Jorge Masvidal spent three months in 2018 away from family, friends and his hometown of Miami. The UFC star was on Telemundo's "Exatlon Estados Unidos" reality show, competing in physical and mental challenges in the Dominican Republic. He couldn't use a phone, watch television or have any contact with the outside world.
Even though he was not fighting, Masvidal credits that time in isolation for helping turn his career around, he told ESPN's Ariel Helwani in an interview that aired Monday.
"It sounds as corny as it may be, but being out away from everybody, just by myself, I got to find me. I got to just listen to my voice, not a million different opinions or some stupid song on the radio or anything," Masvidal said. "I just got to hear my own voice and what I want done in my life before I close the chapter on fighting."
Since then, Masvidal has won two fights in a row, both by vicious knockout. At UFC 239 in July, Masvidal notched the quickest KO in UFC history when he blasted Ben Askren with a running knee just five seconds into the fight. The finish went viral and earned Masvidal mainstream attention.
Before that, Masvidal went to Darren Till's home country of England in March and knocked him out with a wicked left hook. He made an even bigger name for himself after beating Till when he got into an altercation backstage with fellow welterweight contender Leon Edwards and told ESPN that he hit Edwards with "the three piece with the soda."
That quip has become a popular catchphrase for Masvidal, and only helped to build his wave of momentum. It all culminated with Nate Diaz calling Masvidal out following Diaz's UFC 241 win last month over Anthony Pettis. Masvidal vs. Diaz has now been booked as the main event of UFC 244 at New York's Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2. The bout will be for the mythical "BMF" title -- an acronym Masvidal and Pettis believe fits each of them comfortably.
The past six months have been a whirlwind for Masvidal, a 16-year MMA veteran. "Gamebred" has always been known as a ferocious competitor, but his results were often mixed. Masvidal has four split decisions in the UFC and 13 career losses.
When he was in the Dominican Republic, Masvidal said he thought about those defeats and what went wrong.
"I reverse engineered my whole career numerous times," Masvidal said. "But never in depth like I did this last time, when I was in isolation under the stars, just me, God and the universe, and I'd seen every one of my decision losses in my head and went back. 'How could I have won that decision?' was my first answer. And then I immediately killed that person and thought and said, 'Why the hell would I look for a way to outpoint a guy?' I should be ending them. Like make a math formula so that there's no judges involved. And that's all I've been trying to do and that's all I'm gonna do with what's left of my career."
Masvidal, 34, said it wasn't necessarily being on a reality show that helped him. It was the alone time.
"Not the reality show, because I could have found this in, God forbid, in jail," he said. "Just having that 'who am I?' moment. Constantly being with myself, finding out, hearing my voice, making a detailed plan of what I'm gonna do."
The plan for Masvidal now is to apply this new formula to Diaz, and then move on from there, potentially to a UFC welterweight title shot against champion Kamaru Usman.
"I want to take everybody's head that's in the top 10," he said. "I want to take their head and their soul with it. And if they have some Mickey Mouse title [on] their waist, I'm gonna take that, too. Maybe when I look at other divisions, I can see talent, I can see skill set. But when I see my division, I can see I have my work cut out for me, but every single one of these guys, I'm gonna baptize them, man. I'm just gonna separate myself from the pack in as much a way, shape or form as possible."
Masvidal said he has four years left in his career and they're "gonna be a roller-coaster for everybody to watch." He said he never doubted over the years that he'd bounce back. Growing up in a rough area of Miami with his father in jail for 18 years made him resilient.
But he admitted that part of the old him might not have believed he would be where he is now, headlining the World's Most Famous Arena with the UFC, creating a fictional title for his fight and watching millions of dollars rolling in.
"That Gamebred wouldn't have believed you, but that Gamebred is no longer with us," Masvidal said. "That guy got buried a long time ago. It's this guy right here. So, that guy wouldn't have believed you. This guy knows what's gonna happen on Nov. 2."
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Edwards doesn't care about Masvidal or Diaz
While much of the MMA world is excited for Masvidal and Diaz to headline UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2, Leon Edwards is far less enthusiastic. ESPN's No. 6-ranked welterweight was in the discussion as a potential title challenger to Kamaru Usman as the main event on that card.
After discussing how close he was to getting a title shot after eight straight wins in the UFC, and the potential for that Usman fight to be made in December, should Colby Covington fail to come to terms, the conversation turned to Masvidal, Diaz and the "BMF title."
"Ariel, I don't give two s---s. I believe it's a journeyman's mentality to start creating a fake world title and fake whatever they're doing," Edwards told Helwani. "My aim is to be a world champion, and he will see when the day comes [that we fight]. That's all I have to say on that man, but his day will come."
When asked about the creation of a physical "BMF" title, Edwards doubled down on putting down the move as a charade.
"I don't give a f--- about Masvidal or Diaz. They do what they want to do. I'll do what I want to do."
Esparza on fighting a Mexican again in Mexico: '100% no'
It wasn't just Jeremy Stephens who was disrespected by the Mexico City fans Saturday night. After her majority decision over Alexa Grasso in the co-main event, former strawweight champion Carla Esparza had her interview in the Octagon drowned out by boos. No surprise there, given that she just had been given the nod over a Mexican favorite in a close fight. But then? As Esparza was making her way out of the arena, someone in the crowd dumped a beer on her head.
"Honestly, it kind of broke my heart," Esparza said during her appearance on the Helwani show. "To experience something like that, it was probably one of the low points of my career."
Still, this incident didn't fully sour her on fighting south of the border -- but she has one major caveat.
"I'd definitely like to fight down here because the fans are passionate and I've had a lot of Mexican fans support me," said Esparza. "But I definitely would not want to come here and fight a Mexican fighter, a local, again. That's a 100% no."