered the Octagon to take a look at Diaz's eye. He didn't like what he saw and advised referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the bout. Masvidal was the winner via TKO.
No, it wasn't the climax Masvidal wanted. Fans booed the result and then Masvidal, which clearly irritated him. Masvidal said Diaz could have a rematch, maybe not right away, but definitely in the future.
"I don't want nothing to take my greatness and say some guy tripped on a pebble and that's how I beat him," Masvidal said. "That's not me. I want to end him, I want to send him off to another dimension. I've got nothing but respect for the dude, but that's the type of artwork I like to do. I didn't get him on this one. Are we gonna rematch tomorrow or next week? I don't know, but it will happen at some point."
There's too much on the table right now for Masvidal to decide. For someone who loves food, he's looking at the MMA version of a smorgasbord.
"If anybody is the fighter of 2019, it's definitely that kid," White said. "I think he's got some big options coming his way."
That could mean a welterweight title shot against the winner of the UFC 245 main event between champion Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington on Dec. 14. It could be a big-money Diaz rematch down the road. Or maybe even the sport's financial white whale: a bout with top moneymaker Conor McGregor , who tweeted Sunday about wanting a "3 piece and soda."
"Some of you m-----f------ are mean, because you know what I'll do to that little dude," Masvidal said at the post-fight news conference when asked about McGregor. "I'll f--- that little guy up, man. ... I get it why people want to see him hurt for the stunts he's been pulling, but he don't want this s---."
Masvidal said those words while chomping on a slice of New York-style pizza. This time, there was no anxiety. Just satisfaction.