Jorge Masvidal is an expert in the world of fighting, both in and out of the cage. The sole possessor of UFC’s BMF title, Masvidal challenges Kamaru Usman this Saturday for the welterweight championship at UFC 261.
The bout will take place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., roughly 350 miles away from Masvidal’s home in Miami. Yet the distance from the present to his past can hardly be measured, two separate entities orbiting in a drastically different universe.
Masvidal’s pro MMA career began with a victory against Brandon Bledsoe in May of 2003, but the 36-year-old cannot recall a time when he was not fighting. That included his home life, fighting to find food to eat and a safe space to sleep, as well as the explosive, life-threatening world of street fights.
“It’s definitely a different environment from the civilized, sanctioned events,” says Masvidal. “Especially when you’ve got two bugged out mother******, s*** could just happen.”
In street fighting, there are bets being placed, Masvidal says, with each fighter typically arriving with his own group of supporters. Adding another layer of complexity was that a win did not always equal victory.
“Who’s to say the other side isn’t upset when they lose?” says Masvidal. “It could quickly escalate.”
Firmly entrenched in that dangerous realm, Masvidal broke away after hearing unprompted support from one of the coaches he knew from the gym.
“My coaches are a big reason I turned my life around,” says Masvidal. “That day it was Paulino Hernandez, who is still my striking coach and like a father to me. He’d heard about the street fights, and he pulled me aside. People knew I had talent, I had good hand speed, good hand-eye coordination, but I really didn’t have anyone behind me. He was the first to pull me aside and said, ‘You have a gift. You can be a world champion. But you have to stop all that other stuff.’ He said he’d train me, but I needed to leave everything else behind and stop wasting my talent. That hit my soul.”
Success did not magically occur overnight, but continued support from his coaches buoyed Masvidal in his climb to stardom.
“My coaches have been with me for over 14 years,” says Masvidal. “They gave me everything they have for me to take it to the next level. All through the grind, they’ve been behind me.”
With his loyal team beside him, Masvidal now approaches his toughest challenge in the cage. He lost by unanimous decision last summer to Usman, failing in his quest to dethrone the champ after taking the fight on only six days’ notice. He still seeks that elusive reign as UFC Welterweight Champion, but that won’t be easy with an incredible force like Usman standing in his way.
Overcoming obstacles is seemingly second nature for Masvidal. He knows that a bout against Usman will never come close to the obstacles he's gone through to arrive at this point. Even the toughest 25 minutes in the cage cannot compare to his early years, particularly those sweltering Miami summer nights sleeping in his Chevrolet Bonneville beside Mia, his beloved pitbull.
“It wasn’t always necessarily that I was homeless,” says Masvidal. “A lot of time, it was just budget cuts. If I had enough rent for six months, that meant I could use that money and have enough food for the year. So I said f*** it and slept in my car.
“I couldn’t keep the car running the whole night, so it was hot. But even if the seat belt was sticking into my ribs, I’d still make it to practice the next morning. I kept telling myself, don’t nobody want it more than me.”
Masvidal found his solace and salvation in the gym, a sanctuary where he pushed himself to heights he previously never imagined.
“My home life wasn’t the best,” says Masvidal. “My safe place, my temple, was the gym. That’s where I found peace. I would go three, four hours straight, and I wouldn’t even notice the time pass. And the worse my life got on the outside, the better it felt in the gym. Rain, snow, good days, bad days, I was always at the gym.”
The gym remains a haven for Masvidal, a place to learn new skills, push himself, perfect his technique, and as made evident by his workouts, take nothing for granted.
“People say I’m an overnight sensation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Masvidal. “The years this has taken me to get noticed, the sweat and the tears, the miles I’ve had to run and the bags I’ve had to hit, it’s all brought me here.
“I do whatever it takes. I don’t like running sprints. Yes, I’m tired–yes, I’m hurt. But there is a benefit. I need that half of a percent to get to the next level. And that’s where I am going.”
A requisite to catapult himself to that next level is defeating Usman this Saturday. With a full training to prepare, Masvidal likes his chances.
“That’s what I’m working to do, reach that next level,” says Masvidal. “I’m coming to fight with all my being, with all my essence. It’s going to pay off on Saturday.”
With the beguiling charm of a game bred fighter, Masvidal vowed that the difference in this Saturday’s fight will be his unbreakable will.
“Instead of investing all my energy on running through the desert to sweat and make weight, all my energy is focused on breaking Usman’s face,” says Masvidal. “I’m going to give all I can to break his f******* face.”