Jorge Masvidal (photo courtesy of Sherdog)

The maturation process is something that progresses differently for each and every fighter, and for Jorge Masvidal it looks like everything is starting to fall into place.

“If you asked me before my last fight I would have said I’m the best I’ve ever been, but this time things are really different,” Masvidal said. “I’ve done some things and made some changes that have made a huge difference.”

Masvidal believes the improvements he has made in both his preparation and execution will put him over the top when he takes on undefeated prospect Billy Evangelista Saturday at Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson in Columbus, Ohio.

Masvidal gushed about his training camp and the difference it has made when he recently spoke with MMA DieHards. The American Top Team product goes hard at everything he does, and while that includes his training, in the past that also included partying.  If he wanted to stay out late and wake up shortly after for training, so be it.  If he wanted a brownie with some caramel on it for breakfast, well, that was OK, too.

“I trained hard but I partied hard too,” Masvidal said. “I didn’t always do the things I was supposed to do.”

For this fight camp, Masvidal sought out the help of a nutritionist for the first time in his career.  The experience has been an eye-opening one for Masvidal in ways he could not have foreseen just six months ago.  Working with renowned dietician P.R. Cole has the 26-year old feeling better physically than he ever has going into a fight.

“It took me 26 pro fights, but I finally sought out a nutritionist and I can’t even put into words what it’s done for me,” Masvidal said. “I really wish I had done this sooner. In the past, cutting weight would just mean I would stop eating double quarter-pounders.  I had no idea it would make this big of a difference.  I feel like I’m not even trying and the weight is just coming off.”

This latest revelation was particularly important to Masvidal because he is a big lightweight that usually walks around at close to 180 pounds.  Shedding the necessary weight to get down to the 155-pound limit took a lot out of Masvidal and drained some of his speed and explosiveness.  Weight cuts would get so difficult that he even considered bulking up to around 190 pounds and cutting to welterweight.

“I would starve myself and then still have 15 pounds of water weight to cut,” he said. “I thought maybe it was time to move up a weight class.

“I was doing things wrong.  This new program has worked miracles for me.  My walking around weight has even dropped.”

Expect to see a more energetic Masvidal on Saturday and a fighter that is light on his feet and powerful at the same time.  He will need everything at his disposal when he takes on Evangelista in the card’s first televised fight live on Showtime from Nationwide Arena.  One of Strikeforce’s hottest prospects, Evangelista is a perfect 11-0 (with one no contest) in his mixed martial arts career and will be fighting for the ninth time under the Strikeforce banner.  The American Kickboxing Academy product is a well-rounded fighter coming off consecutive unanimous decision victories over Jorge Gurgel and Waachiim Spiritwolf.

Evangelista appears to be on the fast track to stardom, but Masvidal is an imposing roadblock standing in his way.

Although he just recently turned 26 back in November, Masvidal is a seasoned veteran.  His 20-6 career record includes wins in Bellator, Strikeforce, Shark Fights, the now-defunct Bodog Fights and Sengoku in Japan.  He has fought the likes of Paul Daley, Yves Edwards, Joe Lauzon and Rafael Assuncao, posting impressive wins over Lauzon and Edwards early in his career.  So while many believe Evangelista is the guy to watch coming into the fight, Masvidal is eager to prove he’ll be the one worth keeping eyes on when the fight is over.

“I don’t know if I’m the underdog and if I am, I really don’t care,” Masvidal said. “It didn’t really cross my mind, but if I am maybe I should go put some money on me.”

Masvidal has never been the biggest game-planner.  He leaves that in the hands of his coaches, who will break down his opponent’s film and set up his training appropriately.  He relies on training and instincts, and he certainly has experience on his side, as well.

“I’ve been fighting pro since I was 18, so I do have that experience,” Masvidal said.  “It helps in the game plan, but I’ve never really relied on it.  I’m not one of those guys that gets bothered by the big show and all the lights.  At the end of the day it’s a fight.  It’s about who wants it more and I want it more than Billy.  I want it more than any human that’s going to stand across from me.”

Evangelista doesn’t finish many fights.  Of his 11 pro fights, seven have gone to a decision, including his last five.  Four of Masvidal’s last six wins dating back to Sept. 2008 have ended via stoppage.

“I work extensively on my wrestling, not just defending takedowns but working on popping right back up,” Masvidal said.  “If he tries to slow me down I’ll keep circling and jabbing him in the mouth.  In the end, I’m more of a counter fighter anyway.  I love stuffing takedowns and then punching guys in the mouth.”

Masvidal is 3-3 in his last six fights, including a controversial unanimous decision loss to UFC veteran and current Strikeforce welterweight Paul Daley at Shark Fights 13. Many people who have seen the fight strongly believe Masvidal won with his takedowns and ability to avoid Daley’s power punches.

“To tell you the truth, I still haven’t moved on from that fight,” Masvidal said.  “I thought I won that fight fair and square.  I don’t know how it happened, but I won’t be dwelling on it once I step into the cage.”

The loss won’t be replaced on his record and he isn’t going to recoup the purse money, but good things did come out of his fight with Daley.  Many were impressed with Masvidal’s performance against the bigger-named Daley and Strikeforce liked him enough to bring him back to the promotion after he had a two-fight stint in late 2007/early 2008.

“The only good thing that came out of that fight is that most people thought I won,” Masvidal said.  “I’m not saying I blew him out of the water or anything, but I made him miss and I took him down like seven times to one.  That showed people I can fight at a high level and at a weight class above (the fight was at a catchweight of 171.75 pounds). That’s what you’re supposed to do.  When I fight I want to show the world I belong with the best.”

With everything that has gone on in the past year, including losses to Daley and Luis Palomino, his diet change and his re-signing with Strikeforce, Masvidal is in a great position.  A win over Evangelista would throw him right into the No. 1 contender discussion in a lightweight division that includes champ Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson, KJ Noons and American Top Team teammate JZ Cavalcante.

“That would be awesome,” Masvidal said of earning a title shot in the near future.  “Even if it doesn’t happen right away (with a win over Evangelista) I’ll take the next toughest guy.  These are top 10 guys at 155 and I want to beat those guys and keep fighting the best.”

Masvidal is a changed man, but he is still the same too.  He’s going to party a little, maybe even throw down a cheeseburger from time to time.  The difference is that now he understands when he can relax and when to crank it up.  The man who started fighting at 18 and once participated in back-alley brawls on the streets of South Florida is growing up.

Masvidal’s unrelenting effort both in and out of the ring has now been paired with a smart and calculating game plan that has him more prepared than ever. Every fighter has to evolve at some point and in some way, and it appears that Masvidal is doing just that.

Jorge Masvidal asked to thank Dan Lambert, the Magic Man Ron Foster, Raw State, American Top Team, Full Tilt Poker an South Miami Sports Performance for all their support.

E-mail: bob@mmadiehards.com

Follow Bob Badders on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Bob_Badders

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