One of the biggest MMA fights of 2019 is set.
“It is the fight fans wanted to see,” White told Okamoto. “Nate Diaz called out Masvidal after his win over [Anthony] Pettis. Everybody has been talking about it. People have been hitting me up on social media, telling me to get it done. I can now announce the fight is done.”
It will not be a title fight, White told Okamoto.
“I’m going to put together a belt for these two, they can fight for the ‘BMF’ belt,” White told Okamoto. “It’s one of those fights that is fun, interesting, fans are into it, you want to see for five rounds — yet it’s too big to be a fight night. So we made it a pay-per-view. I will end up stacking this card with killer fights. The main event will be those two.”
The UFC will not book a title fight to MSG, because in White’s words,”I would never put a title fight underneath this. There won’t be a title fight [at MSG].”
The booking comes after a frenetic week of negotiations between the UFC and multiple fighters, sources say.
Late last week, the UFC tried to book UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington for the MSG headliner. After failing to come to terms with Covington on a deal, the UFC moved on and offered the title fight to Masvidal, according to sources. After coming to terms with Masvidal on Wednesday, the promotion was unable to strike a deal with Usman. That prompted the UFC to reach out to top contender Leon Edwards to see if he would be interested in fighting Masvidal for the vacant title after a threat was made to strip Usman.
The talks with Edwards didn’t progress, because in the midst of all this an opportunity presented itself to book Diaz vs. Masvidal as the MSG headliner, sources say. Once it was clear there was mutual interest between all parties to make that fight happen, the UFC focused all its attention over the past day or so to book that fight. They were able to finalize it Friday afternoon, ESPN has learned.
The fight is one between two of the most popular fighters in the sport today. Diaz (20-11) looked dominant in his return from a three-year layoff last month when he defeated Pettis via unanimous decision. His rivalry with Conor McGregor in 2016 transformed him into one of the biggest draws in MMA history.
Masvidal (34-13) has had a phenomenal year in his own right, as he knocked out Darren Till in March and followed that up with a five-second knockout of Ben Askren in July. The latter is the quickest knockout in UFC history.
Following Diaz’s win at UFC 241, he said he wanted Masvidal next.
He got his wish.
The rumored fight between Usman and Covington seems to have fallen through for now.
“That fight completely fell apart between those two … Remember this, I put on fights for a living. That’s what I do,” White told Okamoto. “When I go out and tell you we’re doing this guy versus this guy, this guy’s next — if that doesn’t happen, it’s not because of me … What guys say publicly and what goes on behind closed doors are two different things. One thing about me, I don’t wait for anybody. I don’t care how big of a star you are. I have a fight at MSG. People want to go buy tickets and we need to get moving.”
The promotion has one more pay-per-view left in 2019 after UFC 244, and that’s UFC 245 on Dec. 14 in Las Vegas.
The event at Madison Square Garden will mark the UFC’s fourth trip to the arena since 2016.