In case Saturday’s stacked card did not indicate that UFC 244 is projecting to be a significant show, perhaps President Trump’s planned visit to watch the proceedings in person will.
Trump, who’s friendly with UFC President Dana White, is slated to witness the coronation of the inaugural BMF — an R-rated acronym and belt that stands for “Baddest …” — when the temperamental Nate Diaz battles Jorge Masvidal on ESPN pay-per-view. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will bestow the BMF strap, which cost $50,000 just to make, immediately after the main event fight at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Neither of the fierce headliners sports a pristine record, but Diaz (21-11), a longtime fan favorite and former conqueror of Conor McGregor, and Masvidal (34-13), a resurrected fighter, guarantee to wage a war in the cage.
“This is the best fighter in the game right here,” Diaz said. “So that’s the one I’m fighting for. And no matter for the belt or what. Any time you fight me, it’s going to be the best, baddest ... fight you’re going to see, with the best ... fighters.”
Diaz, a well-rounded Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, returned to the cage after a self-imposed, three-year sabbatical in August to defeat Anthony Pettis in Anaheim.
“I figure he might try to run out and take me out,” Diaz said. “But I’m expecting it all. He’s a strategic fighter, been around forever and you’re not just there because you’re there.”
Masvidal, a onetime street fighter who’s coming off a five-second knockout of Ben Askren, the fastest in UFC history, is planning to display another dazzling performance against Diaz, who’s only been knocked out once in his career.
“The only thing I’m trying to do is take this guy out of consciousness for a while,” Masvidal said. “I just want to turn the lights off on somebody, and that’s all I want to do. That’s the only way to create headlines in my sport and get the biggest paychecks possible. That’s my job. That’s entertainment. That’s the only way I can get the bills paid.”
The co-headlining bout will feature middleweights Darren Till and Kelvin Gastelum, who is returning from a loss in a fight of the year front-runner against since-turned champion Israel Adesanya.
Rounding out the PPV part of the event will be Stephen Thompson versus Vicente Luque, Derrick Lewis versus Blagoy Ivanov and Kevin Lee versus Gregor Gillespie.
The preliminary portion and broadcast on ESPN 2 will feature Edmen Shahbazyan, an undefeated, 21-year-old touted phenom who was born in Los Angeles and lives and trains in Glendale.
The Armenian fighter and UFC’s No. 13 ranked middleweight will take on the toughest test of his young career in Brad Tavares as he looks to make a mark in the sport and prove his promise as an elite up-and-comer.
Shahbazyan (10-0), who’s trained out of the Glendale Fighting Club alongside stablemate Ronda Rousey ever since he picked up the sport as a pre-teen, wants a statement win against Tavares (17-5) to carve a path to his own shot at history.
“I’m improving with every fight and plan to put on a show and get the victory against Brad,” Shahbazyan said. “I’m motivated, hungry, prepared and it’s going to be an amazing night. I want to build myself to top-contender status and then the youngest champion in UFC history.”
Shahbazyan still has more than 20 months for a chance to break light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones’ record (23 years, eight months and one day) and be the UFC’s quickest crownholder. To jump on the fast track, the “Golden Boy” signed with Rousey’s management company and has continued developing his skills under lifetime trainer Edmond Tarverdyan, Rousey’s coach.
“Ronda’s inspired me to believe in myself and work hard for my goals,” Shahbazyan said. “She’s always been a mentor. It’s cool to have a legend like that in my corner.”
Shahbazyan’s diminutive frame made him an ideal sparring partner for Rousey during the climax of her unprecedented MMA reign, and he’s been in the former champion’s ear ever since. He even has a propensity for fast fights, just like Rousey. Shahbazyan, a graduate of the Los Angeles fight scene, sports nine first-round finishes, with five wins coming inside one minute.
“We knew early on this kid has what it takes to be a great champion,” Tarverdyan said. “He’s mature and has dedication and heart, and he’s only getting better day by day.”
The No. 11 ranked Tavares, a 12-year veteran who’s 10 years Shahbazyan’s senior, will look to be more than just another test for a fast-rising prospect still developing his skills, body and power.
In his last fight over a year ago, Tavares dropped a decision to Adesanya.
Adesanya is now the middleweight champion that Shahbazyan would need to beat in order to make history — that’s if the Nigerian-New Zealander star still remains on top, and the fast-rising Shahbazyan ascents to meet him there for a chance at realizing his career-defining dream.