Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to its familiar stomping grounds of Las Vegas inside T-Mobile Arena this Sat. night (Sept. 10, 2022) for its latest pay-per-view (PPV) event, which sees 170-pound ultra-prospect Khamzat Chimaev take on the inimitable Nate Diaz in a five-round featured attraction.
The UFC 279 co-main event sees the struggling Tony Ferguson attempt to reignite his career in a new weight class opposite heavy-handed veteran Li “The Leech” Jingliang, while Kevin Holland looks to continue down the comeback trail one fight prior in a catchweight tussle with Syndicate MMA powerhouse Daniel Rodriguez. Bantamweight sluggers Irene Aldana and Macy Chiasson meet in the main card’s sole women’s fight, while floundering Light Heavyweights Johnny Walker and Ion Cutelaba open the show in a must-win battle of finishers.
Our usual main card guy is a bit busy after being elected UK prime minister in a shocking upset, so this solemn duty falls to me once again. As always, you can find our UFC 279 “Prelims” predictions here and here, our UFC 279 odds breakdowns here, and Andrew Richardson’s expert “Fighter on Fighter” analysis here.
Let’s get cracking.
170 lbs.: Khamzat “Borz” Chimaev (11-0) vs. Nate Diaz (20-13)
This is straight-up spiteful matchmaking. The cards are so stacked against Diaz that they’re scraping the ceiling. Even if I actively put aside my longstanding dislike for Diaz’s antics and assume Chimaev still possesses every weakness he showed in April’s barnburner against Gilbert Burns, it’s hard to picture “Borz” losing this. He’s bigger than Diaz, stronger than Diaz, a heavier puncher than Diaz, and an exponentially superior wrestler to Diaz.
I know that sounds reductive, but this is genuinely Titanic vs. Iceberg levels of inevitable.
Diaz’s attrition-based boxing will struggle to snowball when Chimaev can take him down with virtual impunity. His submission game, which has claimed only a single scalp in the last decade, doesn’t pose a threat to someone who can determine where, when, and how any ground exchanges begin. Plus, Chimaev willingly and successfully took on the impeccably credentialed “Durinho” on the mat, so he’s not going to be scared off or ensnared by Diaz’s jiu-jitsu.
Honestly, Diaz’s best chance is to utilize the Fujita Fight System and pray that Chimaev burns himself out trying to cave his skull in. Seeing as Diaz’s face is made of stitched-together hamburger meat at this point, odds are that Chimaev’s ground-and-pound either carves Diaz up for a cut stoppage or forces the ref to step in for mercy’s sake after a scorched-earth campaign on Diaz’s remaining brain cells.
Prediction: Chimaev via first round TKO
170 lbs.: Li “The Leech” Jingliang (19-7) vs. Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (25-7)
I generally can’t remember my friends’ and family’s birthdays, any appointments I made more than a few hours ago, or the names of anyone I communicate with less than once a week. I do, however, distinctly remember watching UFC 115 in 2010 at my family’s place in south Texas. I was at the peak of my JMMA weeb phase, which I’ve yet to entirely grow out of, and I was elated to see Cro Cop choke out Pat Barry.
Then came the main event: Chuck Liddell vs. Rich Franklin. “The Iceman” was on point; sharp, patient, powerful, the best he’d looked in years. After breaking Franklin’s arm, he stepped in for the kill, and a short counter hit him with all the weight of reality reasserting itself.
I got similar vibes from Ferguson’s fight with Michael Chandler. He was doing so damn well, and then it all came crashing down. “Here is what you’ve lost,” said the MMA Gods. “We grant you one last glimpse lest it and your pain at its absence fade from your mind, because this is the only form of mercy we know.”
Li has weaknesses that a peak Ferguson could exploit. He can be outmaneuvered, outworked, neutralized on the mat like so many of “El Cucuy’s” former victims. But he possesses the sort of concussive power that Ferguson can’t walk through anymore. While Ferguson may be able to recapture some magic in the early going, his degraded durability and inability to physically overwhelm a larger man make it distressingly likely that Li meets him head-on and smashes that ever-exposed chin.
This sport isn’t fond of happy endings.
Prediction: Li via second-round TKO
180 lbs.: Kevin “Trail Blazer” Holland (23-7) vs. Daniel “D-Rod” Rodriguez (16-2)
It’s been a bit since we’ve seen the sort of controversial decision that pockmarked Holland’s early UFC record, and I’m thinking we’re due.
Rodriguez’s technical turnaround has been something to behold. He went from an uninspiring one-note slugger on the Contender Series to a technically adept bruiser seemingly overnight, all while still managing to regularly land over 100 significant strikes per fight. He’s a better and more active boxer than Holland, and though Holland’s top game outclasses Rodriguez’s bottom game, Holland’s offensive wrestling regularly falls short against higher-level competition.
That said, Holland does have more than half a foot of reach on Rodriguez and generally knows how to use it. Rodriguez is a lot more adept at getting inside than the likes of Joaquim Buckley, but he’s still going to have a lot of issues navigating Holland’s kicks, straight punches, and movement when “Trail Blazer” doesn’t compromise his length with awkward blitzes of his own volition.
Rodriguez will get his opportunities and fill the gaps in Holland’s offense with plenty of clean strikes, but Holland’s more eye-catching shots and general air of being in control should narrowly push him over the edge on the judges’ scorecards. Expect plenty of arguing.
Prediction: Holland by split decision
135 lbs.: Irene Aldana (13-6) vs. Macy Chiasson (8-2)
The key to Aldana’s loss to Holly Holm, which will likely put a hard ceiling on her viability as a contender, was an inability to deal with lateral movement. As fearsome as Aldana is, she has no ability to cut off the cage, and a nasty boxing game in the pocket isn’t very useful if she can’t force people into the pocket to begin with.
Luckily for her, Chiasson will be much easier to chase down. Though Chiasson boasts solid advantages in height and reach, she’s not always the best at using them; she dwarfed both Marion Reneau and Raquel Pennington, who nonetheless managed to force their way inside and get to work. if it does turn into a firefight, Aldana’s power has felled superior opponents than Chiasson’s and she’s the superior technician, at least in terms of offense.
The biggest threat is Chiasson’s wrestling, which carried her to a narrow victory over Norma Dumont last time out. Aldana looks up to the task of shutting it down, though; Chiasson isn’t always the more efficient takedown artist and Aldana, outside of the Holm debacle, has historically done a good job of keeping it on the feet. I like Aldana’s sharper hands to carry her to an entertaining victory.
Prediction: Aldana by unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Johnny Walker (18-7) vs. Ion “The Hulk” Cutelaba (16-7)
“Anything can happen” is one of the old standbys when it comes to selling people on MMA, and there’s barely any hyperbole involved in this one. These two are physically incapable of fighting normal fights, from Walker simultaneously lacking durability and any regard for his own well-being to Cutelaba failing to parlay his mix of effective striking and grappling into any kind of consistent success.
In a clash of fighters seemingly eager to trip over their own feet at the smallest opportunity, I have to lean towards Cutelaba. He’s clearly the more durable of the two, as it took a flush head kick from Magomed Ankalaev to put him down for good, and he’s plenty willing to land heaps of takedowns if things aren’t going too hot on the feet. Walker’s a dead fish off of his back and falls over from a stiff breeze, meaning his only chance is one of the out-of-nowhere knockouts he’s managed just one of in the last three years.
If there’s anyone at 205 that can find a way to get caught by the weirdest techniques imaginable, it’s Cutelaba, but his toughness gives him more wiggle room than Walker when it comes to screwing up. He chins Walker in the first few minutes or, if that fails, grinds him out for a wide decision.
Prediction: Cutelaba via first round TKO
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 279 fight card, starting with the early UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6 p.m. ET as well as the remaining undercard balance on ESPNN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET by clicking HERE. That’s followed by the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV with live results and “Khamzat vs. Diaz” play-by-play action RIGHT HERE.
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