Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole picks the winner of Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz headline UFC 244 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz headline UFC 244 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

There have been a few fighters in combat sports history who were so able to get into their opponents’ heads, they had the fight won before the first bell ever sounded.

This was never more true than in the case of former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, one of the greatest punchers in the sport’s history who wasn’t averse to saying he’d like to shove his opponent’s nose into his brain.

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It happened in the UFC during Ronda Rousey’s reign atop the women’s bantamweight division, when she was winning fights in seconds. Her opponents were fried mentally and easy prey for the champion.

There are times in his career when Nate Diaz had the same kind of impact upon opponents. He’s so street, he’s so real, that he makes himself a larger-than-life figure to some of the guys he’s fought. With his willingness to walk through just about anything in order to unleash his attack and the conditioning of a superb triathlete, he’s been able to overwhelm opponents.

But if there is one man who shouldn’t be overwhelmed by that it is Jorge Masvidal, who will face Diaz on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, PPV) in the main event of UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden for what is being dubbed the BMF, or Baddest Mother[expletive], title.

President Donald Trump will be in attendance to watch; former pro wrestling champion and popular action-movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will attend and put the belt on the winner.

At SportsBook USA, bettors have been on Diaz. Masvidal opened there as a minus-180 favorite, but is now down to minus-150.

Diaz is the physically bigger fighter and he’s undoubtedly going to be the one pressing forward as the fight begins. Masvidal can’t allow Diaz to get his jab working, nor can he afford to let Diaz flurry frequently.

Because his conditioning is so elite, Diaz can work at a rate few others can match. He’ll throw and throw and throw, and while he’s not the most heavy-handed fighter, those clean shots eventually take their toll.

Diaz creates a mental pressure on his opponents with his constant attacks. That leads to anxiety in many cases and can negatively impact conditioning.

He’s an accurate puncher, as well, and so opponents take a litany of damage against him.

But going to the ground is never a good idea because he’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. He quickly and easily submitted Conor McGregor the first time they went to the floor at UFC 196.

Masvidal, who has won 34 fights but only two by submission, can’t afford to play a straight boxing game with Diaz. He has to at least threaten a takedown, and needs to use the low kick to discourage Diaz.

It will be incumbent upon Masvidal to be versatile, and be prepared to attack with his hands in a number of different ways. Diaz has long arms and often overextends when he punches, and he can be susceptible in those instances to an uppercut.

This will, in many ways, be a highly tactical fight. It’s the kind of bout in which Diaz excels.

McGregor is a more dynamic striker than Masvidal, and Diaz was able to out-strike McGregor for long stretches in their rematch, especially in the second half of the bout when he recovered from an early knockdown.

For as aggressive as Masvidal is, though, he’ll need to look to slow the pace at some points just so he’ll be able to go hard in the championship rounds.

The guess here is that Diaz will use his volume punching to bust up Masvidal. Masvidal won’t back down and that will open him to being finished.

The more likely scenario, though is that Diaz pops his hands repeatedly into Masvidal’s face like a form of Chinese water torture. Masvidal will slow and Diaz should take a decision.

Masvidal is a smart enough fighter to stop Diaz, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he caught Diaz with a left hook-right hand combination that ends the fight.

But I’ll go with the Chinese water torture and figure Diaz wears Masvidal down like a python against an alligator and wins it by decision with a late submission possible.

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