MMA Review: #705: UFC 244: Masvidal vs. Diaz

-After a pretty weak main event in their last visit to Madison Square Garden, the UFC decided to gimmick the hell out of the top fight on this card, creating the first-ever ‘BMF’ title for the winner of the Jorge Masvidal/Nate Diaz clash. Personally I’d have said anyone stepping into the UFC is a ‘BMF’ but hey, if it helps to sell pay-per-views then so be it.

UFC 244: Masvidal vs. Diaz

New York, New York

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Dominick Cruz.

Lightweight Fight: Kevin Lee vs Gregor Gillespie

After going 5-0 against lower-level opponents, this was Gillespie’s big chance to step up to the elite level at Lightweight, as Lee – despite losing his last two fights – was clearly a legit contender and had obviously pushed Tony Ferguson as hard as anyone had ever done back in 2017. Great opener on paper actually.

Round One and they circle and throw out some early punches before Lee dodges a quick takedown attempt. Lee looks much bigger than Gillespie. Both guys ping out jabs before Lee tags Gillespie with a right hand. Strong right answers back for Gillespie. They’re basically going punch-for-punch here but it’s not a wild brawl or anything. Lee’s face appears to be bloody. Gillespie’s hands look pretty good thus far. Exchange continues and both men get tagged with hooks. Right hand glances for Lee and Gillespie leans right into a HUGE HEAD KICK THAT KILLS HIM DEAD! Jesus Christ.

That was one of the nastiest head kick knockouts in MMA history, point blank. Up there with the best of Cro Cop and stuff like Rashad over Salmon and Holm over Rousey and everything. Replay shows how Lee’s right hand caused Gillespie to literally move right into the path of the kick and the lights went out immediately, with the poor guy hitting the fence on his way down and everything. Gillespie still seems rough for ages after he comes around, too.

Insane way to open the night and a great fight while it lasted too. I think Gillespie should bounce back fine assuming he doesn’t suffer anything long term from the KO as his striking was looking great until he got killed.

Heavyweight Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Blagoy Ivanov

This was your classic question mark Heavyweight fight in that it would either be wildly exciting with a nasty finish, or a slow-paced slopfest with both guys gassing out horribly. Lewis was coming off his KO loss to Junior Dos Santos while Ivanov had last been seen in a plodding win over Tai Tuivasa, and this was the Bulgarian’s chance to vault into title contention.

Round One and the crowd are heavily into Lewis. Ivanov circles on the outside as very little happens in the first minute. Body kick from Lewis is caught and Ivanov drags him to the ground pretty easily. The Bulgarian settles into side mount and drops some short elbows before going for a keylock. Explosion from Lewis puts him on his feet and he has Ivanov wobbled with a flurry for a second. Head kick actually lands for Lewis but Ivanov fires back and they clinch up. Takedown from Lewis, surprisingly enough, but Ivanov uses a headlock to stand back up. Hard knee to the body lands for Ivanov from the clinch. Lewis fires back with a nasty elbow from close range as they jockey for position. Hip throw attempt is blocked by Lewis. They break off and exchange some big shots, but both men take them well. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Lewis for that flurry.

Round Two and Ivanov lands a nasty left hand early on, backing Lewis up towards the fence. They clinch again before breaking with a clash of uppercuts, an after some inactivity Lewis lands a big combo. Ivanov looks badly hurt and slides back, but he tags Lewis as he comes forward and they TRADE WILDLY into the clinch. Trip takedown from Ivanov plants Lewis on his back and the Bulgarian goes for a keylock from side mount. It looks pretty close but evidently the Black Beast has insane flexibility as he doesn’t tap despite the angle looking horrible. Somehow Lewis manages roll free, and then he comes WADING IN with power punches, and Ivanov survives but he’s busted up pretty badly. Weird moment follows as Lewis appears to be baiting Ivanov into going for a single leg, but he refuses to bite and clinches instead. Nice knee from Ivanov sets up a combo inside the clinch. Heavy knee answers for Lewis and they’re just trading BOMBS and somehow Ivanov stays vertical. Big combo from Ivanov now but Lewis clinches. Lewis is looking a bit tired. Sick hip throw from Ivanov plants Lewis down and he goes for a front choke in the last seconds of the round. Super-close round, probably 10-9 Lewis on sheer damage.

Round Three and Ivanov comes forward to begin with as it looks like Lewis might be looking to conserve some energy. Neither man’s landed a lot in this round in the first couple of minutes. Combo from Ivanov sets up the clinch and they muscle along the fence before Lewis defends a trip attempt and they break. Good left hand connects for Ivanov coming forward and he dodges a counter. Back to the clinch and Lewis goes for a takedown, but Ivanov easily defends it and drops into a front facelock. Lewis avoids a guillotine and they stand and wildly trade for a second into the clinch. Solid uppercuts land for Lewis from the clinch but he can’t get the Bulgarian off him. Ivanov breaks with a left and they brawl pretty wildly, but Ivanov eats some big shots and the round ends there. 10-9 Ivanov, but I’d go 29-28 for Lewis overall. Who knows really though as the first two rounds were close.

Judges go 30-27 Lewis, 29-28 Ivanov, and 29-28 for Derrick Lewis to pick up a split decision. To be fair any of those scores would’ve been acceptable as the first two rounds were so close. Fight was better than I’d hoped going in as both men kept a high pace and really went for it, and in the end the difference was Lewis’ big power punches. In all honesty if Ivanov hadn’t had such a great chin he probably would’ve been KO’d. Fun stuff overall.

Welterweight Fight: Stephen Thompson vs Vicente Luque

After winning 6 fights in a row, this was Luque’s opportunity to move into title contention, as Wonderboy was by far his highest profile opponent to date. Wonderboy was of course coming off that wild KO loss to Anthony Pettis, so the big question here was whether he could deal with the aggression of Luque and pick him apart as he’d done to so many others before.

First round and Luque works a couple of good low kicks as Wonderboy does his trademark bouncing with the wide stance. Jabs glance for Thompson as Luque seems content to try to pick him apart with the low kicks. Wonderboy’s hands are remarkably low and Luque catches him with a right hand. Straight left answers for Thompson and he follows with a jab. Beautiful rushing left hand from Wonderboy. He’s starting to open up a bit more with his punches now. Big rush from Luque though and he catches Thompson going back and has him hurt with a right hand! Wonderboy manages to get out of danger, but that was definitely a warning shot. Big overhand right connects for Wonderboy. Another right connects and Luque’s bleeding. Jumping kick to the body from Luque and he lands a hard left coming forward. Big trade sees both men land hard shots. Clean combo lands for Thompson once they get back to long range. Round ends with a good low kick from Luque. 10-9 Luque for me as he landed the more telling punches.

Second round and Wonderboy opens with a superkick. Low kicks from Luque are answered by a quick combo. Beautiful left straight lands for Thompson. He’s popping Luque with his jab too. Head kick lands for Wonderboy but Luque takes it well and fires back with a right. Wild rush is avoided by Wonderboy and he comes back with a clean left hand. Exchange continues and a superkick drops Luque, but he pops back up. Big combo has Luque stunned, but he wings a right hook back to slow Wonderboy down. Wheel kick has Luque hurt again and Thompson is sniping at him now. Hard right hand connects for Luque though and a wild exchange sees both guys land heavy shots. Thompson backs out and he’s landing the cleaner shots whenever he’s on the outside. Beautiful combo has Luque hurt again. He backs up and eats some more big shots, but he keeps on firing back too to keep Wonderboy thinking. Luque’s right eye is a MESS. Big wheel kick glances for Wonderboy. Nasty combos end the round for him. 10-9 Wonderboy for sure.

Third round and Luque won’t stop coming forward but whenever Wonderboy is at range he’s landing cleaner shots on the Brazilian. Beautiful side kick to the body drops Luque for a second but he pops back up. Seconds later Thompson drops him with a STIFF LEFT and he’s in trouble. Wonderboy pounces to follow up and then allows him to stand, and holy shit this guy’s chin is insane. Wonderboy continues to pick at him from the outside and it looks like his left eye is closed now. Luque is still firing but he just can’t seem to catch Thompson in this round. Big overhand right does land for him but Wonderboy circles out quickly. One minute to go and Wonderboy continues to pick at him from the outside, stunning the Brazilian with a one-two. Big shots have Luque wobbly again but he manages to cover up and survive. Fight ends with Wonderboy continuing to pick at Luque from the outside with nasty shots. 10-8 round for Wonderboy and 29-27 overall.

Official scores are 30-26, 30-26 and 29-27 for Stephen Wonderboy Thompson. Story of this fight was basically that Luque had some early success by closing Thompson down and landing low kicks, but once Wonderboy was able to force him to fight at distance, he picked him apart and then beat him down BADLY in the third round. Just shows how tricky it is to beat Wonderboy – the blueprint is essentially there but it’s so difficult to pull it off. That’s why he’s one of the best. Great fight.

Middleweight Fight: Kelvin Gastelum vs Darren Till

After losing two in a row at 170lbs – and basically draining himself badly to make that weight and often missing it – this was Till’s first move up to 185lbs. Surprisingly he wasn’t handed a softball either, instead being matched with Gastelum, who’d last fought in an all-time classic against future undisputed champ Israel Adesanya. This was a fascinating fight to say the least.

Round One and Till actually looks to be in far better shape than Gastelum, obviously more because Kelvin has that stocky physique. Gastelum immediately pressures forward, but Till clinches and they jockey for position along the fence. Kelvin breaks off and it’s clear that Till wants to work from distance. Left hand glances for Till before they clinch again, and they muscle for position with neither man really gaining the advantage. Couple of knees land to the legs for Gastelum. Till breaks off with two minutes to go and lands with a leg kick, then pops Kelvin with a one-two. This is a really low output round. Brief clinch is broken quicker this time. Till has landed quite a few solid leg kicks here actually. Left from the Brit blocks a clinch and he ends the round with a one-two. Slow round, but 10-9 Till.

Round Two and they trade low kicks before Till lands a one-two. Nice left hand lands for Till to break a clinch and he quickly follows with another. Another hard leg kick from Till and he lands with the left too. He’s not throwing a lot but he’s definitely outlanding Gastelum thus far. Back to the clinch but Kelvin breaks with a hard elbow. Eye poke follows and the ref has to call time for Till to recover. He agrees to restart REALLY quickly and hits Kelvin with two low kicks off the bat. Gastelum comes back with a hard one of his own. They clinch again and Kelvin looks for the takedown, but Till nullifies it. Two minutes to go and they break, and this time Gastelum lands some good leg kicks. Till is a difficult target to find though. Crowd aren’t happy with this fight due to the slow pace. Clinch is shrugged off by the Gorilla and he glances on an elbow. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 Till.

Round Three and Gastelum opens with a couple of low kicks, but another one is caught and Till hits him with a hard left hand. Takedown attempt from Gastelum is blocked well, and Till breaks off. Beautiful one-two connects for the Brit. Kelvin keeps coming forward but he can’t seem to corral Till and he eats another left. Wild elbow strike glances for the Gorilla. Kick by Kelvin is caught and Till throws him down, but he pops up instantly. Till is doing a great job defensively here too. Takedown attempt almost puts Kelvin down, but he just about avoids. Left hands land for both men, with Kelvin’s hitting the body. One minute to go and Gastelum hits a double leg, but Till pops right back up into the clinch. They break off and Kelvin lands a solid leg kick and hits another takedown, but Till pops right back up and lands a one-two. Round ends there. 10-9 Till, and 30-27 for him overall surprisingly.

Judges go 30-27 Gastelum (!), 29-28 Till, and 30-27 for Darren Till to pick up his first win at Middleweight. Fight was a little odd as both guys seemed to keep a really low output, but Till clearly won as he was able to prevent Gastelum from corralling him and landed the more shots, albeit at an economic clip. Till’s always been an underrated technical striker – look at his fight with Wonderboy – and this was definitely a return to form for him, perhaps because he didn’t have to drain himself to make 170lbs. Is he a contender at 185lbs? I’m not sure just yet, but based on this he definitely could be.

UFC BMF Title: Jorge Masvidal vs Nate Diaz

This was an obvious fight for the UFC to put together after Diaz – who returned from 3 years on the shelf to beat Anthony Pettis at UFC 241 – called out Masvidal for a fight to decide the UFC’s “baddest motherfucker”, and they really ended up going all in on it, making a brand new ‘BMF’ title for them to fight for. Did the UFC need to do that? Well, no, the fight would’ve sold itself, but eh, nothing wrong with a gimmick every now and then. Tough fight to pick too as Masvidal appeared to be in the best form of his career while Diaz is Diaz and is always tough to beat.

Pre-fight we get DWAYNE THE ROCK JOHNSON walking out to his old WWE theme music to present the brand new belt which is both hilarious and cool.

Round One and Masvidal teases charging out of his corner, causing both men to laugh before Diaz comes lunging in with a combination. Masvidal backs up and lands with a low kick and a combo of his own before clinching. Crowd seem firmly behind Diaz. Nice elbows land for Masvidal in the clinch and he breaks off and pushes forward, then drops Diaz with a head kick! Diaz tries to spin but he’s cut badly and Masvidal pounces to drop some bombs onto him from the top. Good job from Nate to prevent any more damage by kicking up with his legs, but Masvidal won’t let him stand up. He’s still landing some punches over the top, but nothing too major really. Finally Masvidal lets him stand, and lands a body kick. Diaz catches the leg but can’t get him down, and they end up in the clinch. Big elbow inside from Masvidal and he breaks free. Diaz’s face is a MESS. Huge combo lands for him though and Masvidal has to clinch, and he’s outright smiling too. Dude is fucking crazy. They break again and Masvidal lands a big combo, but Diaz flurries back and forces him on the retreat. Big chant for Masvidal now but Diaz nails him with a left hand before the round ends. 10-9 Masvidal, but the round lived up to all the hype.

Between rounds we can see that Diaz has two big cuts, one on his right eyebrow and one underneath the eye on his right cheek.

Round Two and Diaz pressures Masvidal right away but eats some punches as he comes forward. Big left hand from Diaz and he flurries on Masvidal who has to quickly get off the fence. Heavy body kick from Masvidal and Diaz is almost fighting from a sideward stance. Nasty combination from Nate. Masvidal fires right back with one of his own and these guys seem content to go toe-to-toe. Huge right hook wobbles Diaz badly and a kick to the body drops him again. Masvidal decides to let him back up, Nasty counter left lands for Masvidal as Diaz wades in, and he clips him with the elbow again as they clinch. Brief break follows but Masvidal clinches again and then hurts Diaz again with a combo to the head and body. Nate pretty much turns his back after that, and Masvidal obliges with another brutal attack from close range. Masvidal has become a monster. Big slam follows and he’s got Diaz’s back. Punches connect for him as Nate looks to get back up, but Diaz attempts to roll through to get on top. A leglock attempt follows, but Masvidal spins to avoid it and the round ends there. 10-9 Masvidal. Can’t fault Diaz’s heart but he’s getting destroyed here.

Round Three and Masvidal barely looks like he’s got a mark on him while Diaz appears to have been hit with a machete. Diaz comes out swinging, but Masvidal even laughs at him as he tries to land punches. Big right hand connects for Masvidal and a body kick follows. Huge combo lands for Diaz but Masvidal eats it right up and returns fire with a combo and another body kick. Vicious left hook from Masvidal sets up the clinch, but he breaks pretty quickly. Sniping right hand lands for Masvidal but Diaz comes back with a big flurry. Wild trade follows with both men landing, but a body kick quickly slows Diaz down. Right hand clearly hurts Diaz and he’s wiping his eye now. Masvidal keeps using the left hook to the body as well. Looks like Masvidal’s cut around his right eye too. Clinch from Diaz and he looks for a takedown, but can’t get Masvidal off his feet. He does work hard from the clinch with short punches though, and then tries a trip that Masvidal blocks. Roll attempt from Diaz sees him land on his back, and Masvidal drops some shots from the top. Diaz starts slapping him from his back, but Masvidal opens up with some huge elbows and punches as the round ends. 10-9 Masvidal.

Round Four is about to begin….but the doctor comes in to check Diaz’s right eye. Diaz tells him he’s good to go and he can see, but the doc decides to wave the fight off and that’s it. Fans are FURIOUS as you can imagine, and both fighters look hugely disappointed. Huge chant of BULLSHIT rains down as a close-up shows that Diaz’s cut is….well, it’s not actually THAT bad, nothing like say, Marvin Eastman against Vitor Belfort or anything. To be fair it does look like he’s got multiple cuts around his eyelid, but even so, it didn’t seem to be affecting him too much.

Crowd end up continuing to boo as The Rock gives Masvidal the BMF title belt which is a real pity. I mean, there’s some comical irony in the BMF title fight being stopped by a doctor, but what can you do? Before the ending the fight was AWESOME as Masvidal really took it to Diaz, and while Nate was still in the fight, it seemed clear that he was overmatched.

Post-fight Masvidal talks up a potential rematch, and there would probably be money in that, but the UFC could also easily give Masvidal a title shot, or even a fight with either Conor McGregor or Colby Covington and it’d be awesome. He’s clearly in the form of his life right now and he’s become a SUPERSTAR, and who’s going to complain about that?

-Show ends with some talk over a rematch and then a promo for the next UFC show.

Final Thoughts….

Bit of an up-and-down show to be honest. First three fights were pretty great although Lewis/Ivanov got a little sloppy at points. Till/Gastelum was fascinating to watch and was an excellent performance from the Gorilla, but it also wasn’t all that exciting, and then the main event was fantastic but had an all-time shitty ending. Overall it’s a thumbs up, but I wouldn’t call it the best show of 2019 or anything.

Best Fight: Masvidal vs. Diaz
Worst Fight: Till vs. Gastelum

Overall Rating: ****

Until next time,

Scott Newman: