5 frontrunners for Fight of the Night at UFC 279: Chimaev vs. Diaz

C. Naik
UFC 279 poster [Image via @btsportufc on Instagram]
UFC 279 poster [Image via @btsportufc on Instagram]

UFC 279 is underway this Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, and features some blockbuster matchups across the fight card.

The pay-per-view will be headlined by surging contender Khamzat Chimaev and one of the biggest superstars in the sport, Nate Diaz. The main event matchup is controversial to say the least, and as such, there'll likely be no shortage of drama on the night.

UFC 279 is underway this weekend [Image via @needingart on Instagram]
UFC 279 is underway this weekend [Image via @needingart on Instagram]

While the prelims of UFC 279 are quite shallow in terms of competitive matchups, the main card is stacked with explosive fights, featuring some of the most entertaining fighters on the roster.

On that note, here are the five frontrunners for 'Fight of the Night' at UFC 279: Chimaev vs. Diaz.

#5. Hakeem Dawodu vs. Julian Erosa

The only bout on the preliminary card that jumps off the sheet is the featherweight scrap between Hakeem Dawodu and Julian Erosa. Both rising contenders are in their early thirties and will be looking to break into the top 15 at 145 pounds sooner rather than later.

Julian Erosa earned a UFC contract following a successful outing on Dana White's Contender Series (DWCS), but was released a year later after going on a three-fight skid. After a win on the regional scene, he re-signed with the world's premier MMA promotion and has looked very impressive, going 5-1.

Erosa is a master on the mat with 12 submission wins under his belt. His last outing was a split-decision win over Steven Peterson in February, which won 'Fight of the Night' honors. His next opponent, Hakeem Dawodu, may just be his toughest test yet.

Dawodu is among the most dangerous strikers in the 145-pound division with seven knockouts on his record. Unfortunately for the Canadian, he has produced just one of the knockouts inside the famed octagon, a stunning head-kick KO against Yoshinori Horie back in 2019, despite having featured in the UFC eight times already.

At UFC 279, 'Mean' Hakeem will be looking to re-discover his finishing instinct when he takes on Erosa, who has been stopped via KO/TKO on 11 occasions previously. Dawodu will have to be wary of his American counterpart's submission threat on the mat. If he can scramble out of the wrestling exchanges, this should be a very fun fight.

#4. Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz – UFC 279 main event

Speaking of fun fights, perhaps the most intriguing, talked-about and dissected matchup on the UFC 279 fight card is the pay-per-view headliner. While many see it as a gross mismatch, with dark intentions behind it, it still has all the makings of a memorable encounter.

Nate Diaz, with one fight remaining on his UFC contract, will share his octagon swansong with one of the most hyped contenders ever, Khamzat Chimaev.

Chimaev broke onto the scene with a couple of scintillating performances on Fight Island in 2020. He then followed it up with dominant showings against Gerald Meerschaert and Li Jingliang, finishing both inside the first round via knockout and submission respectively.

After hardly breaking a sweat in his first four fights in the UFC, 'Borz' was paired with top-ranked welterweight contender Gilbert Burns. The Russian-born Swede showed tremendous heart to come away with a unanimous decision win, which was his last bout before being booked opposite Diaz, who isn't seen as a threat to him by large sections of the MMA community.

However, Nate Diaz isn't one to sleep on, and is no stranger to turning the world on its head. The fan-favorite Stockton native has been in the UFC for over 15 years and has established himself as one of the most durable fighters to ever grace the octagon.

Diaz can make this fight against Khamzat Chimaev very interesting. His submission acumen could prompt Chimaev to avoid takedowns, as was the case against Gilbert Burns. On the feet, he definitely has better pure boxing than 'Borz', but lacks the power to put him away.

Diaz's toughness could see this bout play out in many different ways. Additionally, there's no way of knowing how Chimaev deals with the pressure of headlining a massive pay-per-view in the fight capital of the world, against an adored legend. Despite all the variables, there is one guarantee: If Diaz can pull it off, it will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest moments in UFC history.

#3. Tony Ferguson vs. Li Jingliang

After compiling one of the greatest win streaks ever, Tony Ferguson's form took a massive hit in 2020. The former interim champion's tumultuous run of late has been hard to watch as he has picked up four losses on the bounce, the last of which was a brutal knockout earlier this year.

'El Cucuy' will be desperate to return to winning ways when he squares off against Li Jingliang at 170 pounds.

During his scorching ascent up the lightweight division between 2013 and 2019, wherein he put together a 12-fight win streak comprising nine finishes, Tony Ferguson was considered among the most vicious and violent fighters on the roster.

The Mexican-American's kill-or-be-killed mentality saw fans gravitate towards him. He will likely have the Vegas faithful behind him on Saturday night when he takes on Li Jingliang in his return to the welterweight division.

Without the strenuous weight cut down to 155 pounds, expect Ferguson to be more dynamic with his attack against 'The Leech'. He hasn't competed at 170 pounds since winning The Ultimate Fighter back in 2011, and at 38, a change of division was long overdue.

Li Jingliang has undeniable power in his fists, with ten knockouts on his record. With Tony Ferguson returning to the octagon just a few months after his brutal KO loss to Michael Chander, this could make for another heartbreaking defeat.

However, there were positives to take out of the Chandler fight and it appears as though Ferguson is implementing new training methods ahead of his welterweight return. If the former TUF winner can be elusive in the stand-up and create grappling entanglements with his slick creativity, we might just see the 'El Cucuy' we know and love.

#2. Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba

The most explosive fight to look forward to at UFC 279 is the pay-per-view opener, which pits Johnny Walker against Ion Cutelaba. Both light heavyweight contenders have endured turbulent runs of late and are coming off losses in their last outings, making this matchup a high stakes affair.

Johnny Walker emerged as a breath of fresh air in the 205-pound weight class back in 2018, earning a UFC contract in DWCS before winning his first three fights in the promotion via knockout. At the time, some were even of the opinion that the all-action Brazilian could give then-champion Jon Jones a run for his money.

Since his perfect 3-0 start in the octagon, Walker has gone 1-4. In his last bout, the 30-year-old was knocked out by rising contender Jamahal Hill in the very first round. Still ranked in the top 15, Walker will look to defend his No.13 spot against the unranked Ion Cutelaba.

Although inconsistent for the most part, Cutelaba's hot-headed demeanor has resonated with fans in recent times. Moreover, the Moldovan always comes to fight and his marauding style matches up well against Walker's. On the flipside, it could get him knocked out as well.

#1. Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez

Kevin Holland has come a long way since his appearance on DWCS back in 2018. While he didn't win a contract on the night, he certainly caught Dana White's attention. Four years removed from that outing, Holland is among the most popular fighters on the roster and will look to further boost his stock when he takes on Daniel Rodriguez at UFC 279.

After a string of losses against top-ranked middleweights in 2021, Kevin Holland wisely dropped down to welterweight and has looked sensational. 'Trailblazer' has already competed at 170 pounds twice this year, picking up a TKO win over Alex Oliviera in January before coming away with a submission victory over Tim Means in June.

Meanwhile, Daniel Rodriguez has slowly but surely emerged as a real threat to the welterweight top 15. 'D-Rod' has never been finished in his professional career, making him Holland's toughest test since switching divisions. Rodriguez is a clinical striker with pin-point accuracy and has eight knockouts to his name.

Both fighters are primarily strikers, which should make for a great contest. Additionally, this is one of the more evenly-contested matchups on the entire fight card, and as such, is our frontrunner for 'Fight of the Night'.

Quick Links

App download animated image Get the free App now