On Saturday, Sep. 10, the UFC will land back on its home turf at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas after two months away. UFC 279 will feature a welterweight clash where a promotional superstar of 15 years could be making his last Octagon appearance when he faces one of the hottest rising stars of the last decade.
Many pay-per-view events are capstoned with two title fights, and nearly all have at least one sitting atop the card. But, when Nate Diaz fights, no title, real or fake, need be on the line for many fans to justify spending nearly eighty dollars on the event. This weekend, the younger Diaz brother fights out his UFC contract against fast-rising wrecking ball from Chechnya, Khamzat Chimaev. Diaz, a career lightweight who has dabbled in the welterweight division, will be the much smaller fighter against Chimaev, who bounces between the welterweight and middleweight divisions.
The co-main event is also a welterweight contest featuring a lightweight standout, as Tony Ferguson moves up to 170 pounds to take on Li Jingliang. Ferguson’s career has sputtered lately, dropping his last four bouts and being stopped in two of those contests. The two fights he lost while going the distance were not particularly close as he dropped lopsided decisions to Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush. His move up a division is certainly not an easy win, as he squares off against Li Jingliang. Li has gone 2-2 over his last four bouts, alternating wins and losses. The two men who defeated him are perennial contender Neil Magny and main-event participant Khamzat Chimaev.
The UFC 279 early prelims air live on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass starting at 6 p.m. ET. The preliminary card follows on ESPNEWS and UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET. The main card shifts to ESPN+ pay-per-view starting at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Khamzat Chimaev’s ascent to the top of the welterweight division has looked unstoppable; can Nate Diaz once again play spoiler to a rising star?
Sumian: It is just so difficult to imagine a path for Nate Diaz to achieve victory. Khamzat Chimaev defeated Gilbert Burns convincingly, despite the wild exchanges. Burns is a much better fighter than Diaz all around and was defeated by the up-and-coming Chimaev in exciting fashion. This is MMA, so there is always the case of “anything can happen.” Will it? That’s a much different question.
For some odd reason, Diaz has become the gatekeeper of welterweight title shots in recent years. Both Jorge Masvidal and Leon Edwards received title shots after defeating Diaz, despite neither fight being convincingly competitive. Still, the Stockton native is one of the most recognizable and popular stars in all of MMA. Having his name on your resume is a huge deal for publicity and popularity.
This fight was made for one reason and one reason only – to send Chimaev to the stars. Upon defeating Diaz, he will become one of the most popular stars in all of MMA and achieve the next level of popularity. Chimaev will defeat Diaz in Round 3 by TKO and anxiously await his next task inside the Octagon.
Petela: This is a terrible fight for Nate Diaz. He is going to be the much smaller man in the cage, and he’s going in there against a powerful wrestler who has absolutely devastating ground-and-pound. As a Nate Diaz fan (he shares a birthday with my Dad), this is not a fight I want to see, and I can’t see it ending well for him. The worst part of this fight is that Nate Diaz is incredibly durable. That is typically one of his biggest assets, but, in this fight, it will only cause him to take more damage before he ultimately gets stopped for just the fourth time in his career. Chimaev won’t be able to submit the black belt from Stockton like Hermes Franca did back in 2006, but he will force the referee to step in and call off the bout due to unanswered strikes. I really don’t have much to say, other than I hope I’m wrong and it is a competitive contest but I don’t see a path to victory for Diaz.
Tony Ferguson moves up to welterweight after losing four in a row at lightweight; does he have a successful debut at 170 pounds against Li Jingliang?
Petela: No, and, at this point, it is starting to get painful to watch “El Cucuy” fight. Granted, Ferguson looked good in the first round of his fight against Michael Chandler, but the knockout he suffered was devastating. He hasn’t won a fight since 2019, and, outside of that first round against Chandler, he hasn’t looked good in defeat. Moving up a weight class is a last-ditch effort that we have seen from several veterans looking for a late resurgence. For some, it is beneficial, but, for others, it backfires, and they end up taking major damage against bigger fighters that they shouldn’t have been matched up against in the late stages of their careers.
Ferguson will fit into the latter category. He has lost a step since his prime when he rattled off twelve straight wins and that negates the speed advantage he would have had against most welterweights. Li Jingliang is a good fighter with knockout power, and that is a recipe for disaster right now for Ferguson. He’s only four months removed from being flattened by Chandler, and his chin will be a little more sensitive. A big punch early on in the fight from Jingliang will put Ferguson down, and this one will be over almost as soon as it is started.
Sumian: I really want to believe that Tony Ferguson is going to win this fight. He looked good against Michael Chandler until he got caught by that devastating front kick. Unfortunately for him, Li Jingliang is a very tough opponent when it comes to testing out a new division.
Jingliang is faster, more durable, and, in all likelihood, the better fighter at this point in both men’s careers. He will defeat Ferguson by unanimous decision and take home an easy paycheck.
Denis Tiuliulin, Danyelle Wolf, Anton Turkalj, and Melissa Martinez, do we need to know these names?
Petela: The name that stands out to me on this list is Danyelle Wolf. The former USA Boxing National Champion made her MMA debut two years ago on Dana White’s Contender Series, but injuries have kept her on the sideline since then. She’s not the youngest prospect at 38-years-old, so her time with the promotion won’t be long. But in the shallow featherweight division, she could make a run towards the title rather quickly.
Sumian: This is one of those rare occasions where I have no interest in the debutants. This card is already weak to say the least, and it does not get much better when having four new fighters join the roster. We will see which of the four can execute an impressive win, but, until then, there is not much to get excited about.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 279?
Sumian: Johnny Walker. He is going to finally return to his winning ways by defeating the over-aggressive Ion Cutelaba by first-round knockout. Walker is athletic, powerful and capable. A win like this will be exactly what he needs to get back on track.
Petela: Jake Paul. He may be getting ready for an Anderson Silva fight, but once Nate Diaz fights out his UFC contract, a fight between the Stockton standout and the internet phenomenon becomes a real possibility. Diaz has been a vocal critic of Paul’s foray into boxing, and the two men are both world-class trash talkers. Even if Paul gets handled soundly by a 47-year-old Silva, there will be a market for a showdown with Diaz, and the trash talk in the build up would be electric. The biggest reason Paul comes out a winner after this weekend is that Diaz will get a career-altering beating against Chimaev and any diminishment in his skills whatsoever will give Paul a bit of a chance at out-boxing him, if and when the two men meet in the squared circle.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 279?
Petela: Tony Ferguson. Simply put, where does he go from here? He has a wild style that doesn’t age well as the body slows down after years of wear and tear. A loss to Li Jingliang will be the unfortunate end to an almost historically great mixed martial arts career.
Sumian: The fans. This card is not worth the pay-per-view price, plain and simple. Relying on Diaz’s starpower to sell a card does not justify the price as past cards with two or three exciting title fights. Fans will tune in only to be treated to numerous one-sided fights that provide little-to-no excitement.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: Khamzat Chimaev is definitely on the ropes in regards to pressure. There is literally no pressure on Nate Diaz. Everyone expects him to lose, and for Chimaev to become the undeniable number-one contender at welterweight. If he somehow loses to Diaz, his stock will fall dramatically.
Petela: The answer is Tony Ferguson. He will go down as one of the best fighters in lightweight history, and it is a shame that he never held the undisputed lightweight title. His 12-fight winning streak in the prime of his career was incredible to watch but those days are gone. His mind is willing, but at 38, his body just isn’t able to get the job done anymore.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Jake Collier vs. Chris Barnett. Win, lose, or draw, Barnett is going to put on a fun fight. The Taekwondo black belt doesn’t have the typical physique of a fighter who pulls out high-amplitude spinning techniques. Collier is the more well-rounded of these two fighters and will likely try to get this fight to the ground, but when he can’t, Barnett will begin to light him up and deliver a highlight-reel knockout.
Sumian: The best fight on this card is Kevin Holland versus Daniel Rodriguez. Both are awesome fighters capable of exciting performances. They will deliver the best fight of the evening and provide fans with the best fight of the evening.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Hakeem Dawodu. He will knock out Julian Erosa and make it look easy. Dawodu is an exciting, rising contender at featherweight and will only increase his stock Saturday night.
Petela: Ion Cutelaba. There is no way that this fight isn’t exciting. He and Johnny Walker both need to pick up a win in order to reclaim their position as a future title contender at light heavyweight. Walker has been knocked out four times in his career and Cutelaba has twelve knockout victories. This one doesn’t make it out of the first round, and Cutelaba will pick up another knockout win and earn an extra 50-thousand dollars for his efforts.
Pair this card with…
Petela: This is a confusing event to be put on pay-per-view. There are no titles at stake, and neither the main event nor co-main event seem to be all that compelling. So, rather than take any additional chances by pairing this card with a dish that suits it, go with roast beef and mashed potatoes. Nothing too fancy, and something that is guaranteed not to let you down, because, while this fight card could be exhilarating, it also might be painfully hard to watch.
Sumian: The newest Star Wars trilogy. The UFC has been good about putting on pay-per-view events that do not feature title fights. Their last sequel, featuring Masvidal and Diaz, delivered in more ways than one. This card is a case of FUBAR from start to finish. Those who choose to pay the pay-per-view price will be wondering why this card was ever put together.
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
WW: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz
WW: Li Jingliang vs. Tony Ferguson
CatchW (180 lbs.): Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez
Women’s BW: Irene Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson
LHW: Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba
Preliminary Card (ESPNEWS and UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
FW: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Julian Erosa
CatchW: Jailton Almeida vs. Anton Turkalj
MW: Denis Tiuliulin vs. Jamie Pickett
HW: Jake Collier vs. Chris Barnett
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
Women’s FW: Norma Dumont vs. Danyelle Wolf
BW: Chad Anheliger vs. Alatengheili
Women’s StrawW: Melissa Martinez vs. Elise Reed
WW: Darian Weeks vs. Yohan Lainesse
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