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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 244

What happens next after Jorge Masvidal‘s win over Nate Diaz is a major issue after one of UFC’s best shows of the year this past Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Masvidal gave Diaz a terrible beating for three rounds; I had rounds 1 and 2 as 10-8s for “Gamebred.” Diaz, to his credit, is as tough as they come. He never broke and repeatedly escaped from positions where Masvidal would have finished most fighters.

Even after the beating, it didn’t appear that Diaz’s star power had taken any kind of a hit. And Masvidal, who’d earned the win following a five-second knockout of Ben Askren, saw his star power grow even more.

The show featured a great undercard filled with fighters like Kevin Lee, Corey Anderson, Edmen Shahbazyn, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Shane Burgos, who all made major statements with wins. Then Masvidal vs. Diaz gave the public three very exciting rounds in the main event.

Unfortunately, there was major disappointment with how the show finished. The crowd was very upset when Dr. Nitin Sethl stopped the fight. That’s to be expected when a cut stops a fight that people were heavily into. Even the announcers were very negative about the stoppage. That contributed to those watching on television feeling ripped off rather than satisfied with the butchering Masvidal inflicted and the night in general.

Fights have continued with more blood, but the cut itself was deep. It was a judgment call by the doctor. Diaz was having trouble seeing in round three, constantly trying to get the blood out of his eye. You can second guess to the point of saying maybe they could have continued and started round four, but it was a judgment call that wasn’t egregiously wrong. The harassment that Sethl took from some fans for his decision hardly made the sport look good.

Dana White was mad initially as well, although did seem to have a change of heart when he saw how Diaz’s face looked after the fight and the nature of the cut that ended it.

The ending leads to the age-old discussion of championships and business.

Masvidal and Diaz both pushed for a rematch. The BMF title was supposed to be a one-and-done, just a gimmick for one night spurred by comments made by Diaz when first bringing up the fight. Then, with the momentum of this fight as the Madison Square Garden main event, the personalities, and movie star Dwayne Johnson putting the belt on the winner, the gimmick blew up.

No matter what its origins and its legitimacy, a promotion in this type of business should pay attention to fan response. There is no point now in forgetting about the belt. If there is to be a rematch, the title should be at stake. If there isn’t, Masvidal should be talked about as BMF champion and get a shot at the welterweight title next. That should be promoted with both belts talked about. And at that point, the belts should be merged.

White wasn’t as hot on a rematch. And from a sports standpoint, he’s right. Masvidal won, and the fight was one-sided. Yes, you never know what might have happened had there been a round four or five. Diaz also claimed he had an injury, couldn’t run in training, and was holding back and saving his best for the last two rounds. But the most important thing in the division should be the championship picture.

Masvidal (35-13) clearly deserves the winner of the Dec. 14 fight with champion Kamaru Usman (15-1) and challenger Colby Covington (15-1). In theory, that should supersede everything.

But the reality to fans is different. People don’t care about belts as much as personalities. Masvidal vs. Conor McGregor for the BMF title right now would be a gigantic attraction. On paper, Masvidal is bigger and would be a heavy favorite, and for that reason, UFC is not likely to make that fight. And McGregor would be smart not to want it.

Masvidal vs. Diaz 2 would also mean more for business than Masvidal going for the championship. No matter what the first three rounds said, one could tell fans weren’t satisfied with the outcome of what many saw as the biggest fight of the year.

Another aspect is that Diaz remains one of the sport’s top personalities. He’s also very different from other fighters. After making huge money in his two 2016 fights with Conor McGregor, he turned down fights for three of what should have been his best years in a sport where ones prime is fleeting. He was asking for a rematch, and the reality is, if he doesn’t get it, he noted he could take another three years off.

Not including Masvidal, or Jairzinho Rozenstruik, whose 29-second knockout of Andrei Arlovski has already led him to the main event of the Dec. 7, show in Washington, DC against Alistair Overeem, let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five on Saturday.

NATE DIAZ – Fantasy booking Diaz is intriguing, because at lightweight and welterweight, there are endless opponents that look like exciting fights that the public will want to see. On the welterweight roster, there is Stephen Thompson for a striking battle, or Demian Maia for a ground battle. At lightweight, there is everyone from Justin Gaethje, Kevin Lee, Dustin Poirier and Charles Oliveira. He would garner attention against any of the big stars in either division, and there’s always the third fight with McGregor, which would be gigantic.

The question in his case is different from anyone else. If Masvidal were to win the welterweight title, his defending against Diaz would be difficult. There are more worthy contenders, and it would be hard to justify Diaz getting a title fight. Yet the public probably would still accept it. And if Masvidal were to lose in his title match, going back to Diaz would make all the sense in the world.

DARREN TILL – Till (18-2-1) won a split decision over Kelvin Gastelum, although the 30-27 score by judge Dave Tirelli for Gastelum was inexplicable given that every media score on MMA Decisions was for Till. It was probably the most boring fight on the show, and got a negative crowd reaction. But it was a win by Till over the one fighter who gave current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya a war.

With Paulo Costa out with an injury, there are really only two prospective opponents for Adesanya’s title right now, and that’s Yoel Romero (13-4) and Jared Cannonier (13-4). Adesanya wants Romero, who has been a longtime top fighter in the division. But he’s lost two in a row, even if they came against Costa and former champion Robert Whittaker. Cannonier has won three in a row, so that should give him the edge.

Till could face Whittaker (20-5) next, or Romero or Cannonier, depending on who gets the next title shot.

COREY ANDERSON – Anderson (13-4) derailed Johnny Walker (17-4) with a brutal first-round knockout. Walker had looked up to that point to be one of the best light heavyweight prospects in years. Anderson made it clear he wants champion Jon Jones next.

But Dominic Reyes looks to be Jones’ next opponent, and Jones hasn’t agreed to that fight either. Anderson could face Anthony Smith (32-14) next. If he wins, a title fight would make sense. But it wouldn’t be easy, because Jones may not see Anderson as someone that excites him as a challenger. He could see bigger opportunities at heavyweight if it came to that.

KEVIN LEE – Moving back to lightweight, Lee (18-5) had one of the scariest knockouts of the year in finishing previously unbeaten Gregor Gillespie (13-1).

The key to this fight is that Lee was able to keep one of the best wrestlers in the sport from taking him down. The lightweight division is loaded with opponents, and Lee could do a television show main event against Dustin Poirier (25-6), Justin Gaethje (21-2), or Paul Felder (17-4).

KATLYN CHOOKAGIAN – Chookagian (13-2) took a unanimous decision over Jennifer Maia (17-6-1) in a bout that could determine the next contender for women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (18-3).

Chookagian appears to be next for the title. But the big question is why they had a title eliminator fight on the ESPN+ early prelims, rather than on the television or pay-per-view part of the show where more people would see it. Granted, it was a loaded show with a number of rising fighters being focused. But a match with the No. 1 contender in a weight class shouldn’t ever be that low on a card.

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