Jorge Masvidal: UFC fighter’s rise from Miami street fighting scene

Jorge Masvidal: UFC fighter’s rise from Miami street fighting scene

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Jorge Masvidal relaxed and leaned back against the cage wall, his hands placed nonchalantly behind him. He smiled across at his opponent, calm and quiet. It was in complete contrast to what was about to happen.

The atmosphere at UFC 239 in Las Vegas was subdued when the referee called for the welterweight bout between Masvidal and Ben Askren to get under way last July.

Only murmurs of conversation and the odd whistle of support for the two American fighters could be heard from fans watching at ringside. That all changed in seconds, as a brutal smacking sound ripped throughout the arena

That sound was Masvidal’s flying knee knocking Askren out, sending him falling to the canvas as stiff and motionless as a toppled statue. More than 18,000 spectators erupted, united in an outpouring of deafening roars and expressions of shock.

At five seconds, Jorge Masvidal had delivered the fastest knockout in UFC history.

It was a career-defining moment which has elevated the 35-year-old from Miami to the height of his sport. Masvidal is now one of the biggest MMA stars in the world.

And yet, up until that night in Vegas his life and career had largely been defined by a very different type of fighting, in a vastly distant scene.

The story of that transformation begins outside a sun-baked yard behind a laundrette in Miami, 16 years ago.

Short presentational grey line
Masvidal is just waiting. The yard where he’s standing is usually empty, but on this day it’s brimming with people. There’s an eager crowd gathered around two shirtless men about to engage in a mutual combat bare-knuckle fight.

One of the fighters is known as ‘Ray’. He’s built up a fearsome reputation street fighting in this Florida city. He’s six feet tall and weighs around 200 pounds. The fight gets started, and Ray soon clubs his opponent to the concrete ground with a huge right hand.

The crowd bellows in excitement, the bout is quickly over. Ray has won, but he’s not finished yet. He looks over towards the ponytailed Masvidal and demands for him to step inside the yard. The main event is on.

“There was never any animosity,” Masvidal tells BBC Sport. “It was just fierce competition and two guys going at it. If I’d lost, I would have gone over to him, shook his hand and hugged him.”

Masvidal was sat in a McDonalds drive-through when he got the phone call asking if he wanted to fight Ray. The call came from the late Kimbo Slice, a former MMA fighter and boxer who rose to popularity in 2003 by uploading his mutual combat street fights to YouTube. Masvidal drove to the other side of Miami to face Ray that very same day.

“Me and Kimbo, rest in peace, we used to train at the same gym,” says Masvidal.

“He’d already seen me working out and we built up a little bit of a connection after talking a couple of times. That’s when he asked if I’d like to fight in his backyard. The rest is history.”

Masvidal started competing in mutual combat street fights from the age of 14. He was 18 when he took that fight with Ray, in 2004, and he beat him again in a rematch around a year later.

Mutual combat is when two people consensually engage in a fight while not hurting bystanders or damaging property. There is no official law in Florida forbidding it, but it remains a grey area and participants could be charged with various crimes on a case-by-case basis.

Masvidal says he never had any concerns about the legalities around street fighting and mutual combat. He was more than aware, however, of its unpredictable nature.

“I never worried about getting in trouble – we’d both signed up for the same thing,” he says.

“I never wanted to seriously hurt anybody, but a backyard fight, you can’t control it at all and the things that can happen after the fight are scary. Somebody’s friend might get mad, and they might have a knife, or a gun, and there’s no doctors or nurses around.

“A professional fight is much safer because your mind is in a totally different place.”

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