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'Terrified' Till, the magic of Nate Diaz, Wonderboy's asteroid dream and more from UFC 244

Kelvin Gastelum, left, fights against Darren Till in

Kelvin Gastelum, left, fights against Darren Till in their middleweight bout at UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2, 2019. Credit: Anna Sergeeva

MMA fighters project confidence as they walk toward the octagon to compete in a dangerous sport.

They have to do that. Confidence, many fighters say, is the most important asset.

But what goes on in the brain very often behind that curtain before they make the walk, and sometimes during the walk, is the exact opposite of confidence. There is self-doubt. There is questioning of job choices.

“Walking out, there’s so much stuff that pops into your head, ‘You’re gonna die.' Literally, that’s what you’re thinking,” Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, 37, said after beating Vicente Luque by unanimous decision at UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. “I’m wishing an asteroid comes down and blows the place up so I don’t have to fight. All this stuff is going through your head, it’s crazy. I’ve got close to 80 fights, and every time I step out there, it’s the same. But, I think when that goes away, maybe I need to hang it up.”

Thompson isn’t alone.

Darren Till, as confident and outspoken as any fighter, shared a similar sentiment.

“I was trying to fake an injury before walking out," Till said after beating Kelvin Gastelum by split decision. "I was thinking of an injury to fake because I just simply did not want to get in there."

He had a feeling of invincibility after beginning his career 17-0-1. That aura was shattered with his record at 17-2-1, combined with visa issues this week and not getting into New York until Thursday afternoon for Friday morning's weigh-ins.

“This fight, I wasn’t scared. I was terrified," Till said. "I wasn’t shaking, but I just didn’t want to go. The magnitude of the event. I was doubting. I was thinking of ways to get out of the fight."

The magic of Nate Diaz

Nate Diaz located near recording devices may keep editors busy with all the bleeping, but he never disappoints the people with the machinery capturing his musings. His post-fight news conference in the early hours of Sunday after losing to Jorge Masvidal was just the latest gift.

Diaz had things to say about the doctor who stopped the fight because of a deep cut above his right eye, about wanting face Masvidal in a rematch and how he figures the UFC will treat him going forward. Then, he turned his ire -- and humor -- to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who presented the "baddest" title to the winner of the bout.

“He’s on that side, [expletive] him," Diaz said about Johnson, who like Masvidal is from Miami. "I’m on the West Coast side. Mike Tyson should have been here anyway. He’s the baddest man on the planet, right? He should have been the one. He should have been the one over here, uh, I’m over here hurting on The Rock, huh? Ha ha. You guys caught me under a bad time. You know what I’m saying. The Rock’s cool. I like ‘Ballers.’ I like ‘Ballers.’ But he picked another side, so he could get it to. He could get his [expletive] whipped, too. Straight up. With all due respect, he could get it, too.”

Corey Anderson: 'I destroyed the It Factor'

Johnny Walker bounced and danced his way toward the octagon, but those legs went wobbly once inside the cage and his face was on the receiving end of light heavyweight Corey Anderson’s punches.

“It’s one of the best feelings in the world,” Anderson said after he slowed down the much-hyped Walker with a first-round TKO. “We’re in a world now where you don’t get what you earn anymore, you get what you take. I went out there and took it from.”

It was the fourth straight win for Anderson (13-4), all against ranked opponents. Anderson entered UFC 244 fight week feeling angry and disrespected. He wants a title shot next.

“Johnny Walker was the one they wanted to be the champ, the 'it factor,' ” Anderson said. “I destroyed the it factor. So put him at the back of the bus and move me to the front.”

During fight week, Anderson said the UFC told he wasn’t a “needle mover.” As he moved Walker’s head backward and from the side, his anger came through. When the referee stopped the bout, Anderson taunted Walker. Awaiting the official result announcement, Anderson jelly-legged and did the worm, mocking Walker’s post-fight antics from previous fights.

“You’re telling us what you deserve. Show us what you deserve,” UFC president Dana White said after the fight. "Tonight, you showed us. Got it! Message received! Now we know.”

After the fight, Anderson said that if he doesn’t get a title shot, he wants the UFC to release him from his contract.

“If you don’t want to give me what I’ve earned, let me go,” he said. “I’m hot. I’ve proved my worth. I’ll go somewhere where somebody’s going to respect me.”

White was asked about that during his post-fight news conference.

“Not one person clapped for him at the weigh-ins,” White said. “Walker got a pretty big pop when he came out. I bet people will notice him next time, won’t they? He came out, and he showed everybody. You did something. Now we move on. I’m not saying you’re getting a title shot next or whatever. [Dominick] Reyes just won too – very impressively.

“We’ll figure out what’s next for you, and when your contract is up, if you still don’t want to be here, you can do whatever you want to do,” White said. “In the meantime, take the fights that we offer you. Pretty simple.”

The bigger Apple

The UFC made New York City a regular part of its barnstorming group of mixed martial artists in 2016 once the state legalized the sport here. UFC 244 was the second biggest gate and drew the second most amount of fans in the four years at Madison Square Garden.  A look at the numbers

2016 UFC 205

Gate: $17,700,000

Attendance: 20,427

2017 UFC 217

Gate: $6,200,000

Attendance: 18,201

2018 UFC 230

Gate: $2,841,718

Attendance: 17,011

2019 UFC 244

Gate: $6,575,996.19

Attendance: 20,143

The DAZN delay

Just how big was UFC 244 in terms of fan interest in Masvidal vs. Diaz for the "baddest" title? Beyond the presentation of that belt by The Rock, and the fact that President Donald Trump sat cageside for the entire main card, the streaming service DAZN delayed the start of its main event between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, boxing's pound-for-pound king, and Sergey Kovalev until after the UFC's main event.

UFC 244's main card streamed on ESPN+ from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern. The Alvarez vs. Kovalev card streamed on DAZN. Typically, the main event of a boxing match of that magnitude would start no earlier than 11:30 p.m., which is around the time of a co-main event for a UFC pay-per-view bout.

"So we were sitting there, and MGM called and said that, ‘you guys are halfway through your co-main event right now, people are losing their minds here,’ or whatever. ‘Can we show the Diaz fight at the MGM?' " White said.

White and the UFC said yes, so fans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas watched Masvidal vs. Diaz on the big screens before they saw the Alvarez-Kovalev fight.

New York Sports