Jorge Masvidal | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Jorge Masvidal was not always the model of success at the American Top Team gym.
During an appearance on The MMA Hour, ATT owner Dan Lambert remembered how he used to point to Masvidal’s career as a cautionary tale. Today, Masvidal is one of the biggest stars in all of MMA. The welterweight contender is set to meet Colby Covington in a main event grudge match this Saturday at UFC 272 in Las Vegas.
Lambert was asked if he was surprised at Masvidal’s eventual rise to stardom and he admitted that it was the last thing he expected given how the fighter was once regarded at the ATT gym.
“Absolutely stunned,” Lambert said. “Flabbergasted. I grabbed him one time at the gym when he was just doing things the wrong way and I grabbed a couple of the young guys, I said, ‘If you want to screw up your career, do what Jorge does. If you want to waste all the talent in the world like this guy has, do what Jorge does.’ I guess I was wrong.
“He tells the story that he went down there to South America and he did that reality show and he spent all that time under the stars thinking about it to himself and reinventing himself and figuring it out and cracking the code and I just thought he was full of s***. And man, he was right. Something clicked in him. He changed. He always had the talent, always had the ability. He’s a smart fighter. You don’t realize how athletic Jorge is unless you sit there and watch him do strength and conditioning next to other guys who have the more traditional studly, athletic body. Jorge blows guys away. He’s got the whole package. He just had never put it together and after a certain amount of time of not putting it together, you don’t think a guy’s ever gonna put it together again. So yeah, when he did it, I was pretty surprised.”
Lambert didn’t provide a time frame for when this humbling incident supposedly happened, but it was presumably during Masvidal’s UFC run from 2013 to 2017 where he established himself as a respected fighter that wasn’t considered much of a threat to contend for a title or headline pay-per-views. According to Lambert, Masvidal didn’t appear to take the criticism seriously at the time.
In his first 15 UFC fights, Masvidal went to a decision 11 times and he lost six of those encounters. Lambert speculates that Masvidal had a habit of not fighting up to his potential.
“It just seemed like one opportunity after another he would lose fights that he could win,” Lambert said. “It was always by split decision. Very rarely did you ever see Jorge get outclassed in a fight.
“Whether you’re fighting down to the level of competition or just doing enough to win or you’re out there just thinking, ‘Hey, I’m gonna make this guy miss and look bad because that’s cool,’ I don’t really know how to put my finger in it. He just was never living up to his talent because his talent is elite.”
After a decision loss to Stephen Thompson in November 2017, Masvidal returned to the octagon 16 months later and scored a highlight-reel knockout of Darren Till, who was fresh off of a UFC title fight. He followed that up with a now-legendary five-second flying knee knockout of Ben Askren and then won the “BMF” title by defeating Nate Diaz at UFC 244. His two attempts to wrest the UFC welterweight title from Kamaru Usman ended in losses, but Masvidal remains a legitimate box office draw.
This Saturday, he meets Covington in a rare PPV non-title main event, a bout that has been years in the making given the ongoing feud that stems from a former friendship turned sour. Lambert thinks the emotion surrounding the fight will actually be good for Masvidal’s performance.
“I think that plays to Jorge’s benefit,” Lambert said. “I think if you look over Jorge’s career, the times where he’s put on uninspiring performances are just kind of when he gets bored out there or just wants to see how good his defense is. Sometimes I’ve kind of referred to it as a boxing mentality where Floyd [Mayweather] can go out there and make the guy miss 99.9 percent of the shots and people are like, ‘He’s a master, he’s a maestro. Wow! How amazing was his defense?’ But you go out there and apply that to a three- or five-round MMA fight and people are like, that’s f******* boring and the guy who threw 10 times more punches even though he landed less still gets the nod.
“And I think that Jorge being so emotionally involved in this fight, I think it plays into him. I think he’s gonna go out there more aggressive and it’s going to behoove him.”
If Masvidal does vanquish his hated rival, it’s unclear what would be next for him. It’s doubtful he will get another shot at Usman anytime soon and his popularity has reached the point where he may consider opportunities outside of competing in MMA. Masvidal has already appeared alongside Lambert for the professional wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling and he recently launched two fight promotions, Gamebred Fighting Championship (a bare-knuckle organization) and iKON Fighting Championship.
Win or lose, Lambert expects Masvidal to continue to make big moves.
“I think Masvidal can do anything Masvidal wants,” Lambert said. “He’s unique. He’s got a lot of charisma. Everytime I talk to that guy he’s doing something crazier and crazier. I called him not that long ago and it was a funny ring and he answered, I’m like, ‘Were you out of the country somewhere?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m in Egypt.’ I’m like, ‘What the hell are you doing in Egypt?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I think we’re gonna do some fights right by the pyramids or something.’
“The guy’s just got that it factor. Everything fell into line with him and put some rocket fuel into his career and I wouldn’t be surprised if that guy did pro wrestling, I wouldn’t be surprised if that guy went on a run and ended up winning the welterweight title, I wouldn’t be surprised if that guy ended up going into politics. That guy can do a lot of things.”