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UFC 287, The Morning After: Jorge Masvidal’s ephemeral prime

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Jorge Masvidal’s career has been an entertaining and strange watch.

For years and years, Masvidal was the ultra skilled technician who just couldn’t break into the title mix. He’d beat really tough opponents and showcase an elite skill set, but his ability to turn it up at the right time was never consistent. Occasionally, he’d flurry forward and just dominate opponents, but if the finish didn’t materialize, Masvidal was just as likely to cough up a debatable split-decision.

He was a favorite fighter of fight nerds like myself, those who appreciated all the neat wrinkles and underrated aspects of his MMA game. Masvidal’s skills were always far ahead of their time: his body work at distance and in the pocket, his crafty jab, his genuinely excellent offensive and defensive chain wrestling, his front head lock offense as takedown defense — Masvidal looked like a modern fighter back in like 2011.

In 2019, everything clicked. Masvidal returned from a layoff rejuvenated, and his mind was in the right place. He looked in great physical shape and was more offensively deadly than ever, and the result was the trio of knockout wins that catapulted him into contention and superstardom alike.

As a longtime “Gamebred” fan, it was such a fun time. It reminded me of when Robbie Lawler turned his Welterweight corner and went on his legendary title run. It’s so enjoyable to watch a fighter with great potential finally put the pieces together and turn things around, far past the point anyone expected.

The problem is that by 2020, Masvidal was 35 years old with 17 professional in a sport with an average 12-year peak-and-plummet career span. That’s the year Masvidal fought Kamaru Usman the first time, and he did so on literally six day’s notice. Of course he lost! A year later and another year older, Masvidal suffered the first true knockout loss of his career. As we just witnessed with Usman in the trilogy against Leon Edwards, getting knocked senseless in one’s mid-30s can really devastate an athlete’s fighting ability.

In Masvidal’s last two fights versus Colby Covington and now Gilbert Burns, it’s clear that “Gamebred” has lost more than a single step. Quite frankly, he looks old physically, and he fights slow too. Burns was so much faster with his right hand and physically stronger in wrestling exchanges that Masvidal’s good reads didn’t matter, and midway through the second, he was too tired to execute anyway — retirement is clearly the right call.

Masvidal’s prime came and went quickly, and his best chance at a title was wasted by the negotiations that resulted in the short-notice Usman booking. Of course, those crazy circumstances also resulted in the mega contract that secured Masvidal’s money for his entire life, so it was far from a total loss for the Miami scrapper.

Would you rather be overpaid or underrated? Masvidal spent a decade-and-a-half as the latter then a couple years as the former, and it leaves his legacy as a complicated and debatable subject. I’ll always argue that Masvidal was a great fighter capable of beating just about anyone in the multiple eras he fought, but he was never great enough to win the belt without the help of luck and good timing. Rare are the Khabibs and GSPs of the sport, so far above everyone else that their reign was never going to be denied.

Masvidal’s window was short, and he used it to make massive sums of cash first and foremost.

Sounds like a damn good prizefighter to me.

For complete UFC 287: “Pereira vs. Adesanya 2” results and play-by-play, click HERE!

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