Jorge Masvidal heading into Kamaru Usman rematch a changed man

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4-min read

Jorge Masvidal was offered a fight with Kamaru Usman last summer, but wasn’t happy with what the UFC offered him for the bout. After some back-and-forth, Masvidal declined about six weeks out from the date of the fight and the UFC moved on.

Gilbert Burns signed to face Usman at UFC 251 on July 12 in Abu Dhabi.

Masvidal, though, wound up filling that date, and it turned out to be the most successful pay-per-view of the year for the UFC. Usman won a unanimous decision over his bitter rival in a fight that sold a reported 1.3 million on pay-per-view.

[New ESPN+ members can bundle UFC 261 with one year of ESPN+ for $89.98]

On Saturday, Masvidal will get a second crack at Usman and his welterweight title, when they rematch in the main event of UFC 261 before a sold-out crowd in Jacksonville, Florida.

And it’s a very different Masvidal, both personally and from a competitive standpoint, who will step into the cage.

Prior to UFC 251, Masvidal still needed to work for a living. Oh, by that stage in his MMA career, he was well off, but he went into a different financial bracket after the success of the pay-per-view and the notoriety he gained from it.

He’s now making money from endorsements in addition to his fight pay and it’s had a generational effect.

“I’ll tell you this: If I never have to fight again, my kids’ kids are well taken care of,” Masvidal said. “I wish it would be like this across the board. I hate hearing somebody fought for 15, 16 years and they have nothing to show for it but broken teeth and cauliflower ears and that’s it. They have to get a 9-to-5 job while XYZ company made millions upon millions of dollars and will only to continue to make millions upon millions.”

Masvidal, though, parlayed his exciting fighting style, flair and quick wit into success. After many years, he created a persona that captivated the public and he took advantage of it when the opportunity arose.

His run really started at UFC 239 on July 6, 2019, when he set a record with a five-second KO of Ben Askren. His flying knee and news conference performance in which he said the punches he delivered to a prone Askren “were super necessary” turned him into a star almost overnight.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 12: (R-L) Jorge Masvidal punches Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in their UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 251 event at Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 12, 2020 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
(R-L) Jorge Masvidal punches Kamaru Usman during UFC 251 at Flash Forum on July 12, 2020 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

He parlayed that win into a fight for a gimmick title coined by Nate Diaz and embraced by the UFC called the BMF belt. Then-President Trump was ringside to watch and superstar actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson presented him the belt after his victory over Diaz.

His performance leading up to the Usman fight, in which he accepted the bout on six days’ notice when Burns had to withdraw, cemented his status as an OG in the fight game.

It continues to amaze him how far he’s come.

“It wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t get a sponsor to give me $1,000 to help me out with my training camp,” he said. “But I never gave up or lost faith in myself. I lost faith in the system and certain things, but I never lost faith in myself. I always knew I’d get to where I need to be one way or another.”

He’s listened to Usman manager Ali Abdelaziz boast that Usman has surpassed Georges St-Pierre as the greatest welterweight in MMA history.

But Masvidal isn’t buying the notion that Usman is great, even though Usman clearly won their first fight. Usman insists that Masvidal had been training, but Masvidal denies it. He said he’d gone to the gym to help out friends and was lifting weights, but said he wasn’t training like he was preparing for a world title fight.

He needed to cut 20 pounds when he got to Abu Dhabi, and it’s a point of pride to him that he made it in really five days by the time he landed. He questioned whether Usman, who is a -425 favorite at BetMGM in their rematch, could do the same.

“If Kamaru takes a fight against me on six days' notice with 20 pounds to cut, I finish him in the first or second round,” Masvidal said. “That’s a great fighter. He wouldn’t go to a decision with me and he [expletive] knows that. That’s why he was hugging me for dear life. Was I a great fighter that night? Nope, I was not a great fighter on that night.

“Will I be a great fighter on April 24 and show the vast difference between me and … Kamaru Usman? Yeah. I’m going to show the world the difference between good and great.”

More from Yahoo Sports: