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UFC 287: Preview – Is Masvidal still motivated?

MIAMI, FLORIDA – APRIL 06: Jorge Masvidal is seen on stage during the UFC 287 press conference at Miami-Dade Arena on April 06, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday Jorge Masvidal was the biggest star in all of MMA. In other ways, it feels like it was an eternity ago. Masvidal, one half of the co-main event of UFC 287, played the game correctly on his way up. It wasn’t just the image change to Street Jesus or the “three piece and a soda.” Of course, those were huge catalysts, but it was also visibility – he fought three times in 2019 – favorable matchups, and securing highlight reel finishes.

Now, he may still be the reigning BMF, but Masvidal needs a victory in the worst way to stay relevant. Sure, casual fans still recognize his name, but his fight with Gilbert Burns may be the least interesting main card fight for many.

The good times have been few and far between for Masvidal since he claimed the BMF title over Nate Diaz. Well, at least in terms of his professional fighting career. Masvidal was able to turn his star power into a pair of title fights and co-headlining a PPV in a non-title fight, a rarity nowadays. That isn’t mentioning his successful boxing promotion he started. But Masvidal hasn’t tasted victory since stopping Diaz. In fact, he hasn’t even come close. 

Masvidal’s star power was attained without fighting for a belt. He only had one chance if he wanted to fight up and Kamaru Usman was a terrible stylistic matchup for him. So was Colby Covington. It’s been no secret that Masvidal’s Achilles heel since moving to welterweight has been powerful wrestlers as Masvidal’s lanky frame isn’t ideal for stuffing takedowns. After all, he fought at lightweight for a long time for that very reason.

Burns isn’t the wrestler that either Usman or Covington is, but he’s not a slouch either.

After all, he got the takedowns he needed versus Stephen Thompson, becoming the first to do so against Thompson in a non-title fight in nine years. More importantly, Burns is fantastic at keeping his opponents on the mat with his world-class grappling. Burns has become well-versed enough with his striking that many have forgotten it was his grappling credentials that made many so excited for his MMA future in the first place.

Granted, Masvidal isn’t a slouch on the mat himself.  We don’t consider anyone sees him as a serious threat to submit Masvidal, but it has been well over a decade since Masvidal was submitted. Masvidal has fought some noted grapplers in that time too, including Demian Maia.

Unfortunately, Masvidal can never be completely written off. He is one of the best pure boxers in MMA with an air of unpredictability. Even his demeanor has proven difficult to read. Remember how casual he looked against the cage before putting Askren out? Burns has been improving his striking, but that could allow for him to develop a false sense of security that he can strike with him. He can probably hang with Masvidal, but why allow for that when everyone knows Burns is the superior ground fighter? Unfortunately, fighters are egotistical. 

Masivdal’s age, inactivity, and heavy mileage has me leaning heavily towards Burns. Burns isn’t that much younger than Masvidal, but he’s been much more active. Additionally, while Burns has a combat sports background prior to MMA, grappling isn’t as hard on the body as Masvidal’s street fighting background. We can’t feign to know Masvidal’s motivations to continue fighting either, but even if he’s revved up to keep fighting at a high level, Burns is a terrible stylistic matchup for him.

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