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For Jorge Masvidal, he can’t get enough of this ‘drug called fighting’

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UFC 217: Thompson v Masvidal Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

If there’s one thing we know about Jorge Masvidal, it’s that he’s not a guy who believes in tune-up fights. Though he’s been out of action for nearly a year-and-a-half, his return will come against England’s oversized welterweight Darren Till. Not only is Till fighting with a chip on his shoulder after losing his title bid against Tyron Woodley, he’s fighting back at home in England, where the partisan crowd is ready to celebrate a return to form.

Even given all those factors, Masvidal never hesitated when he got the call.

“I’ve been waiting to get back in here and kick some ass,” he told MMA Fighting this week. “I asked for the toughest, best fights to my management, to my coaches. They said, ‘Maybe we’ll take one to break you in nice and easy.’ I said nah, I don’t need that — a fish doesn’t need swimming lessons to get back in the water. I don’t need no f*cking warm up. I want the biggest fight, no matter where it’s at. Some people might not like to fight Till in their comeback fight in London, but those people ain’t fighters, man.”

Masvidal has always been a fighter’s fighter, the guy who competes as frequently as the circumstances will allow, regardless how foolhardy or ill advised. By now we know he took bare-knuckle back-alley fights as a youth coming up in South Florida for free, but what you forget is that his is a quest to control chaos. He loves mixing it up with some dangerous so-and-so if it means he can tune him up with a wicked counter off some solid footwork.

He’s got that scrapper’s mentality, but he’s not a brawler. He’s a tactician who improvises and flows and — if things go his way — ends up clocking his opposition with something satisfyingly brutal. It’s all built on discipline, but it’s also build on a love of trading punches and all the nuances therein. He doesn’t want a war so much as he wants a beautifully executed, mean-seeming rout.

“I like just fighting period, man, so I love it actually,” he says. “As long as I get taken care of with basic things, like they pay for my hotel, flight, and food, you can take me to Pluto and I’m going to beat whoever the champion’s ass is over there. I just like to fight, man. The place doesn’t really bother me.”

It hasn’t always gone his way. Before his recent hiatus, Masvidal had lost a couple of fights in a row, a split-decision loss to Demian Maia and a decision to Stephen Thompson. Since then he’s been champing at the bit to get back in there, but there were factors. For starters, though he’s always expressed himself very well and called out a number of fighters, he had trouble finding a dance partner. Then, just before last summer, he got the opportunity to participate in a reality show.

He spent 13 weeks competing on Exatlon Estados Unidos, a kind of competitive Survivor meats Gladiators set-up that contained all the extreme flavor of fighting without having to take any damage. He took the forced isolation and all the attendant challenges in stride and used his time away from fighter as a chance to refuel.

“I missed it a lot but [the time off] was much needed,” he says. “I’ve been fighting professionally since I was 18, and I’ve been doing three or four fights a year, just doing camp after camp. And it’s not that it’s so many fights a year, because we could be doing more fights. Looking back on my career, if I would have been doing a little different with the training, I could have been doing six or seven fights a year. But it’s the training camps that break you down, where you really accumulate those injuries and keep pounding on those injuries day in and day out.”

Masvidal said the time away afforded him a chance to rehab some lingering injuries and get right with his training — meaning, get smarter and more efficient. What he didn’t need was to rediscover his want of fighting. That’s always been there. He has been jonesing for that moment that Bruce Buffer yells “Gamebred” into the microphone.

And he cherishes the idea of a cascade of boos from 10,000 throaty partisans.

“I just like that,” he says. “I like taking the air out of everybody. I’ve done it a couple of times before. I’ve fought in hostile territory many times. They’re booing you, they’re talking shit, they’re very amped about you losing. I probably shouldn’t say it in an interview, but shit, I steal all that energy and use it against their champion. They can do what they want, but I feed off that energy and I use it, and I’m ready to kick some ass.”

Masvidal has done it long enough that he can make assessments sound fairly simplistic. When asked about Till, who was undefeated heading into his fight with Woodley, he says casually, “I haven’t seen too much of the dude, but I’ve seen two or three fights of him, and he’s big and he’s got pop — that’s it.”

When asked about exploiting weaknesses — such as deficiencies in perhaps wrestling and grappling — Masvidal maintains the old “control what you can control” line of wisdom.

“My coaches watch the tape and tell me what to do, but I just focus on me,” he says. “It’s a fight, so I’ll be doing everything, whatever comes to mind. I really don’t have strategies when I go into a fight, a lot of times it’s just let it flow. Go out and have fun. Be in the best shape possible, have all my tools sharpened out, and go and take somebody’s head off. That’s what I’m going to do, is cut through this guy’s insides and get my victory.”

One cageside observer for Saturday’s fight at London’s O2 Arena will be the UFC’s newly acquired welterweight, Ben Askren, who is coming off a controversial victory over Robbie Lawler at UFC 235. His presence is telegraphed: Askren will be on hand to challenge the winner of Masvidal’s fight with Till.

Which is fine by Masvidal, though if there’s another thing we know about him it’s that he’s not about to sugarcoat his thoughts.

“He’s got too big of a mouth, man, and he didn’t do anything to back it up,” Masvidal says of Askren. “He didn’t choke out Robbie Lawler. I don’t know how you can choke somebody and you have a thumbs up sign. I get it, in the moment the adrenaline’s pumping and you don’t get to see the footage and you’re like, yeah, I choked him out.

Jorge Masvidal picked up a big win at UFC on FOX 23 on Saturday night. Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports

“But after you see the footage, and you see this man clearly throws up a thumbs up, and you’re getting gifted a win over a guy that’s done so much in this f*cking sport — man, and what Robbie’s done for this sport, and the weight class, and this organization and the fights that he’s been in — you owe him so much more respect than that, and consider that a win? You should get the rematch and be a man, and then talk about other people.”

However, Masvidal says he knows Askren and him will cross paths at some point and he suspects he knows exactly how that fight would go.

“He’s a little weasel as everybody knows, it’s the same way that he fights, just leaching on to whatever he can get,” he says. “He’s not going to fight. He’s not going to throw a blow and try to hurt anybody, so I don’t really think anything of him. But our time will come to fight, though, at some point. I don’t know if it’ll be after the Till fight or not, but at some point I will break his face.”

For a guy who’s been fighting in sanctioned and unsanctioned fights for half his life, against grapplers, punchers, wrestlers, and area toughs, in cages, rings, alleys, and boatyards, Masvidal remains that fighter’s fighter. His brand of trash-talking always veers more towards street dignity and defiance, but he reveres fight night exactly the same as he did all the way back when he was competing in the AFC in Fort Lauderdale some 15 years ago. He still says he gets the high that comes with dodging and returning limbs.

Now at 34 years old, how long would Masvidal like to keep playing the game? He was bred for this. Stack the odds against him and give him the chance to punch somebody and he’s at peace with the world.

“I’ve got four years of great performances left in me,” he says. “I’m not involved in too many wars, where I’m just constantly getting hit, hit, hit. And that’s not going to change either in these next four years, I’m still going to continue to be a slick fighter that likes to fight and make people miss and hit them. I think I’ve got a good four years ahead of me.

“After that, if the money’s holding in and I can’t say no to the money and it’s a lot of money, that’d be different. But I see myself at about 38, then I need to find a new roller-coaster, because this has been the funnest roller-coaster that I’ve ever ridden on, this drug called fighting.”