It may have been the ultimate ultimatum.
The high-stakes drama surrounding UFC 244, in which Jorge Masvidal is favored by books at less than 2-1 over Nate Diaz Saturday at Madison Square Garden, provided its own countdown show.
It was a must-see moral outrage. Diaz took offense to a lab test result, threatened to withdraw from the bout and forced the UFC’s 500th live event, placed on a worldwide stage with a strong undercard and prominent betting support, to hang by a thread.
Diaz’ scorching rebuke to a lab test ruled positive for tainted vegan vitamins, changed the tone of this fight about as fast as the UFC record-setting knockout Masvidal notched over Ben Askren in his last fight in July. That came from a flying knee and took all of five seconds.
The event that nearly sabotaged this fight took one statement.
Diaz Insulted Before UFC 244
It was delivered by Diaz with a panache professional poker player would appreciate. He went all in, on a matter of principle, risking millions of dollars in defense of his reputation.
And he took the pot.
Diaz’ rebuke of the United States Anti-Doping Agency findings, which the UFC uses to determine a fighter’s eligibility, was as bold as the man himself.
Fans of the “West Coast Gangster” and self-proclaimed Baddest Mother (bleeper) on the Planet would have expected no less.
Rather than wait for the anti-doping agency to clear him, Diaz went to the wall, making others react.
“Let the UFC sweat, let the fight be off,” he said, angrily. “I’m not going to be tainted as a cheater by these other mother bleepers (fighters) who keep quiet so they can be paid.”
“Until the UFC, USADA or whoever is doing this to me fixes this, I won’t compete. I won’t be out there in New York City. I don’t care if I ruin your promotion.”
Rather than appease bureaucrats, sustain a fine or have a possible win over Masvidal overturned, Diaz said his legacy as a clean fighter, one in which he had long spoken out against performing-enhancing drugs was being attacked.
Diaz opted against negotiating with the agency or defending the microscopic details of the vitamins. It would have demeaned Diaz’ self-image. He selected respect over riches.
That produced shock waves.
The UFC could not alienate its audience on this historic occasion. Interest was high, New Jersey fans could bet on their apps and then drive into the city to watch the show and the undercard is strong.
The event is considered star-studded and perhaps its best card of the year. The UFC and USADA thus could not afford to misread Diaz’s hand. Was the main-event fighter, figuratively speaking, sitting on pocket aces or blowing smoke?
Was he crazy enough to walk away from millions of dollars by not fighting? They couldn’t risk finding out. Hurriedly, they released lengthy statements explaining Diaz’s fast-tracked exoneration, a stark contrast to UFC fighters serving two-year suspensions for related circumstances.
Diaz was cleared in two days, a possible record in the world of red tape. Sure, the drug-test issue could be viewed as a tactic to bolster the promotion (Diaz blasted the organizations for setting him up on this drug test, good promotional fuel) but what if he had walked?
Ironically, Masvidal quickly voiced his support. He had become depressed and started binging on food after Diaz’ announcement and was relieved when the fight was put back on. Another large, yet underplayed angle appeared later.
Other athletes in the sport backed Diaz up. One’s standing among peers is paramount.
NO Love Affair With UFC
Diaz retains a rocky relationship with the UFC and subsequently accused the organization of making the drug test results up. He had sat out three years before returning to beat Anthony Pettis in August.
Diaz also has been wary of administrative authority. In November 2015, the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Diaz’s brother Nick for five years for a positive cannabis test.
The suspension was later reduced to 18 months, but Nick has not fought since and probably won’t.
The Right Touch at UFC 244
Diaz’ outrage had a refreshing absence of a filter. Athletes are trained to speak carefully, leave room for ambivalence and not take a hard position.
But in combat sports, fans don’t want that. They want the anger, the resolve and the ultimatum voiced during a controversy.
It’s the stubbornness of a junkyard dog. They want name-calling and offense, not a defense. This is entertainment.
The accused should make it an eye for an eye, a gouge for a gouge and a verbal ground and pound. That’s what Diaz did. He felt he had the winning hand and played it hard before UFC 244.
Keeping the fight intact was a pragmatic move for the UFC. On Tuesday, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, in an Instagram Live video with UFC president Dana White confirmed that he will be presenting the mythical BMF title to the winner.
It’s a belt that may be limited to this one UFC 244 event. It stands for the Baddest Mother (bleeper), and substitutes for a real title fight because this isn’t one. But the fans don’t care.
Fighter recognition prompts betting and pay-per-view buys, not sanctioning bodies. The card will probably last from 5:15 p.m. until around midnight.
Fuel on the Fire
Fans have salivated over this UFC244 matchup and money can be made on both sides because the bout is competitive. That makes this an excellent betting fight. Oddsmakers consider them evenly matched, which creates excitement by itself for two fighters not listed among the UFC’s top pound-for-pound warriors.
This one oozes with intrigue.
Both fighters are 34. Diaz has a slight height and reach advantage. He has a rich ground game and toppled Conor McGregor with a rear-naked choke one year before McGregor earned millions against Floyd Mayweather.
Masvidal, besides holding the fastest knockout record, is an excellent striker. If his style prevails, this could go shorter than the scheduled five five-minute rounds. If it goes to the ground, Diaz has the edge, at least on paper.
“People don’t care about boxing masterpieces,” Masvidal said. “This is about violence and putting people to sleep. I am all for that.”
Masvidav even intimidated the media assembled for a fight-week telephone conference. He warned them at the beginning that one stupid question would end it abruptly. To say the subsequent questions were deferential would be mild.
Masvidal must have had a sense about that. Like Diaz, he went all in. And won.
The event has a string of preliminary and pre-preliminary events. It is worth watching and wagering where you’d like.
UFC 244 has already been memorable.
UFC 244 Action
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