Khamzat Chimaev has the opportunity to knock off a UFC legend ahead of him. Now he just has to make sure that said legend shows up.
Since 2013, Diaz has made just eight octagon appearances, and his most recent — a unanimous decision loss to Leon Edwards at UFC 263 in June 2021 — was his first fight in 19 months after several fizzled matchups. So one can understand if Chimaev is skeptical about whether the fight is going to happen.
“I still don’t believe that guy’s going to come and show up,” Chimaev said on The MMA Hour. “That skinny boy. We will see what’s happening. I’m just waiting for the 10th of September – it doesn’t matter who. If he wants to fight [185 pounds], then we can do that... just show up. I can fight [at 185 or 205 pounds], it doesn’t matter.”
Adding further intrigue to the contest is the fact that the UFC 279 headliner marks the last fight on Diaz’s current contract. The Stockton, Calif., star’s future is unclear, but on multiple occasions he has asked for the UFC to release him, so it is distinctly possible that Diaz will soon end his 15-year relationship with the promotion.
That narrative doesn’t mean much to Chimaev, who plans to approach this as he has all of his previous fights. However, he is amused by the thought of putting a dent in Diaz’s infamous persona.
“For me, it doesn’t actually matter,” Chimaev said. “If they give me Kamaru Usman, I will do the same thing. For me, it doesn’t matter. The guy just fights and fights. He’s still dangerous. He fights to the last second, and I’m happy he’s fighting with me.
“He’s one of the legends, like everyone saying, ‘gangster, gangster.’ I’m going to show who’s the gangster. Like I said before, we’re from Chechnya, we grow up [with] the war, and we eat the gangsters for breakfast.”
Chimaev is a heavy favorite heading into the contest, in no small part due to his 11-0 record, which includes 10 finishes and a recent win over top welterweight contender Gilbert Burns. On paper, Diaz is step back in competition given that he’s won just one fight since 2016. But Chimaev is looking forward to share the cage with a fighter he’s long admired.
“When my manager told me it’s done, I said that’s good, that’s perfect for us,” Chimaev said. “Make money, make good names, the guy’s going out. Nate said he doesn’t like me. … I like that guy, I grew up on him.
“I was in school when he was fighting in the UFC. It’s amazing to fight that guy, and I like him because for me UFC, when I was young, it was like the movies. Like, I’m not going to get there, I’m just going to see it.
“Now, I fight with the guys that I was watching. American guys, from Chechnya I watched them. Now, I fight with them.”
Coming off of the first decision win of his career, Chimaev doesn’t expect to go the distance when he fights Diaz. This is the first bout scheduled for five rounds of Chimaev’s career. He plans to do what he usually does and be the fourth fighter to stop Diaz.
“I just go in and smash his face,” Chimaev said. “If we do striking, I knock him out, and if we go down, I submit him or smash his face, make him tap. We’ll see, whatever, for me it doesn’t matter. I don’t have some game plan and that s***. I don’t ask my coaches, I never talk about what I’m going to do in the fight. I just train what my coach said in my training. When we spar, if he says, ‘take him down,’ I take him down, if he says, ‘jab, move,’ I do these things – I listen to him.
“Then I go to the fight and I do exactly exactly the same I did in the sparring, and sometimes it’s take him down, submit him. Then I understand I have to do it in the cage as well when I come to the fight. This is my game plan, but you don’t see me, like, ‘Oh, he does this, he does that, he jabs like this, and this s***.’ I don’t believe in game plan or this s***. You fight like you fight.”
“One round, two rounds,” Chimaev said of his prediction on when the fight will end. “We’ll see.”