Ever since mixed martial arts have been legalized in New York State, UFC has made an effort to do an annual large show at Madison Square Garden. The first time, it was Conor McGregor becoming a “Champ-Champ,” dethroning lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. The next year it was MMA legend Georges St-Pierre returning to win a belt off of Michael Bisping. Last year, Daniel Cormier built on his legacy, making his first heavyweight championship defense against Derrick Lewis. This year is a little different.
Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz will headline the show, although a belt with lineage won’t be on the line. Instead, a new belt is being introduced, and will be awarded to the “BMF (Baddest M*****F*****).” Along with the main event is also a stacked card, even down to the preliminary portion. Celebrating their 500th show, live from Madison Square Garden on Saturday, here’s a look at UFC 244.
Bout 1: Julio Arce (16-3) vs. Hakeem Dawodu (10-1-1) (Featherweight)
The evening will begin on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 PM EDT with a battle of two featherweight prospects. Julio Arce and Hakeem Dawodu are both currently with a 3-1 record in the UFC. Dawodu most recently finished Yoshinori Horie with a head kick at UFC 240. Arce also finished his last fight with a head kick, defeating Julian Erosa in the third round. This will be Arce’s second appearance at Madison Square Garden.
Bout 2: Lyman Good (20-5) vs. Chance Rencountre (14-3) (Welterweight)
The welterweight division has a real pick-em bout between Lyman Good and Chance Rencountre on the prelims. While being the more experienced fighter, Good is returning from a loss to Demian Maia. Rencountre hasn’t faced anyone big like Maia yet, but is currently on a two-fight winning streak.
Bout 3: Katlyn Chookagian (12-2) vs. Jennifer Maia (17-5-1) (Catchweight 127 lbs)
While only being in the UFC for three years, Katlyn Chookagian has racked up an impressive promotional record of 5-2. She attempts to better that against Jennifer Maia, who is currently riding a victory against Roxanne Modafferi. Maia missed weight on Friday by one pound, causing the fight to be moved from flyweight to a catchweight bout.
Bout 4: Andrei Arlovski (28-18) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (8-0) (Heavyweight)
At 8 PM EDT, the broadcast will move to TSN 5 for four final preliminary bouts. The first of the four is between Andrei Arlovski and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Arlovski recently snapped a winless streak of four bouts by defeating Ben Rothwell. While experience weighs heavily on Arlovski’s side, he will have to try to snap the undefeated record of Rozenstruik. The Suriname fighter has won twice via stoppage since joining the UFC. More notably, Rozenstruik finished Allen Crowder in nine seconds in June.
Bout 5: Brad Tavares (17-5) vs. Edmen Shahbazyan (10-0) (Middleweight)
Young and undefeated fighter Edmen Shahbazyan will see his biggest UFC challenge yet when he faces Brad Tavares on Saturday. Tavares is a UFC veteran who got into the promotion in 2010 by winning The Ultimate Fighter Season 11. To compare, Tavares has been in the UFC for six years more than Shahbazyan has been doing MMA. Tavares hasn’t fought in over a year, with his last fight being a decision loss against Israel Adesanya in July of 2018 (for reference, Adesanya has fought four times since then). Shahbazyan most recently finished Jack Marshman in just over a minute at UFC 239.
Bout 6: Shane Burgos (12-1) vs. Makwan Amirkhani (15-3) (Featherweight)
Two experienced UFC fighters in Shane Burgos and Makwan Amirkhani will face off on the prelims. Burgos is a New York fighter who competed on the MSG show last year as well. He most recently bested Cub Swanson in a split decision bout in May. Amirkhani has fought only half as many times as Burgos in the past three years, but is still a young and successful fighter. He defeated Chris Fishgold with an anaconda choke in June, sounding his return after a one year absence.
Bout 7: Corey Anderson (12-4) vs. Johnny Walker (17-3) (Light Heavyweight)
The preliminary card will finish off with Corey Anderson and Johnny Walker competing. Walker has become a famous name within the promotion due to his flashy KO victories. His most recent appearance, while being a cakewalk of a fight, sidelined him for some time. This was because his post-fight celebration which included falling on the canvas dislocated his shoulder. Anderson is a step up in competition for Walker. Anderson is on a three-fight winning streak, most recently beating Ilir Latifi. The majority of Anderson’s career has happened in the UFC, unlike Walker’s. Will Walker put on another memorable performance, or will Anderson out-wit the Brazilian’s dangerous flashes of offense?
Bout 8: Kevin Lee (17-5) vs. Gregor Gillespie (13-0) (Lightweight)
The main portion of the show will kick off at 10 PM EDT on pay-per-view. Starting the main card will be lightweight gatekeeper Kevin Lee facing undefeated Gregor Gillespie. Despite having a six-fight winning streak in the UFC and having never lost, Gillespie flies under the radar of many. It’s possible that a win over a name of Lee could finally give him attention. Lee is conditioned to fighting five round fights, having last done a three round fight in 2017. Lee is 2-3 in his last five, all up against fighters of a similar calibre.
Bout 9: Derrick Lewis (21-7) vs. Blagoy Ivanov (18-2) (Heavyweight)
While Derrick Lewis fights on the main card this year against Blagoy Ivanov, it’s a clear step down from main eventing, which he did in 2018. Lewis is on a two-fight losing streak, recently dropping to Junior dos Santos on the main event of a fight night card. Ivanov is considered an up-and-coming fighter within the division. He bounced back from his UFC debut loss by recently defeating Ben Rothwell and Tai Tuivasa.
Bout 10: Stephen Thompson (14-4-1) vs. Vicente Luque (17-6-1) (Welterweight)
Vincente Luque has been on the rise lately, defeating high level welterweights. Most recently, Luque got a split decision win over Mike Perry. He will look to add Stephen Thompson to his list of names on Saturday when they match up on the main card. Thompson has been absent since his knockout loss to Anthony Pettis. He also lost to Darren Till in the fight before then. He will aim to return to his winning ways against a seemingly unstoppable Luque.
Bout 11: Kelvin Gastelum (16-4) vs. Darren Till (17-2-1) (Middleweight)
Darren Till was an undefeated fighter a year ago that was near championship material. He was pushed into a fight against Tyron Woodley for the welterweight belt in 2018. The fight was one-sided, with Woodley ending Till’s championship hopes in under two rounds. Till then went against Jorge Masvidal in March, getting finished via punches in less time than his championship outing lasted. In hopes of finding success, Till moves down to middleweight for his fight against Kelvin Gastelum. The bout is no step down in competition, as Gastelum was the runner-up to face Robert Whittaker and unify the middleweight belts. He got bested by Israel Adesanya in April, losing via scorecards. Before then, Gastelum had wins over Michael Bisping and Jacare Souza.
Bout 12: Jorge Masvidal (34-13) vs. Nate Diaz (20-11) (Welterweight)
The main event of the show sees Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz face off in a five round competition. The winner receives the BMF Championship, a one-use belt to determine the “Baddest M*****F*****.”
Masvidal’s rise in popularity was quite out of left field. The welterweight has been in the game for longer than most people at this point, and has stayed at a mid-level or gatekeeper status for a long time. After a brutal victory over Darren Till in early 2019, Masvidal went viral with a flying knee knockout to Ben Askren. The knockout was brutal and online basically overshadowed the two championship bouts that happened that night as well.
The story of Nate Diaz lately is similar to his opponent. Diaz has been popular before, but his mid-2019 run could be described as a resurrection. After losing to Conor McGregor in 2016, Diaz disappeared until late 2018. He was scheduled to be on the 2018 MSG show, facing Dustin Poirier. That fell through after Poirier got injured, putting Diaz back on the bench. Diaz finally made his long-awaited return in the summer of 2019, defeating Anthony Pettis at UFC 241.
While it could be described as unexpected that these two fighters would headline one of the biggest cards of the year, their collision makes sense. Two fighters who are in the same division, both have charisma, both had a boom at a similar time, and are both considered real badasses.