In March of 2016, Conor McGregor was the biggest name in mixed martial arts. Sure, he’d been stripped of the UFC Featherweight Championship belt, but he was still the marquee name in the sport with the most box office appeal since the heyday of Chuck Liddell. However, at UFC 196, he would be submitted via rear naked chokehold by a rowdy welterweight by the name of Nate Diaz. It was the first loss of McGregor’s tenure on the UFC roster, and the beginning of Diaz’s rise to legend status.
Fast forward to 2022, and Diaz is no longer a fighter looking to make a name for himself. He is a warrior with a cult-like following, known for his wild house parties and trouble making as much as he is for his fighting inside the octagon. At 37-years-old, Diaz is no longer a title contender, but he is still a household name capable of selling out an arena. On Saturday, he will take on rising welterweight star Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279 in a battle that could very well set the winner on a trajectory towards a shot at the championship belt. There’s a lot to unpack here; without further ado, let’s get into it!
Chimaev vs. Diaz
Khamzat Chimaev won his first two fights in the UFC within a ten day period. No that was not a typo; you read that correctly. His first two fights were just ten days apart. What’s even more impressive, is the fact that he won both fights via stoppage. That was in July of 2020. More than two years later, he is still undefeated in his professional mixed martial arts career, only now he is ranked third in the organization’s welterweight division. Although the most likely challenger for the welterweight crown is Colby Covington, most pundits believe Chimaev will face the winner of Leon Edwards versus Covington for the title as long as he is able to defeat Diaz on Saturday.
Nate Diaz has lost three out of his last four fights inside the octagon. It is evident to all who’ve watched him perform that he is no longer the fighter he was at his peak. However, he is still one of the best strikers in the sport, having been raised on fist fights in the back alleys of Southern California. In his last public outing, he forced current welterweight champion, Leon Edwards, to go the distance before losing a unanimous decision. One thing’s for certain, when Diaz enters the cage for a fight, anything is bound to happen and he should never be dismissed or overlooked.Embed from Getty Images
Jingliang vs. Ferguson
Welterweight veteran Li Jingliang has been a professional mixed martial artist since he was just 19-years-old. Now, he is a 34-year-old battle-tested warrior who has earned the respect of his peers. He was impressive in his second round TKO victory over Muslim Salikhov in July of this year; it was that performance that earned him the opportunity to perform at a major pay-per-view event like UFC 279. Although he’s been on the UFC’s roster since 2014, he’s never competed for the championship belt. Although that dream seems far away, Jingliang has given every indication that he plans to continue pursuing it as vigorously as possible.
Tony Ferguson spent the majority of his career in the lightweight division. However, he has made occasional ventures into the land of the welterweights, which he will be doing once again for his upcoming bout against Li Jingliang. At his best, Ferguson was once the Interim UFC Lightweight Champion. However, Father Time is starting to catch up to Ferguson and he has lost his last four fights inside the octagon. He remains a crafty, battle-tested veteran capable of rolling-back-the clock and performing as if he were ten years younger. At UFC 279, he will make one last attempt at displaying a peak performance before possibly riding off into the sunset.
Holland vs. Rodriguez
In 2020, Kevin Holland set the UFC record for most wins in a calendar year. The middleweight prospect won five fights that year and put the world on notice that he was a future title contender. However, after suffering two losses and a no contest in 2021, Holland decided that dropping down to welterweight would be the best move for his career. Thus far in 2022, that calculation has proven to be correct. He won both of his fights this year in dominant fashion and one more win will all but guarantee him a spot in the organization’s top 15 list when the new rankings are released early next week.
35-year-old Daniel Rodriguez is a respected veteran of the sport who has only suffered two defeats in his professional career. The former SMASH Global Welterweight Champion is on a three-fight winning streak and looking to make one last push towards becoming a ranked fighter. Performing in front of a packed house at T-Mobile Arena for UFC 279 is a big opportunity; a win on the biggest platform in the sport would certainly be a step in the right direction and a major boost to Rodriguez’s career.
Aldana vs. Chiasson
Women’s bantamweight star Irene Aldana is currently ranked fourth in the division. Having won three out of her last four fights, she is on the short list of fighters who could potentially receive a shot at the championship belt. Her next opponent, Macy Chiasson, has also won three out of her last four fights, and is currently ranked tenth in the division. This fight is guaranteed to be intense; both women understand that a win will get them several steps closer to a championship fight, while a loss would be a major step backwards. These two gladiators are going to give it everything thing they’ve got in an effort to further their career; you won’t want to miss it!
Walker vs. Cutelaba
Light Heavyweight contender Johnny Walker once enjoyed a nine-fight win streak. At 6’5″ he was one of the tallest fighters in the light heavyweight division and he looked like a future UFC Champion. However, Walker has experienced recent turbulence in his career, losing four out of his last five fights. He is no longer ranked in the top ten in the division, although he still finds himself listed within the top fifteen. The good news for Walker is that he has a lot of prime years left; he just turned 30-years-old this year. If he is able to turn in an impressive performance at UFC 279, his career will quickly head back in the right direction.
28-year-old Ion Cutelaba has been a professional mixed martial artist since he was 18-years-old. Although he is yet to receive a title shot, he has become a respected veteran of the sport whose opponents do not take him lightly. Cutelaba is still a very young fighter, despite the decade of experience he has to his credit. He is four inches shorter than Walker, his next opponent. In order to emerge victorious, most pundits agree he will have to rely on his elite grappling skills. Trying to exchange strikes with a fighter with a huge reach advantage is normally a bad idea. Walker and Cutelaba are two of the most exciting prospects in the light heavyweight division. Be sure to tune in to witness these two elite athletes go head-to-head inside the octagon!
Although they are not scheduled to fight one another, tensions between Khamzat Chimaev and Kevin Holland boiled over at the press conference today. Chimaev has been taking verbal shots at Holland, and Holland has been replying in the media. These two both compete in the welterweight division so it is highly likely that they view one another as future opponents. Regardless, there were reports of shoving between the two fighters and water bottles being thrown by each camp. Luckily, several other fighters intervened to brake up the fight before anyone was injured. UFC CEO Dana White issued a statement saying that none of the athletes were harmed and the event will proceed as planned.
How to watch
UFC 279 can be viewed via pay-per-view on BT Sport in The United Kingdom and on ESPN Plus in the United States. As always, we’ll have all the latest updates about the outcomes of the fights, as well as in depth analysis available right here at World in Sport!