Big Money Fighter – How the ‘BMF’ cashed in after high-stakes negotiations led to maiden title shot at UFC 251

Late replacement “Gamebred” Jorge Masvidal will face welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in a long-awaited clash at the summit of the 170lb division that very nearly did not happen.

By George Mills Published: 4 September 2020 - 3.11pm
Features UFC

UFC 251

Jorge Masvidal after being crowned the BMF at UFC 244

It’s the number one rule of business: you must be willing to walk away.

Jorge Masvidal looks set to be handsomely rewarded after a dramatic series of events that paved the way for him to step in and face 170lb champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 251 this weekend.

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The main event of the opening night of Fight Island’s four-card tenure in Abu Dhabi collapsed in dramatic fashion just a week out, as number one-ranked contender Gilbert Burns was ruled out of his shot against Usman following a positive coronavirus test.

Chaos swiftly stirred the UFC matchmakers into action, to resurrect a fight that had long been in the making before Burns burst into the title picture, as Masvidal’s phone rang in the late hours of Friday evening.

“Friday was when they called, Saturday the deal was in place,” the 35-year-old revealed on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show this week.

The whirlwind agreement brought to an end a near six-month saga that appeared destined to deprive fans of the division’s biggest fight, with both Masvidal and the UFC playing hardball over finances.

“I know what I generate, it’s a numbers game and the numbers are there,” the American Top Team fighter continued.

“It’s not ‘I think I deserve this’, no. I see on paper what I bring in. We know, me and my team, what I deserve, so when I got low-balled, I said ‘no problem’.

Profile

  • Born 12 November 1984 in Miami, Florida
  • Rose to prominence on the underground backyard MMA circuit in Florida
  • Fought for Bellator and Strkeforce among others prior to the UFC
  • Pro MMA record of 35-13 (16 KOs)
  • Three consecutive stoppage wins heading into UFC 251

“I told my manager… ‘Watch, at the last moment, they’re probably going to call me back and some craziness is going to happen’. And sure enough, bam, it happened.”

With ‘Mystic Mac’ once again enjoying the retired life, might we have witnessed the birth of his successor in ‘Mystic Masvidal’?

It’s certainly not the first time Masvidal’s prescience has been vindicated either; almost a year ago to the day, ‘Gamebred’ executed the quickest - and one of the most audacious - knockouts ever, when he pulverised Ben Askren with a brutal flying knee.

“Jorge told me this was how he wanted to start the fight a few months ago,” coach Mike Brown said in the aftermath of that history-making win at UFC 239.

The veteran martial artist also predicted an explosive win on foreign soil in the build-up to the Darren Till fight, willing a second-round stoppage into reality to spark “The Resurrection” of his storied MMA career.

Masvidal’s rebirth culminated in being crowned the inaugural ‘BMF’ after a three-round ding-dong with Nate Diaz at UFC 244 in November, but his ascent subsequently stalled over his demands for a bigger slice of the pie to fight welterweight champ Usman.

“This guy is all hype. He relies on the hype. He relies on all the casual fans to jump on the bandwagon”
- Usman on Masvidal

With the pie now adequately sliced however, thoughts can finally turn to settling his long-running feud with the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ on Fight Island.

Relations between the two men have never been particularly rosy but the rivalry turned sour in the build-up to UFC 249 in March.

With the pay-per-view needing a new main event when Khabib Nurmagomedov found himself under lockdown in Russia and unable to face Tony Ferguson, Usman publicly called on Masvidal to fight him on two weeks notice to save the card.

The 35-year-old, Usman believes, deliberately priced himself out of the fight during negotiations, yet took to Twitter to suggest he was free to step in at any time.

Ultimately, the event was postponed anyway but bad blood continue to simmer between the two contenders.

“The real reason I wanted the fight is because this guy is so much hype, he understands, he knows he can’t hold a candle to who I am, to what I can do,” the champion told his Instagram followers in a 6-minute rant addressing the rivalry.

 “He knows that. This guy is all hype. He relies on the hype.

“He relies on all the casual fans to jump on the bandwagon. That’s what he’s relying on. But I knew that fight would not have people in the stands. It would be empty.

“We don’t need the crowd. We don’t need anybody. You know why guys? Because I want you guys to hear what I’m going to say in there to him.

“I want you guys to hear every blow. I want you guys to hear once I take him down, every punch, every elbow, every ground and pound strike I throw. I wanted you guys to hear him squeal like a pig, like the little b**** that he is.”

It finally looks like both men will be granted their wish to settle the score and Masvidal firmly believes he’ll defy his underdog status to snatch the belt from the 33-year-old.

“Me baptising his a** in front of the whole world,” Masvidal replied, when asked how he envisioned the fight playing out.

“Cold blooded as can be, his ass gasping for air as I’ve got my hand raised over him. I’m going to baptise him for the world to see.

“It’s going to be violent.”

UFC 251: Usman v Masvidal is exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD, the BT Sport app and bt.com/sport from 1am on Saturday night.

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