Jorge Masvidal dominated to close out a thrilling card at MSG, even if New York's incompetence took away some of the shine
UFC 244 is now in the history books as the 500th event in UFC history came to an end last night in New York City. The stars were in attendance and all eyes were on the MMA world; sitting president of the United States Donald Trump was sitting cageside with his entourage of family and friends alongside ample security, while the highest grossing actor on the planet Dwayne The Rock Johnson was there to strap the shiny new BMF title on the main event's winner.
By the time the main event started to cap off the historic night, fans knew they were in for a good time when Masvidal almost immediately sprinted forward and faked the famous flying knee he landed on Ben Askren, sending Diaz rushing back before laughing along with him. After that it was all business, and it quickly became clear that Masvidal had a decided advantage everywhere. Sporting a clear athleticism advantage and a crispness on his strikes that Diaz could simply never match, Masvidal peppered Diaz with combinations and heavy hands alongside whipping leg kicks and savage kicks to the body.
Early on Masvidal caught Diaz with a flurry that sent Diaz back and stumbling over, only to lean right down into a nasty head kick from Gamebred that sent the Stocktonian to the canvas for the first time. Instead of simply standing up and avoiding Diaz's highly regarded ground game, Masvidal swarmed and landed heavy ground and pound, backing off when Diaz was able to get a grip on him only to occasionally drop in with more heavy shots. Just minutes into the fight Diaz was already cut, bleeding badly and getting battered. Masvidal eventually let Diaz back up and continued his assault on the feet and in the clinch; as predicted, Nate's scraggly physique simply doesn't hold up against a solid welterweight - Masvidal easily controlled the Diaz brother in the clinch, flurrying with elbows anytime he wanted to separate and transitioning beautifully to combinations as he did so.
The second and third rounds saw much of the same, with Masvidal toying with the tough Californian the entire time. At range Masvidal's slicker boxing, decided speed advantage and heavy hands cracked Diaz regularly, while his powerful leg and body kicks broke Diaz's stance and sent him hunched over to protect his gut on multiple occasions, which only furthered Masvidal's body attack (including some absolutely vicious left hooks to the liver). Masvidal dropped Diaz in the second round with one of his nasty body kicks followed by punches, by Diaz showed again why he is so beloved by refusing to quit and somehow managing to survive, even if that's the only thing he was accomplishing.
Diaz regularly pressed forward to try and tie Masvidal up against the cage, rarely landing anything besides glancing slaps while eating Jorge's punches - when he did find himself in the clinch, he landed some pitter-patter punches to Masvidal's body and slaps to his head, alongside some knees to the thighs, but never got any damaging or significant shots off at any point and his attempt at throws and trips were simply no match for Masvidal's takedown defense.
On the mat, Diaz always found himself on his back and constantly tried to attack submissions or sweeps, but Masvidal had none of it. Keeping a distance on the floor and not letting Diaz control his wrists, Masvidal avoided any submission attempts that Diaz was fishing for and landed powerful shots in flurries, with Diaz's only effective offense being some slapping punches off of his back that simply made Jorge smile.
Diaz as of late has made a habit of getting beaten up early, then coming on strong with his pressure game as his opponent begins to tire. The problem with that game plan here is that Masvidal has always had an amazing gas tank and controlled the pace of the fight from the start. Diaz was simply unable to implement any of his usual tactics to much effect - in the third, Masvidal even waved him in as Diaz charged forward with long punches, most of which missed but had the crowd roaring, and Diaz obliged, only to be sent stumbling backward moments later as Masvidal clocked him with another combo.
The skill gap everywhere was clear - Masvidal had him beat in every aspect, was taking virtually no damage, and was landing almost everything he threw. It was 15-minutes of the Jorge Masvidal show, which was actually quite a delight to witness as he trash talked Diaz and was clearly having fun in the cage, though it was a little hard to watch as Diaz was getting pummelled and offering little in return.
By the end of the third Diaz had a large cut above his right eyebrow along with a smaller one on that same cheek, which had only gotten worse since opening in the first round. Undeterred, Diaz was ready to start the fourth when the doctor came in to check on him. As Diaz has taken a lot of punishment over his career and he's always been susceptible to cuts, Nate's brow is filled with scar tissue and opens regularly in his fights, and here it was no different.
A cut typically only causes a stoppage in MMA if the cut is incredibly wide or deep, is very close to the eye (ie. on the eyelid) and thus puts the eye in danger, or if it's bleeding directing into the eye and thus impairing the fighter's vision. None of these criteria were seemingly met in this case - the larger and problematic cut was above Diaz's eyebrow and thus not endangering his eye, and although it's tough to tell from watching on TV, didn't look worse than other cuts that have failed to warrant a stoppage in terms of depth or width. While it was still bleeding during the fight, it was running down the side of his head or dripping down onto his cheek, and never appeared to be going into his eye or impairing his vision - even the swelling which was both on his cheek and eyebrow, was a fair distance away from his eye and he could clearly see out of it. Nevertheless, the New York commission's doctor said it was too bad to let it continue and called off the fight, much to the chagrin of the fans, both fighters, and even veteran referee Dan Miragliotta, who seemed as surprised as anyone to have to wave it off.
The fight was declared a doctor's stoppage and Masvidal was declared the victor by TKO after 15 minutes of action. Diaz heavily protested and Masvidal immediately went over to him to embrace his opponent, vowing to give him a rematch as soon as he's ready. It was an incredibly anticlimactic ending to what should have been a massive triumph for Jorge Masvidal, and once again showcased just how much the New York athletic commission sucks (I'll get to more on that momentarily).
Regardless of the poor ending, the ending was never really in doubt other than for the delusional Diaz diehards that thought Masvidal was fading or would fade in the final two frames. Despite being known for taking over later in fights, Diaz has only been in championship rounds twice in the past, and he lost 3/4 of those rounds and both of those fights. His comebacks have come when opponents have gassed out early going for the finish, after which Diaz pours on the pressure and furthers their fatigue - Masvidal never chased the stoppage and controlled the pace the entire 15 minutes and showed no signs of losing any of his speed or power on his shots, and was breathing easier than Diaz in fact.
Afterward, going by comments made by people who saw Nate's face in the back, it appears that the cut Diaz sustained was worse than it originally looked on the broadcast, so perhaps it wasn't as bad as initially thought. While Masvidal promised an immediate rematch, Nate will be out for at the very least 6 months to let a cut that bad heal, nevermind if he has other injuries (like a leg injury that kept him from running for a few weeks according to Nate after the fight). Diaz's schtick is fun and his self-belief is admirable, but it'd be nice to hear him accept a loss without a cavalcade of excuses for once.
With three brilliant performances this year (four if you include his scuffle with Leon Edwards backstage in England) all ending via stoppage over top 10 opposition, Masvidal should clearly be the next challenger to the welterweight throne. Whether the fight will be against Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington is to be determined as the two fight later this month, but if they come through unscathed we could realistically see Masvidal get the first UFC title shot of his career early next year.
As for Nate, his toughness and heart is unmistakeable, but he is simply taking a ridiculous amount of punishment in too many of his fights. Although he is still a massive draw and can put on great fights depending on his opponents, it would be best for the UFC to keep Nate in fun fights and away from the title picture against wrestlers who are going to be able to hold him down, particularly at welterweight. A return to lightweight would be his best bet as he simply doesn't have the physicality to compete with the upper echelon of the 170 pound division. If he wants to stay at 170, it'd be wise for the UFC to book him against lightweights moving up or those that drift between divisions and aren't big welterweights - a rematch against Donald Cowboy Cerrone would fit the bill and be a big draw for the fans, and could take place at either weight.
The Failings of the NYSAC
As I've already briefly touched on, the New York State Athletic Commission is notoriously incompetent. Just like the states corrupt politicians, the commission has a shady history in boxing and even if we haven't seen the blatantly paid off judging in MMA like we have in boxing, their sheer incompetence is astounding.
The Diaz stoppage can be debated, especially if the cut really was worse in person than on camera - less benefit of the doubt can be given to the doctor in this case simply because it's far from his first questionable stoppage in an MMA bout. The same exact doctor stopped a Bellator title fight in which Michael Chandler badly rolled his ankle - while he was very unsteady and having difficulty, he was clearly willing and able to continue, but the doctor told him he had a "broken leg" and called off the fight because of it, much to Chandler's dismay.
Their recent history of calling fights prematurely may be overcompensating for their complete failure to protect fighters in the past - a boxer who fought several years ago in New York received a $22 million settlement from the state after the commission's complete incompetence and failure to adhere to their own protocols resulted in the boxer having severe brain damage. In a short summary of the case, after a fight the Russian boxer complained of concussion-like symptoms to a commission doctor as well as several other commissioners and was reportedly exhibiting clear signs of head trauma. Rather than use one of the two ambulances on standby at the arena at the time, a commissioner told his team which street to walk to to hail a taxi and go to the hospital; street surveillance footage showed the boxer collapsing and vomiting on the sidewalk as his team scrambled to hail a taxi, and by the time he arrived at the hospital to receive emergency brain surgery, the damage to his brain was already done. The boxer is still unable to walk and can't speak in complete sentences even years later thanks to New York's multiple failures that night, which was even outlined in a scathing report by the Inspector General following the lawsuit.
Their horrendous officiating and judging has been a constant staple of MMA events held in New York since the state finally reversed the ban of the sport in early 2016, which was of course kept in place for years thanks to a corrupt speaker of the house who refused to let a bill legalizing MMA (like it is in every other state) go to the floor for a vote, that is until that speaker was ousted thanks to federal charges of corruption and accepting bribes. We've seen horrendously late and early stoppages by incompetent referees, ridiculously bad scoring from judges at every event, and some incredulous calls by the commission such as removing a fighter from eligibility for having chapped lips (despite clearance from doctors saying they were only chapped lips and nothing else).
At UFC 244, luckily we didn't see many bad calls from the referees who did a solid job, apart from a pretty early stoppage in the Corey Anderson-Johnny Walker fight. We did see some rather questionable scorecards, even if the winner of each fight was seemingly correct. For instance, in the dreadful co-main event, it was pretty clear that Darren Till had won the 2nd round and Kelvin had picked up the third, with the close first round being the deciding factor, with most fans scoring it for Till, but a debate could be made for Kelvin. Yet only one judge had a proper 29-28 scorecard (or 2 rounds to 1) for Till, with both others scoring all three rounds to opposite fighters. A case can be made for either fighter to have won, but a 30-27 score is simply asinine for either fighter and simply incompetent judging.
Likewise one of the judges in the Derrick Lewis-Blagoy Ivanov fight scored all three rounds for Lewis; while I and most fans had Lewis winning, it was two rounds to one. Luckily the shaky judging didn't result in any robberies November 2nd, but it has regularly in the past and is still not getting addressed.
And all of that is not to mention what happened at weigh-ins on Friday. Fans were quick to point out in the footage of Kelvin Gastelum's weigh-in on Friday that he was visibly leaning on his coach Rafael Cordeiro with his elbow on the scale. For those familiar with weigh-ins, simply tricks like this can easily change the reading on a scale a few pounds - particularly damning is the commission official who told Kelvin three times to put his hands at his sides while Cordeiro and another commissioner were holding a towel up fro Kelvin, yet still took the reading as official even after Kelvin kept his elbow firmly on his coach. Hilariously, Kelvin weighed in at 184, two pounds under the non-title fight limit for middleweight - if he was really two pounds under, why did he remove his shorts and have them hold up a towel?
After backlash in the media the commission issued a statement saying they reviewed the footage and would fine Gastelum for the incident, but kept the 184 pounds he weighed in at as official, saying it likely wouldn't have had much of an effect; clearly they don't know how easy it is to manipulate a scale.
New York has had controversial calls and officiating in boxing for years prior to MMA's legalization there, showing it's a commission problem, not one relating specifically to the sport. It's time for the UFC to start pressuring New York to improve their handling of UFC events; when commissions like New Jersey and Nevada look incredible by comparison, something is very wrong and needs to be fixed for the fighter's sakes, as it's their careers and money on the line, not to mention the negative perception it has for the fans and the brand.
Other Highlights from the Stacked UFC 244 Card
Starting with the lone highlight on the early prelims, former Bellator champ Lyman Good had a great showing as he battered Chance Rencountre for over 12 minutes before finally securing a TKO victory. Good's sharp boxing and power were on full display, even as Rogan got into his typical spiel about how explosive fighter's like Good almost always gas and slow down, all the while Good was battering his foe and kept a brisk pace throughout.
The main prelims saw some surprising (and not-so-surprising) knockouts.
Andrei Arlovski opened the ESPN2/TSN portion of the night by getting faceplanted in just 29 seconds by Surinamese standout Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Despite looking phenomenal in his last outing with a much better pace and offensive output, Arlovski has simply taken too much damage and his poor chin can't take any more. Luckily, a light left hook as Arlovski charged forward sent Arlovski to the floor and secured Jairzinho a walk-off finish, with Arlovski not taking too much damage or getting flatlined like he has so often before (this was his 11th KO/TKO loss). Jairzinho on the other hand is an absolute monster with his ridiculous kickboxing background (76-6 with 64 KOs) and is so far 8-0 in his MMA career, with three knockouts in the UFC to his name already. He's definitely a fighter to watch in the shallow heavyweight division, and at just 31 years old, he's one of the younger fighters in an old division.
Next up was Edmen Shahbazyan, a 21 year old prospect who came in with a flawless 10-0 record with 9 stoppages. He took on longtime UFC vet Brad Tavares, who has been a staple in the middleweight top 20 for years. Tavares got beaten handily by now champion Israel Adesanya, yet still managed to survive for 25 minutes against the killer. Therefore, it was pretty shocking to see the young prospect starch Tavares in half a round. A swift right straight down the pipe dropped Tavares a few minutes in, though the tough Hawaiin managed to briefly recover - he couldn't recover from the massive head kick he'd absorb moments later which sent him crashing to the canvas. It was a brilliant performance from a young prospect with a ton of potential, and should earn Shahbazyan a top 10 fighter in his next outing.
SBG Ireland's Makwan Amirkhani came out quickly in the next bout, surprising Shane Burgos with a quick right hand before diving on takedown after takedown to try and ground the superior striker. After most of the round was spent failing to get a dominant position on Burgos and instead burning himself out dragging him to the mat, Amirkhani was visibly spent by the end of the first. After that, Burgos' trademark conditioning and sharp offensive striking took Amirkhani to task, battering him with vicious body shots and heavy ground and pound when Amirkhani dove to the floor in an attempt to get Burgos down. The third saw Burgos even more dominant and sadistically laughing as he had Makwan trapped in an almost-crucifix while hammering away at his exposed midsection. Burgos eventually scored the TKO finish on a dejected Amirkhani in a fun scrap that once again highlighted the poor conditioning that seems to be a trademark of John Kavanaugh's camp in Ireland, also exhibited by their biggest star in Conor McGregor.
In the final prelim, Brazilian viral sensation Johnny Walker brought his usual insanity into the Octagon in his stiffest test to date against top 10 opponent Corey Anderson. The smiling Brazilian likes to use his length and awkward movements to set up opportunities to crack opponents early on the feet with explosive strikes and put them out quickly, but here we got to see some of his impressive wrestling defense as he stuffed Anderson's takedown attempts early and attempted to punish him with elbows. The problem with Walker's awkward and relaxed style is that at 205 pounds, everyone hits hard, and if you get cracked (especially out of position) by a good shot, that can be lights out. Anderson hit him flush with an overhand right that dropped the Brazilian, who did his best to regain his wits and made it back to his feet. Walker was clearly on wobbly legs and his attempts to fire back were wild and off target; he backed into the fence where he ate a big right hand that buckled his legs for a moment, but he managed to stay upright. Looking to cover up and regain his composure, Anderson's subsequent punches missed their mark yet the referee stepped in anyway and ended the fight just 127 seconds into the bout.
Walker was clearly hurt and very well could have been on the way out, but the ref stepped in at least a few moments too early and took away any chance Walker had of mounting a comeback. Walker still has a lot of potential and showed some solid grappling defense in the short time he was in the cage Saturday night, but like many young offensive prospects, he's going to need to work considerably on his defense to cut it at the upper end of the division. Anderson meanwhile looked good in the fight and showed off some power that had been lacking in previous fights, though he did himself no favours with the fans by getting in Walker's face after the fight and nearly headbutting him, then pushing the referee when he was trying to separate him. While Anderson had a right to be angry with the UFC over their indifference toward him, Walker was pretty respectful of Anderson's skills in the lead up to the bout and it simply made Anderson like an asshole. He later apologized for his emotions getting the better of him, though he's likely going to flip out when he inevitably doesn't get the next title shot - arguably that deserve to go to the undefeated Dominick Reyes, though we'll see what the UFC decides to do. Stylistically, Anderson is an easier matchup for Jon Jones so we very well could see Reyes get passed over and Anderson skip the line to a title shot.
On the main card, renowned collegiate wrestler Gregor Gillespie opened the PPV in his home state against Kevin Lee, a fighter with plenty of potential that has often performed much worse than expected. Finally moving to a major camp and seemingly getting his weight cut under control, Lee made his debut fighting out of the Tri-Star gym in Montreal under the tutelage of Firas Zahabi. Lee already sported a slick jab thanks to his wide reach, but the Zahabi touches were on display right away. A high-level wrestler in his own right, Lee took a lowered, heavy stance off the bat to help combat the inevitable takedown attempts from Gillespie, and with his lancing jabs and straight punches, it worked wonders in dissuading Gillespie from taking a shot at his hips. Gillespie for his part was landing some solid shots of his own, helped in part by Lee's lowered and therefore less mobile hips keeping him more in place. A beautiful right cross over a Gillespie jab put the New York hero on shaky legs before Lee threw up an absolutely beautiful left high kick that hit him square on the jaw. Gregor was out cold on impact and fell with his head and shoulders against the cage in one of the nastiest knockouts you'll see this year. It was an incredible showing from Lee and shows that under Firas, we may finally see his full potential reached.
The big boys threw down after that with fan-favourite Derrick Lewis facing the ridiculously durable Russian Blagoy Ivanov. The fight was essentially a mix of clinch stalling and short grappling exchanges with batshit crazy exchanges on the feet where both of the sluggers threw bombs and tried to take each other's head off. After having knee surgery earlier in the year, Lewis looked surprisingly leaner than in the past (though he's still massive of course) and even in the third he was the one throwing heavy bombs to try and score a late finish. Lewis was landing the bigger and more meaningful shots throughout, though Ivanov held his own and scored a few takedowns and shots of his own, but Lewis rightfully picked up the decision win. Ivanov may now have the best chin in MMA currently after somehow remaining upright after some ridiculously powerful knees and right hands from Lewis landed that would have killed a full grown rhino, and has never been knocked out in his career; he got stabbed in the chest in Russia and survived for god's sake, what's a few punches to the head to him?
In the fight of the night Stephen Wonderboy Thompson returned to form against the rising killer Vicente Luque. Luque came out looking fantastic in the opening round, constantly kicking Thompson's legs, cutting Wonderboy off and doubling up on hooks to catch Thompson as he sprinted out of range. Wonderboy landed his own shots as Luque came in however, making for a fantastic opening round. In the second, Wonderboy really started to take over as Luque seemingly forgot about his kicks and started chasing Wonderboy, much to the chagrin of his kickboxing legend coach Henri Hooft. Wonderboy set up beautiful straight counters and combinations as Luque came in, but Luque took the damage well and was still managing to land heavy shots of his own. By the third, Luque's face became a mess and Wonderboy nearly finished the fight after catching him with a straight left coming in, but Luque showed his ridiculous toughness and heart and kept in it. It was a masterful showing from Wonderboy that also proved he still has a solid chin as he got cracked by some heavy Luque shots and never missed a beat.
The co-main event unfortunately was the lone dud on the entire card and was painfully dull. Darren Till's debut up at middleweight saw him still employ a massive size advantage over his opponent, who should still easily be at welterweight if he could train and eat professionally. Till looked understandably gunshy; after getting dominated in his last two outings including a posterization at the hands of Masvidal, even the brash Englishman's ego couldn't pull through that unscathed. Kelvin on the other hand, who was coming off the (so far) fight of the year against now-champ Israel Adesanya, looked comparatively sloppy and uncaring compared to the iteration that appeared earlier this year. The fight was a whole lot of hitting air, meaningless clinches and some leg kicks interspersed with a few shots landed by Till and a couple takedowns from Gastelum. While Kelvin stepped on the gas a bit in the third, it wasn't enough to get the decision and Till managed to right the ship, but neither man came out of UFC 244 looking good.
And of course, the BMF title fight followed. All in all, UFC 244 was a pretty massive event that was filled with highlights, even if it was marred by an anticlimactic finish and a bad co-main event. The rest of the action, including the main event while it lasted, lived up to the hype and then some and was one of the most action-packed cards of the year. If you haven't seen the fights yet, make sure to go do so, just save the Till-Gastelum fight for bedtime, trust me it'll put you right out.