A week ago, Nate Diaz was fighting for his innocence. Jorge Masvidal was fighting temptation.
Saturday night they will meet in the main event of UFC 244 in one of the most anticipated nontitle bouts in the organization’s history when they headline Madison Square Garden in New York.
The welterweight bout was in major jeopardy just a week ago when Diaz was flagged by USADA for an abnormal drug test. He demanded he be fully exonerated — which happened a day later, when drug testers found his supplements were tainted with trace amounts of a banned substance — or else he wouldn’t compete in the fight.
Many fans were holding their breath to find out whether the fight would go on. Masvidal ate his nerves.
“When I get anxiety or depression, I take to eating,” he said. “So, your boy got fat, man. About two pizzas later and hot fries and other things that I shouldn’t have put in my body, the coaching staff got a hold of me and they were able to calm the anxiety down.
“They were able to restrain me and take credit cards away and shut down UberEats.”
Masvidal got back to training once Diaz was cleared, and both made weight successfully Friday, the same day the organization unveiled a new “Baddest Mother (expletive)” belt to give to the winner on Saturday night.
While it’s little more than a marketing ploy for the fight, the award harkens back to the early days of the sport of mixed martial arts to which Diaz and Masvidal are clear throwbacks.
They both prefer a time when MMA was just about two bad dudes trying to find out who the toughest one was before hitting the bar together and raging all night to the refined sport into which it has evolved.
It’s what has made them both so popular despite neither fighter ever holding an official UFC title.
The specially created belt has more appeal to them anyway.
“The winner of this, which is me, is the baddest mother (expletive) they’ve ever seen in their roster in other years of the company,” Masvidal said. “I don’t think I need to elaborate on that any more than that.”
Added Diaz: “I think it’s already set in stone. I’m the baddest mother (expletive), and he’s the runner up, and that we’re the guys in the UFC.”
Masvidal feels it’s easy to understand why the matchup has so much appeal to the fans.
“I think it just comes down to, we both fight and we’re dogs in that cage, but at the same time, we see the (expletive) and we don’t play in the (expletive). You’re not going to tell me jump or wear a suit or do this.
“… And on the same token, he’s been the same dude from his side of the country, doing his thing his own way. And we both see it and we can salute each other.”
The bout headlines a pay-per-view bout that will stream exclusively through ESPN-Plus at 7 p.m.
Also on the card, middleweight contender Kelvin Gastelum will take on former welterweight title challenger Darren Till. Las Vegan Kevin Lee will take on undefeated lightweight Gregor Gillespie.
McGregor pleads guilty
Former UFC two-division champion Conor McGregor pleaded guilty Friday in a Dublin court on a charge of punching a man at a bar in April.
McGregor will avoid jail time and faces a fine of a little more than $1,100.
Judge Treasa Kelly noted McGregor has 18 prior convictions, including several for speeding and a 2009 assault charge, but said she believed jail time would not be appropriate in this case.
Video surfaced over the summer of McGregor punching the man, who was sitting on a bar stool at Marble Arch Pub on April 6.
Court testimony revealed McGregor was promoting his whiskey company and became enraged when the man refused to sample the product.
“I assure you nothing of this nature will happen again regarding me,” McGregor told the court.
The fighter’s attorneys said McGregor personally apologized to the man and compensated him financially.
McGregor said he plans to return to competition on Jan. 18 in Las Vegas. While no opponent has been announced, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone appears to be the leading candidate.