The journey toward the top has not been smooth for Jorge Masvidal.
He’s lost 14 pro MMA bouts. He’s come up short of championships in the three most noteworthy fight promotions since the fall of Pride in 2007. At one point in his UFC run, he lost four split decisions in a three-year span; so each time, at least one person, who’s assessment of who won the fight mattered, believed he should not have lost.
“That led to me creating a new formula,” Masvidal told The Post over the phone recently regarding his narrow defeats. “… That changed my whole mindset. Like, ‘Man, if I had won those four split decisions, where would my career be if I had just won, if they have given them to me? And right then and there is when something much greater in me woke up and said, ‘Stop thinking like a f—king peasant, man. That’s why I never get nowhere. How about if I ended all those guys and there was no decision, [and] I just murdered those guys?’”
Now, here comes Masvidal, ready for a second crack at finally becoming the UFC welterweight champion only nine months after falling short against Kamaru Usman. The kicker: He didn’t even need to take a fight in the meantime in order to become the headliner along with the champ for UFC 261 at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., in front of a sellout crowd for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic altered the world’s normal operations. Theirs is one of three scheduled championship bouts, with both the women’s flyweight and strawweight titles on the line on pay-per-view.
But Masvidal (35-14, 18 finishes) maintains he never gave up on himself, his abilities or his potential despite the myriad of setbacks in the cage. His chance at winning Bellator’s inaugural lightweight championship tournament in 2009 ended in the semifinals with a loss to Toby Imada via a rare inverted triangle submission loss — the last time any opponent stopped him. Two years later in Strikeforce, he lost a lopsided decision to 155-pound champion Gilbert Melendez. Plenty of times over the past two decades, he came out on the wrong end of close decisions; he’s 17-11 in fights that go the distance but just 2-5 in split decisions.
The frustration Masvidal felt from dropping so many close fights was a catalyst to his late-career surge, which peaked with a remarkable 2019 run in which he went 3-0 with knockouts of Darren Till and Ben Askren — the famous five-second, flying knee KO — and a TKO of Nate Diaz to earn the promotional BMF belt at Madison Square Garden. In the process, he changed the narrative of his career from an exciting-to-watch vagabond into one of combat sports’ most bankable stars.Valentina Shevchenko has her own vision for UFC dominance
“So that took a formula, that took a recipe, that took dedication, will, all these things because it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna knock these guys out,’” Masvidal said. “It’s a lot easier said than done. … I could have quit a long, long time ago and nobody would have been complaining, you know? But, I’m a competitor.”
The 36-year-old Masvidal, who turned pro at 18, has been a professional fighter for half his life. But winning the 170-pound title from Usman (18-1, nine finishes), who eaned a lopsided decision over him last July when Masvidal accepted the fight as a late replacement and went through a massive 20-pound weight drop in a matter of days to clear the contracted weight, would be “like my career is just starting.”
“Everything I’ve done in the past already is pretty cool and all, but I don’t dwell on past achievements,” Masvidal said. “I only look to the future. So I’m looking forward to that belt and what comes after.”
The decision to book Usman and Masvidal again so soon after a definitive result raised eyebrows. After all, the champion took another fight in the interim, stopping former training partner Gilbert Burns via third-round TKO in February. Some wondered why Masvidal should get a second chance so quickly, without competing again.
Money is the obvious answer. Masvidal is considered the biggest draw in the division, surpassing the dominant champ himself. The challenger concedes that’s true but only part of why he feels the rematch makes sense. He points to his durability in going the distance when Usman finished his other two most recent opponents: Burns and Colby Covington.
The silver lining, Masvidal says, was the chance to see first-hand what Usman is like in the cage. The 50th MMA bout of his career will be his first rematch.
“I got to take a lot of notes on this guy, see his strength levels, gauge his speed and his power,” Masvidal said. “And one thing I can tell you [is] that, man, as tired as I was in that fourth and fifth round, when he cracked me, it was like, ‘Man, this guy hits like a b—h.’ So I’m not worried about his power.
“It’s just at the end of the day, God made us. God made me a man, and God made him a little less.”
Masvidal won’t say how much longer his lengthy career will last, but he swears to have an exact date and an age in mind for when he will hang up his gloves that he keeps to himself. He has no intention of being “that guy that’s hanging on and getting beat up by guys that wouldn’t have held my jock strap in my day,” but expects to have several more years ahead of him in this sport.
“I can tell you this much: The chapter in MMA is nowhere near closing out,” Masvidal assures.