This weekend sees the UFC return to Las Vegas for a major event that features one of the biggest bouts of 2022.
With plenty on the line, then, here are the predicted outcomes for UFC 279: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz.
#1. UFC welterweight division: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz
To call this a huge fight would be an understatement. In fact, it’s probably going to end up as the biggest non-title bout of 2022, given Conor McGregor’s ongoing absence following his leg injury. Like plenty of classic fights of the past, it pits a young lion, Khamzat Chimaev, against an ageing gunslinger in the form of Nate Diaz.
So will the young gun come out on top, as most people expect? Or will Diaz manage to somehow pull off one of the biggest upsets of his career, shocking the world just as he did when he defeated McGregor back in 2016?
Stranger things than a Diaz win have definitely happened in the octagon. Leon Edwards’ victory over Kamaru Usman, for instance, only happened a few weeks ago and ranks amongst the biggest upsets in UFC history. However, even that would pale in comparison to Diaz pulling this one off.
Very few prospects in the promotion’s history have garnered the same level of hype as Chimaev, after all. ‘Borz’ burst onto the scene from nowhere in 2020 with two wins in 10 days over John Phillips and Rhys McKee. While both men were overmatched, to see the unknown Chechen-born Swede smash them was still an eye-opener.
It was when Chimaev sparked out veteran Gerald Meerschaert in a matter of seconds in his first bout at 185lbs that it really became obvious that he was a special talent. Since then, he’s proven this further, whitewashing Li Jingliang before edging out former welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns in one of the best fights of 2022 to date.
The fight with ‘Durinho’ did show a couple of chinks in Chimaev’s armor, at least. His striking was proven to be a little wild, meaning he took plenty of big shots from Burns, and he also got extremely tired towards the end of the bout, which went three rounds rather than five.
Those chinks should give Diaz some hope of pulling off a miracle. Everyone knows what the Stockton-based fighter brings at this stage; a tricky submission game, an iron chin, plenty of heart and an excellent boxing arsenal, as well as a seemingly endless gas tank.
However, Diaz has always had one glaring weakness, and that’s his wrestling. Put simply, at times his takedown defense has looked non-existent, and while his guard game makes up for that at times, against another strong grappler, he tends to find himself in trouble.
Given Chimaev’s powerful wrestling and ground-and-pound, then, as well as the fact that he’s younger, hungrier and has fought twice since Diaz last entered the octagon, it’s hard to pick against him here.
Will he finish Diaz? That one is debatable, as the TUF 5 winner is remarkably durable, but it seems likely that he’ll be cut at some point, and that could signal the end for him.
The Pick: Chimaev via third-round TKO
#2. UFC welterweight division: Li Jingliang vs. Tony Ferguson
Following a truly brutal knockout defeat at the hands of Michael Chandler earlier in 2022, nobody could’ve blamed Tony Ferguson for hanging up his gloves. After all, the loss was his fourth in a row and at the age of 38, how much he’s got left to offer is a big question mark.
However, the former interim lightweight champion chose against walking away, and instead is moving to welterweight for the first time since his TUF 13 win back in 2011. Can this reignite his career? We should find out this weekend.
It’s fair to say that the UFC haven’t handed him the easiest opponent. Li Jingliang is a top 15-ranked fighter at 170lbs. His only defeat in recent years has come to Khamzat Chimaev.
Nicknamed ‘The Leech’ – largely due to his penchant for taking opponents down and holding them there in his early days – Li is now a very dangerous, well-rounded fighter who is more than capable of taking out fighters on the feet.
His last four wins, in fact, have come via TKO or KO, including an impressive victory over Muslim Salikhov just two months ago.
How does he match up against ‘El Cucuy’, then? It’s debatable really. On one hand, if Ferguson were in his prime, he’d have a major advantage on the feet, could probably fend Li’s takedowns off, and would definitely have the cardio to drag him into deep waters and take him out.
However, given Ferguson is now seemingly miles past his prime and is moving up to 170lbs for the first time in over a decade, it’s hard not to question how much he has left.
Sure, he looked good in the first round against Chandler, but he was knocked out soon after. Li definitely hits hard enough to put foes away, just ask Santiago Ponzinibbio, who was knocked clean out by ‘The Leech’ in 2021.
Overall, then, it’d be nice to see Ferguson reclaim his past glories and return to form in this bout, but equally, it’s very hard to see that happening.
The Pick: Li via second-round KO
#3. UFC 279: The Main Card
In a catchweight bout that is set to be held at 180lbs, Kevin Holland faces Daniel Rodriguez. Quite why these two are fighting at this weight is a question mark, but it shouldn’t matter – both men have proven to be exciting and well-rounded fighters, meaning we could be in for fireworks here.
Who is likely to come out on top? Rodriguez looked excellent in his win over Kevin Lee, and his overall UFC record of 6-1 is strong, too. However, he’ll be giving up a lot of reach to ‘The Trailblazer’. More to the point, he’s never shown the wrestling chops that have tended to give Holland real issues.
With that in mind, particularly as Holland has been on excellent form this year, the pick is the 'Trailblazer’ via TKO.
In a bantamweight clash, Irene Aldana takes on Macy Chiasson. At one point, it looked like Aldana was in line for a title shot following her win over Ketlen Vieira, but a loss to Holly Holm then derailed her, although she’s since bounced back by beating Yana Kunitskaya.
Chiasson, on the other hand, has been inconsistent since her TUF 28 win, although it’s fair to say that she’s essentially learned on the fly as she came into the promotion with just two professional fights.
Logically, this should come down to how Aldana can deal with Chiasson’s reach, as she’ll enjoy a 3” advantage. However, the Mexican does stand at the same height as her opponent, and possesses some excellent boxing, including a stiff jab. With that considered, the pick is Aldana via decision.
Finally, Johnny Walker takes on Ion Cutelaba in a light heavyweight bout that should guarantee fireworks. Both men are flawed, but they’re aggressive to a fault and wild too, meaning that literally anything could happen here. Overall, Walker is slightly more explosive, and while neither man is that durable, it’s likely that the Brazilian should be able to catch his foe for a TKO win.
#4. UFC 279: The Prelims
Picks in bold
UFC featherweight division: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Julian Erosa
UFC middleweight division: Denis Tiuliulin vs. Jamie Pickett
UFC heavyweight division: Jake Collier vs. Chris Barnett
UFC featherweight division: Norma Dumont vs. Danyelle Wolf
UFC bantamweight division: Chad Anheliger vs. Alateng Heili
UFC strawweight division: Melissa Martinez vs. Elise Reed
UFC welterweight division: Darian Weeks vs. Yoan Lainesse
UFC lightweight division: Trey Ogden vs. Daniel Zellhuber
UFC lightweight division: Nikolas Motta vs. Cameron VanCamp
UFC welterweight division: Louis Cosce vs. Trevin Giles
UFC catchweight bout: Jailton Almeida vs. Anton Turkalj