When Gilbert Burns was pulled from the UFC 251 main event after testing positive for COVID-19, Jorge Masvidal immediately threw his name out as a possible replacement.
Of course, Masvidal volunteering didn’t mean the fight would actually happen, especially after he failed to come to terms with the UFC previously when a fight against welterweight champion Kamaru Usman was planned for this summer.
Once Burns was out, however, the UFC returned to the negotiating table but even then the deal didn’t get done in rapid-fire fashion.
“As of Friday night, we definitely didn’t have a deal done,” Masvidal’s manager Malki Kawa told MMA Fighting. “As of Saturday morning, we didn’t have a deal done so it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. About noon time, I want to say 12:30 or so, Jorge shows up at my house, we’re having a 4th of July barbecue.
“We’re hanging out and talking and as soon as he walked in the house he said ‘they’re not moving on the fight?’ and I said no, not at all. He was like ‘what the f*ck’s wrong with these guys?’ something to that effect.”
At that point, Kawa decided to contact the UFC again to see if all sides come come together to get a deal done to put Masvidal into the main event on “Fight Island.”
“I picked up the phone, called over there, I got Hunter Campbell on the phone and we started talking,” Kawa explained. “It was me, him and Jorge on the phone at first. Then [my brother] Abraham showed up like 30 or 45 minutes later, we just put our heads together between Hunter, my brother, myself and Jorge and we started hashing this whole thing out.
“Before you know it, it started looking a certain way so then there’s the [COVID-19] testing, so I got them tested. Other things started popping up as far as the logistics, charters, all this stuff but as we started to talk it through, we started to really believe we could get this done. Then we got it done and everything else is obviously history.”
Prior to the agreement reached for this fight, Masvidal had gone on a very public campaign taking shots at the UFC for what he perceived as a lowball offer not to mention the “take it or leave it” nature to negotiations.
His manager was much more optimistic that eventually they’d find a middle ground with the UFC but he also knew it would take time to find a place where everyone was happy.
“I’ll say this, I was never worried about getting a deal done,” Kawa said. “I really believe in God’s plan and everything really has its time. If what he was asking for and what he wanted wasn’t in the plans at that time for them and when you take a step back to look at this thing, let’s be honest it’s not normal times. They’re chartering planes to go to Abu Dhabi. They’ve got to build this island out. Think about what they’re doing.
“If you really analyze the amount of expenditures they had for this ‘Fight Island,’ the fact that COVID was going on, the fact that there’s no gate, you could understand why they’re a little hesitant to start writing checks. You can’t blame them for doing things a certain way. I was never mad at them. That’s one thing I liked hearing from Jorge and the UFC, none of this was personal. Everybody was cool with everybody. It was just business.”
Kawa says the initial negotiations several weeks ago broke down after Masvidal took the offer as a sign of “disrespect” and it was clear they would not be able to come to an agreement.
While it was a very public battle, Kawa promises it never got personal but he continued to have dialogue with the UFC in hopes that the fighter and the promotion could come to terms. Obviously, the circumstances to get a deal done weren’t ideal considering Masvidal is ultimately taking a title fight on six days’ notice but Kawa says they “couldn’t be happier with how everything played out.”
“I thought it was a fair deal,” Kawa stated. “That said, Masvidal deserves all the respect for stepping up. Six days’ notice for a title fight, biggest fight of your career to date. I think that this is a really big deal and if you see the reaction to it, I think it’s a huge deal. Masvidal deserves all the props in the world because a lot of guys in his position won’t take a fight on short notice when they have to cut all that weight and do what they have to do to get there.
“That’s why he holds the baddest motherfker belt. I don’t care about his losses, all that other talk. He holds that ‘BMF’ belt because only bad motherfkers do what Masvidal does.”
One thing that Kawa wants to make abundantly clear about the new UFC 251 main event is that while Masvidal is much happier about his pay, accepting the fight on July 11 was not solely about cashing a bigger check.
After putting in weeks of training in preparation for what he believed would be his title opportunity at UFC 251, Masvidal was fully confident that he would beat Usman. Kawa promises Masvidal’s demeanor has not diminished one bit despite the odd circumstances with how the fight finally came together.
“Let me just say this to you — this was not a money grab,” Kawa said. “I’m not going to put my fighter in a bad predicament. If we don’t have a lot to win, we’re not going to do it. If it’s just money, then that’s on the fighter, but I’m not going to be OK with it.
“Masvidal not only is confident he’s going to win, he’s confident he’s going to knock him out. He’s confident he’s going to finish him within the first three rounds. For anyone to think that Jorge is coming off the couch just to fight this guy for money — they asked us to step in because they knew he was training. He stopped the camp but he didn’t stop training. He kept training. I’m confident in Jorge Masvidal. If he wins, I will not be surprised nor will I be shocked. The only thing that might be shocking is the fashion in which he finishes it.”