|Venue: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville Date: Saturday, 24 April Time: 23:00 BST (prelims), 03:00 (main card)|
|Coverage: Listen to live commentary on the main card from 03:00 BST on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website & app|
Fans’ favourite Jorge Masvidal says his mixed martial arts career “won’t be complete” until he holds a world title.
The American is one of the UFC’s most popular fighters but in 18 years as a professional has not won a world belt.
Saturday’s rematch with welterweight champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 261 is Masvidal’s second title shot and the 36-year-old fears it will be his last.
“Winning this belt is one of many things on my task sheet before I close this chapter,” he told BBC Sport.
“I look at every fight as my last chance so I’ve got to give it my all, I’ve got to push for what I want. If I want to be a world champion then this is it, I’ve got to go.
“When I came back in 2019, I made a checklist and got many of those things done in 2019. But as far as what I [still] want to accomplish, I’m not going to say everything I have in the booklet because I want to keep everybody in suspense.”
‘You too can do it – that’s the legacy I’m trying to leave’
After successive defeats by Demian Maia and Stephen Thompson, Masvidal’s career was at a crossroads in 2017.
But ‘Gamebred’ came back with a bang, producing a devastating knockout to upset Britain’s Darren Till in London before beating Ben Askren with a flying knee in five seconds – the fastest knockout in UFC history.
Masvidal then capped 2019 by defeating fellow veteran Nate Diaz to become the inaugural winner of the symbolic ‘BMF’ belt and put himself in world title contention.
“When I took my hiatus [November 2017 to March 2019], I’d been in this sport a while,” he said. “I had 15 years of data compiled of what works for me. We took that, dissected it and started moving forward with it.
“I still have the same booklet – just a little deeper, a little longer, with more detail – of things I have to do before I move onto the next phase in my life. Until I do that I won’t be complete, I won’t be satisfied.
“In 2019, I talked with my coaches, my manager, about those goals and they were like ‘wow, man. Pretty outlandish but we love it, we’re going to stick behind you’.”
In 2020, Masvidal followed Conor McGregor in launching his own alcoholic brand – of the Mexican drink mezcal – and on Thursday he announced that his own bareknuckle MMA promotion will start in Miami in June.
Masvidal’s fighting roots are in Miami, where he took part in mutual combat street fights from the age of 14, and he is now thinking about the next generation.
“I want to leave a legacy that inspires others, especially people that didn’t have it so easy coming up, didn’t have a silver spoon in their mouth, that have to go out there and get it,” he said.
“I come from a humble place, and the highs and lows that got me here made me the man I am. The money, the fame, the gold chains – none of that matters to who I am in my core, my essence.
“Besides being the most violent person that’s ever stepped into that cage, that’s the legacy I’m trying to leave, that you too can do it.”
‘People like me for the jaw-dropping moments I deliver’
Masvidal’s explosive style was stifled by Usman’s wrestling game in their first match-up last July and the Nigerian, 33, earned a unanimous decision victory at UFC 251.
It was the first event at Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island, where the UFC staged fights during the pandemic, and Masvidal stepped in at six days’ notice.
This time around the American, who goes in with a 35-14 record, has had a full training camp.
“Instead of wasting my energy on cutting weight, I get to invest it on putting a finish on him,” said Masvidal. “Day and night has been [spent] to neutralise those positions where he wants to be, essentially to hold me.
“He doesn’t want to strike with me in any way, shape or form. I get it. God limited him in that department, he just doesn’t have that ‘oomph’.
“So it’s up to me to keep him off me, get off the cage and get in his face, to give everybody who spends their hard-earned coin what they deserve, what people are tuning in for. They cheer for me because of the jaw-dropping moments I deliver.”
After beating Gilbert Burns in February, Usman is 18-1 and has the longest active winning streak in the UFC (13). If Masvidal can halt it, he would then be open to a trilogy match-up.
“I don’t want to go down in history as 1-1 with this guy,” he said. “He’s not my calibre of fighter and I’m going to prove it by snatching up his title.”
Otherwise, Masvidal could next face Britain’s Leon Edwards, with whom he clashed backstage when he beat Till, but ruled out a fight with Colby Covington.
“If Leon gets past Nate Diaz [at UFC 262] then I’d definitely lean more towards him than that fragile guy you just mentioned,” he added. “It’d be a much bigger fight with an insane storyline to it.
“I only want the toughest or biggest fights possible, and he [Covington] fits neither category. It’ll happen at some point, but I’ll say when.”
Who else is on the main card?
Saturday’s event will be the first in US sport to have a capacity crowd at an indoor arena since the pandemic, and it features three title fights.
Besides the Usman-Masvidal rematch, women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko faces ex-strawweight champion Jessica Andrade.
And another former holder of the strawweight belt, Rose Namajunas, will take on current champion Zhang Weili in Florida.
More than 15,000 fans are expected and must complete a health questionnaire. They will be ‘encouraged’ to wear face masks, with more than 32,000 being provided free of charge to fans attending UFC 261 and UFC 262, in Houston on 15 May.
“There’s been a lot of monumental moments in my career, and this is one of them,” said UFC president White. “It’s a big night, not only for the fighters and the UFC, but for all sport in general.”