UFC 244: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for MSG

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2019

UFC 244: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for MSG

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    Michael Owens/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Fasten your seatbelts. It's gangsta-time in midtown Manhattan.

    The UFC is headed toward the world's most famous arena—Madison Square Garden—to put on a pay-per-view show with perhaps its two most corrosive combatants, Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal, atop the card.

    The microphone-seeking welterweight missiles won't have a formal title on the line when they meet at UFC 244 on Nov. 2, but that hasn't stopped octagonal czar Dana White from dropping a reported $50K on a special "BMF" (yes... that's exactly what it stands for) that'll be presented to the winner by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

    From there, perhaps the victor gets a shot at 170-pound champ Kamaru Usman, or maybe makes a challenge for intergalactic bad-boy supremacy against Conor McGregor—whom Diaz has fought twice and Masvidal had verbally jabbed at over the summer before landing the date with Diaz.

    But wait... there's more.

    Middleweights Kelvin Gastelum and Darren Till, ranked fourth and ninth, respectively, share the bill in the co-main event, and the PPV card is rounded out by light heavies Corey Anderson and Johnny Walker, welterweights Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque and heavyweights Derrick Lewis and Blagoy Ivanov.

    Let's face it, though. This one is all about the main event. 

    It's loud. It's in your face. It's probably going to get violent.

    In other words, ladies and gentlemen... welcome to New York.

    UFC 244 Main Card (PPV)

    Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz
    Kelvin Gastelum vs. Darren Till
    Corey Anderson vs. Johnny Walker
    Stephen Thompson vs. Vicente Luque
    Derrick Lewis vs. Blagoy Ivanov

    UFC 244 Preliminary Card (ESPN2)

    Andrei Arlovski vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
    Kevin Lee vs. Gregor Gillespie
    Shane Burgos vs. Makwan Amirkhani

    Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)

    Katlyn Chookagian vs. Jennifer Maia
    Lyman Good vs. Chance Rencountre
    Julio Arce vs. Hakeem Dawodu

The Main Event: Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Forget the raucous press conferences, the gimmicky belt, and the Hollywood drop-ins.

    If you like watching a good fight, this is a pretty damned good main event.

    Though it's true neither Masvidal nor Diaz is ranked among the UFC's pound-for-pound elite, it's equally true that few octagonal competitors are as solid a bet when it comes to producing violently satisfying spectacles.

    Graham Hunter, sports anchor at ABC’s WRTV affiliate in Indianapolis, said: "It's classic UFC, man."

    "Give people the fight they want when they want to see it. There's not a fan of the sport that's not truly excited for this one."

    Diaz, 34, punched his card to UFC immortality for his role in a brutal back and forth with McGregor in 2016, and returned from a three-year hiatus with a unanimous scorecard defeat of Anthony Pettis at UFC 241 in August. 

    Meanwhile, Masvidal, who's also 34, became a mainstream name (and social media superstar) with a five-second flying-knee erasure of Ben Askren in July that checked in as the organization's fastest all-time knockout.

    Together, they've taken part in 10 bouts that have been deemed UFC's fight of the night and have combined to earn five bonuses for performance of the night as well.

    As for individual statistics, Masvidal is 33-13 in a pro career that's spanned 16 years and has yielded 14 wins by knockout and two more by submission. He's a shade below 50 percent when it comes to accuracy with strikes, and is slightly above that same threshold in terms of success with takedown attempts.

    He'll arrive at MSG with the momentum generated by two winsthe instant summertime elimination of Askren and a second-round KO of co-main eventer Till at UFC's fight night show in March. In fact, he's not lost since dropping a three-round verdict to another card-mate, Thompson, at UFC 217.

    As for Diaz, he turned pro a year after Masvidal in 2004 and has amassed 20 wins in 31 fights, including five KOs and 12 submissions. He was a late-stage substitute against McGregor atop UFC 196 in Las Vegas and recorded his most noteworthy tap-out win with a rear-naked choke in Round 2.

    A reed-thin decision loss followed in a rematch five months later, before a series of injuries, pullouts, and other stops and starts kept him on the sidelines until the Pettis victory in Anaheim, California.

    Diaz is a 44-percent striker and a bit less successful, 30 percent, to be exact, attempting takedowns.

    "You will see two of the most skilled fighters in the game stand and bang," Hunter said. "Diaz's jiu-jitsu is fearsome, so if he gets behind, that's where it could go. Should be legendary."

The Co-Main Event: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Darren Till

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    Mke Zarrilli/Associated Press

    The main event is downright combustible.

    The co-main event, meanwhile, looks to be redemptive.

    Middleweights Kelvin Gastelum (ranked No. 4) and Darren Till (ranked No. 9) will arrive at Madison Square Garden with neither having won a fight in the intervening 18 months, meaning a victory—and preferably an impressive one—is almost mandatory when it comes to their maintaining an elite-level status among the 185-pounders.

    Making memorable fights, it seems, is part of Gastelum's DNA.

    The Californian made a reach for second-tier divisional supremacy in his most recent outing but was edged by then-interim champ Israel Adesanya at UFC 236 in Atlanta on April 13. Adesanya seized full-on supremacy of the weight class in his subsequent fight, stopping Robert Whittaker in two rounds at UFC 243.

    The Adesanya-Gastelum bout was that show's fight of the night bonus-winner, marking the third straight outing in which Gastelum took home post-fight cash. He shared FOTN honors with Ronaldo Souza after a three-round split-decision win at UFC 224 in May 2018 and was a performance of the night winner after starching Michael Bisping in a single round six months earlier in Shanghai, China.

    Till, for his sake, is trying to regain the mojo he carried through a 17-0-1 career start.

    He headlined a UFC fight night show with a win over Thompson in Liverpool, England to maintain his unbeaten mark, but was choked out by Tyron Woodley in a bid for the welterweight championship at UFC 228 in Dallas, then KO'd by Masvidal atop another fight night card in London on March 16.

    Two straight losses, particularly the Masvidal surprise, rattled his self-belief.

    “All my life I’ve had this crazy confidence that I’m just this superhuman being inside that octagon and in life and it got knocked a bit,” Till said (via MMAfighting.com). “I’m not ashamed to say that. I want to get that back. It’s there. I’m still that confident guy that if you put me in front of everyone, I know I can beat them. I know there’s something in me that can beat everyone.

    "I’ve got that technique and I’ve got that will. It got lost a bit after the fight, so I just had to find it. That’s why maybe it’s (taken) a little bit longer to come back.”

Fight to Keep an Eye On: Kevin Lee vs. Gregor Gillespie

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Two fighters heading in opposite directions will meet on the ESPN2 portion of the card.

    Americans Kevin Lee and Gregor Gillespie were wrestling standouts on the high school and collegiate levels before ultimately making the decision to pursue a full-time career in mixed martial arts.

    That, however, is where the similarities end.

    Lee, now 27, reached the octagonal promotion as a precocious 21-year-old and dropped a unanimous decision to Al Iaquinta at UFC 169.

    He's fought across the full complement of shows since and has been up and down in four appearances at pay-per-view events—winning three-round decisions at UFC 178 and 197 while losing via first-round TKO at UFC 194 and third-round submission at UFC 216.

    In his most recent fight, at UFC's fight night in Rochester, New York, he was submitted via arm-triangle choke by welterweight Rafael dos Anjos.

    Lee will come to midtown Manhattan ranked 10th among the lightweights.

    Gillespie, on the other hand, remains fully on the upswing at No. 11.

    The 32-year-old had a more prolonged stint away from the MMA game—coaching wrestling at Hofstra University, and overcoming drug and alcohol addiction—before finally making the decision to go pro in January 2014.

    He debuted with the UFC two years ago and has been a highlight-reel phenom ever since, starting with a decision over Glaico França and subsequently recording stoppages of Andrew Holbrook (KO in 1), Jason Gonzalez (submission in 2), Jordan Rinaldi (TKO in 1), Vinc Pichel (submission in 2) and Yancy Medeiros (TKO in 2).

    Overall, he's 13-0 with six knockouts, five submissions, and two scorecard wins.

Best of the Rest

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    Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    Katlyn Chookagian vs. Jennifer Maia

    It's a full four hours before the PPV card begins, but rabid fans will be rewarded for UFC Fight Pass devotion.

    Top-ranked female flyweight Katlyn Chookagian and No. 5 contender Jennifer Maia can boost their chances for a shot down the road at division champ Valentina Shevchenko, in a battle of differing styles and physiques.

    Chookagian will hold both a five-inch edge in height (5'9" to 5'4") and a four-inch advantage in arm reach (68" to 64"), not to mention another tidy four-inch gap in leg reach (42" to 38").

    As for Maia, she won three fights as a boxer before transitioning to MMA, where she's gone 17-5-1 with three KO wins and another five via submission. 

    Andrei Arlovski vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

    He stands 6'4". He weighs nearly 250 pounds. He's got six KOs in seven wins.

    Go ahead... we dare you not to watch Jairzinho Rozenstruik.

    The 31-year-old from Suriname has gone a grand total of 6 minutes, 3 seconds while recording a pair of stoppage victories in the UFC, though he'll be stepping up in competition when it comes to Andrei Arlovski on the ESPN2 preliminary card.

    Now 40, Arlovski was born in the former Soviet Union and was one of the UFC's early standouts, actually capturing the heavyweight championship back in 2005. He lost it to Tim Sylvia in 2006 and has made the promotional rounds since—fighting in 10 countries while running his record to 28-18-2.

    He'll be an interesting barometer via which to gauge the big man's actual prowess.

    Corey Anderson vs. Johnny Walker

    No fighter in the UFC comes to this PPV event any hotter than Johnny Walker.

    The 27-year-old Brazilian earned entrance to the UFC promotion via Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender series and has since had three fights—all wins, all earning performance of the night bonuses—go a combined 2 minutes, 48 seconds.

    He strikes with a 78-percent accuracy rate, has 14 of 17 overall wins by KO and is ranked 10th among the UFC's light heavyweights. But he's in tough here with No. 7 contender Corey Anderson in the middle fight of the five-fight main card.

    And Anderson isn't exactly impressed.

    "It’s a little too much,” he told MMA Junkie. “He’s exciting. You can’t take that from him. He’s exciting, and he does exciting things. He’s got three first-round finishes, but then you ask yourself who has he finished?"