Jorge Masvidal dearly loved to fight, but is now loving promoting fights

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: Jorge Masvidalstands in his corner prior to his welterweight bout for the BMF title against Nate Diaz during the UFC 244 event at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Former UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal is promoting a bareknuckle MMA bout Sept. 9 in Jacksonville, Florida, between ex-UFC champions Junior dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum. (Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

For Jorge Masvidal, nothing could — or can — compare to stepping into a cage or a ring and fighting another man. It gave him an indescribable rush, and his passion for what he did helped make him one of the most popular fighters of his time.

Masvidal’s time taking and throwing punches has come and gone. He retired after losing to Gilbert Burns at UFC 287 on April 8 in his hometown of Miami.

His retirement didn’t end his association with the fight game, though. If anything, it’s increasing now that he has more time to devote to it as a promoter.

Masvidal has partnered with veteran promoter Dean Toole, and they have three brands: Ikon MMA, Gamebred Barenuckle MMA and Gamebred Boxing. They put on a boxing match between the legendary Roy Jones Jr. and Anthony Pettis earlier this year, and on Sept. 8 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, they’ll stage a bareknuckle MMA card headlined by former UFC heavyweight champions Junior dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum.

Masvidal has the instincts of a promoter, clearly. He was among the best at promoting his own fights, and now, as a promoter, he has that instinctive feel. He was explaining the subtleties that make bareknuckle MMA different from the regular gloved version of the sport when dos Santos popped into his head.

“I was watching JDS’ open workouts, and some of his sparring sessions, and he looks f***ing phenomenal, man,” Masvidal said, sounding every bit like Dana White or Scott Coker. “He’s fast, he’s explosive and I saw him do five good rounds. His conditioning is great. I was like, ‘Man, this guy’s looking phenomenal.’ His wrestling is looking good, you know?”

There’s a lot more to being a promoter than just selling the media on the shows, but Masvidal clearly has that part down.

Bareknuckle MMA favors grapplers, he said, because the gloves don’t get in the way of submission attempts like he said they can do in traditional MMA. Werdum was knocked out by dos Santos in 1:20 of the first round when they met at UFC 90 outside Chicago on Oct. 25, 2008.

CHICAGO,IL - OCTOBER 25:  Junior dos Santos (white shorts) def. Fabricio Werdum (black/white shorts) - TKO - 1:21 round 1 during the UFC 90 at Allstate Arena on October 25,2008 in Chicago,Illinois. (Photo by: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Junior dos Santos, right, knocked out Fabricio Werdum in 2008 near Chicago. On Sept. 9, they'll rematch in Jorge Masvidal's Gamebred Bareknuckle MMA. (Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

“In the grappling aspect, when you don’t have the tape, the gauze and then the gloves, it makes it harder to get into certain positions [while going for a submission],” Masvidal said. “These gloves are bigger and you’ve got three, four inches [going upward] like that. There’s certain positions I can’t get the glove in. … So what we see in bareknuckle MMA is that we see the number of submissions go through the roof.”

Masvidal loves talking about MMA, but he’s also fallen for the other responsibilities the job entails. He finds his matchmaking meetings invigorating. He said he’s close to closing a great fight for his Gamebred boxing series, and so badly wanted to discuss it, but wanted to wait until it was done.

The back-and-forth of how a prospective fight might go invigorates him, and talking with the fighters and trying to get them on board is a challenge he relishes.

Former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov began an MMA promotion, Eagle FC, but it didn’t last long and he’s moved on to other things.

Masvidal, though, said this could be a long-term gig for him and not just because of the potential to make significant money. He wouldn’t have said this long ago, but being able to remain involved in the sports he loves gets him up in the mornings.

“If you would have asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have been, ‘Oh no, no, when I’m done fighting, I’m going to go do something else because I’m going to be so tired of it,’” Masvidal said. “But no, man, I could do this every day. I could sit in the matchmaker meetings and say, ‘Who are we going to have against who? Oh yeah, I like it, let me call this guy.’ This world for me is as close as I could get to having a job that I’m in love with other than fighting.”

The card will be streamed for free live beginning at 6 p.m. ET on Sept. 8 on the Gamebred Bareknuckle MMA YouTube page.