Masvidal’s rough road to the UFC

There is no one path that leads a man or woman to the

Octagon.

Over the years, innumerable avenues and backgrounds and

experiences have intersected and filtered those that write the

words “professional fighter” in the box label

“Occupation” on their tax returns, census forms, and

doctors office questionnaires.

We’ve seen plenty of former college wrestlers and

competitors with a background in one (or more) of the traditional

martial arts. The new breed of fighters is a bunch of

twentysomethings that have been training in various disciplines

with slant towards MMA application from the get-go.

There have been former football players, Olympic medalists in

wrestling and judo, former dancers, self-taught tough guys that

never lasted very long, and James Toney.

Jorge Masvidal’s path to a career in mixed martial arts

weaved through the same backyard street-fighting scene in Miami,

Florida that helped turn a former high school football player named

Kevin Ferguson into an Internet sensation named “Kimbo

Slice.”

While the rise, fall, comeback, and final departure of Kimbo has

already played out in a series of moments that are memorable for

all the wrong reasons, Masvidal’s trajectory to this point in

his career has remained mostly under the radar to casual fans.

Ardent followers of the sport, those who devour anything and

everything to do with combat sports, have seen the two grainy

videos where the now 28-year-old UFC lightweight trades

bare-knuckled punches and the occasional kick with a Kimbo

protégé known simply as Ray.

They watched his rise from the regional circuit through Bellator

and towards the top of the 155-pound weight class in Strikeforce,

the latter portion of which was documented as part of the

short-lived (but extremely well-crafted) series, Miami Hustle.

Upset wins over the previously unbeaten Billy Evangelista and

former champion K.J. Noons elevated “Gamebred” into a

title match-up with Gilbert Melendez, that ultimately went the way

of the champion, but Masivdal hung tough throughout, giving

“El Nino” the best fight he’d had outside of his

battles with Josh Thomson.

Nine months after getting back into the win column, the American

Top Team product made his UFC debut, earning a unanimous decision

win over Tim Means on the preliminary portion of the UFC on FOX 7

card from “The Shark Tank” in San Jose, California.

Though it wasn’t his best performance, the victory gave UFC

fans their introduction to the former street fighter, and set him

on a course towards bigger fights with bigger names in the deep and

talented lightweight division.

After enduring extended breaks between fights during his second

tour of duty with Strikeforce, the born and raised Miami, Florida

resident climbs back into the cage for the second time in three

months on Saturday night, filling in for Reza Madadi against former

Ultimate Fighter winner Michael Chiesa in the final bout of the

UFC

on FOX 8 televised preliminary card.

Climbing the divisional ladder is as much about performance as

it is about recognition and visibility; some would even argue that

the latter two elements carry more weight, and it would be hard to

disagree. That’s what made stepping into this match-up with

Chiesa such an easy decision for the laid back South Florida-based

fighter.

Though not necessarily the biggest name in the division, a bout

with Chiesa represents an opportunity to square off with someone

who already is an established name within the UFC fan base. While

the prime real estate on FX was initially meant to serve as a

chance to put the undefeated Chiesa in the spotlight, don’t

think for a minute that Masvidal won’t use this chance to

claim the stage as his own, and look to vault himself into

contention in the 155-pound ranks.

In a division with a number of fighters that stand out thanks to

their signature style in the cage, Masvidal’s quiet,

technical boxing is backed by underrated wrestling and

doesn’t stand out, but it’s proven to be exceptionally

effective. He out-struck both Noons and Evangelista, two fighters

thought to be the superior strikers in those pairings, and showed

his ability to exploit a weakness by repeatedly putting Means on

the canvas last time out.

As Chiesa said in a recent interview with UFC.com,

“He’s very composed, he’s very seasoned, and

he’s well-traveled.”

Composed and technical doesn’t necessarily excite the

larger fan base, a collective that craves highlight reel finishes

and larger than life personalities. Masvidal doesn’t

necessarily give you either, but that doesn’t preclude him

from being a legitimate contender in the talent-rich lightweight

division.

He is an impressive, technical fighter, with the kind of quiet

confidence that could explode into a roar at any given moment. The

showman crept out as he continued to distance himself against Noons

when they fought in Strikeforce, and shows through in the way

he’s been dismissive of Chiesa’s chances on Saturday

night when asked about the bout by the media.

Although his climb from the regional circuit to the biggest

stage in the sport was a slow burn that is just now starting to

smoke, he comes from a phenomenal team and possesses the skill set

to become an impact addition to the roster in the very near future.

And now that he’s fighting on a much more steady, consistent

schedule, Masvidal expects to breakthrough to the next level sooner

rather than later.

““When I stay busy, I become a different athlete.

When I’m competing three, four times a year, I’m on my game,”

he told Jordan Newmark of UFC.com in advance of this fight.

“Now that I’m in the UFC, I’m going to be competing three,

four times a year, I’m going to hit my stride, things are going to

open up, and I’m going to show people what I can really

do.”

That next opportunity comes Saturday night in front of what is

sure to be a pro-Chiesa audience, but that won’t make any

difference to the man they call “Gamebred.”

In his mind, he’s on another level than his opponent, and

this weekend is a chance to prove it to everyone else. You may not

have seen him coming, but now that he’s arrived, don’t

expect Masvidal to go away any time soon.