Nate Diaz got away unscathed. After a wild and chaotic week, Stockton’s native son exited the UFC with a fourth-round submission of Tony Ferguson in UFC 279’s impromptu main event. The performance capped off an explosive card that also saw Khamzat Chimaev truck through Kevin Holland, a new name emerge in the women’s bantamweight title mix, and much more. With so much to discuss, let’s hit our six biggest takeaways from UFC 279.
You know who wasn’t supposed to join that list? Nathan Diaz.
Heading into UFC 279 fight week, anyone paying attention knew the score. The fighting pride of Stockton, the eternal thorn in the UFC’s side, the superstar who isn’t a needle mover, he was going to be fed to the machine on his way out, a sacrifice upon the altar of Khamzat Chimaev for having the gall to try to do right by himself. Sky-high odds as uneven as 10-to-1 were being posted online and terms like “assassination attempt” were being tossed around willy-nilly. It was all so blatant, so gross. Yet we all just kind of collectively nodded our heads and understood: This is just the way it has to be. When it comes to the UFC, the house always wins.
Only, the house didn’t win on Saturday.
If just for one night, a fighter beat the machine at its own game.
That old Diaz magic at work.
Chimaev’s dramatic weight miss on Friday opened the door for a 37-year-old OG to pull off an improbably perfect escape — an escape so pristine it would’ve felt preposterous just 72 hours ago — and Diaz didn’t miss a beat. He bent and twisted and leveraged the chaos around UFC 279 into exactly the kind of sendoff he deserved after 15 years of UFC service, the majority of which he spent underappreciated and underpaid. Flexing his way out the door with a fully locked-in guillotine and barely a scratch on his face? Nah, that was never supposed to be the plan, but the MMA gods work in mysterious ways.
Diaz is now a free man fresh off a pay-per-view win who’s going to draw more interest than any free agent to ever hit the market in MMA history, and it’s not particularly close. After all the slights, after all the acrimonious layoffs and contractual lip service and endless legalese, he finally reached his promise land — and he didn’t have to compromise himself or his health to get there.
It’s a beautiful thing.
Of course, this is not a goodbye. Far from it. Wherever he ends up next, Diaz is about to rattle off one — if not several — of the biggest paydays of his career. Jake Paul is probably going to be involved in one of those, but who knows where else this could go? Remember, the 209 is about the get into the promoting game. Perhaps there’s an eventual co-promotion down the road between Real Fight, Inc. and McGregor Sports & Entertainment?
Nothing is off the table now.
That was going to be true regardless of what happened at UFC 279, but if Saturday’s giggle factory of a post-fight press conference was any indication, things just taste a little sweeter when the house’s nefariousness gets foiled and the little man gets out unscathed.
2. Love him or hate him, Khamzat Chimaev remains one of the scariest fighters in the whole damn sport.
The 28-year-old contender was a disrespectful jerk throughout much of the UFC 279 experience. He started fights with everyone in sight. He showed disdain for the fans at multiple turns. He missed weight by an entire division and was entirely unapologetic about it, to the point where even Joe Rogan was taken aback by his flippancy in his post-fight interview. All in all, he probably leaves UFC 279 as MMA’s new No. 1 villain. But guess what? None of that matters, because once he steps foot in the cage, the man is a straight demon.
Chimaev tore through Kevin Holland as if it was the easiest task in the world. His effortless two-minute submission marked the fourth time in Chimaev’s UFC career in which he won without getting hit by a single significant strike. In fact, Holland didn’t do anything at all. That’s not an exaggeration. Look at the FightMetric stats: Zero attempted strikes, zero attempted takedowns, zero control time. Nada. Totally blanked. Remove the Gilbert Burns brawl from the equation and Chimaev has now been hit with just one — I repeat, ONE (1) — significant strike in his five other UFC wins. All of this is absurd no matter how you slice it.
After the s-show of the past few days, there’s a very real concern around the UFC about Chimaev’s ability to make the welterweight championship of 170 pounds limit with any sort of consistency. Chimaev foisted that problem upon himself, and those questions are going to follow him until he can repeatedly prove he actually belongs in the weight class. But regardless of division, it feels inevitable that he’s fated to hold some sort of UFC gold.
Any designs of Chimaev fighting the winner of Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman 3 flew out the window with the way he acted this past week, so instead there’s only two obvious fights to make, depending on the UFC’s feelings about his weight: Either Colby Covington or Robert Whittaker, for No. 1 contender status of whichever weight class he’s going to pursue.
Get it done, UFC.
3. Li Jingliang got screwed harder than any of UFC 279’s Switcheroo Six, didn’t get to show off his fancy new suit, fought a man 10 pounds heavier than him on a day’s notice — a man with a completely different skill set and far less sexy of a name than his original opponent — and yet he still nearly pulled out the win.
There’s been a lot of talk about gangsters this week, but Jingliang? That’s a true gangster.
Here’s hoping the UFC compensates him for the win bonus he probably deserved in his split decision against Daniel Rodriguez on Saturday, because Lord knows that man has earned every penny the UFC can give him after the ordeal of the past few days.
4. Irene Aldana’s upkick KO to the liver on Macy Chiasson was absolutely sick. I legitimately don’t think I’ve ever see anything like that before — almost like an ax kick with the trajectory she threw it. Even the UFC commentary desk and the Las Vegas crowd didn’t seem to understand what happened before the replays. Brutal stuff.
Women’s bantamweight is in desperate need of a contender worth elevating for Amanda Nunes, and Aldana having her way with a game opponent like Chiasson for seven minutes straight may have been just enough to convince the UFC that she’s the next woman up.
I still prefer a road toward Nunes vs. Shechenko 3, but if Valentina Shevchenko isn’t interested, Nunes vs. Aldana wouldn’t be the worst consolation prize.
Looks like a new contender. I mean 2 new contenders. Congrats to both. #ufc279— Amanda Nunes (@Amanda_Leoa) September 11, 2022
5. Is it possible Johnny Walker is actually fun again?
I’m cautiously optimistic after his four-minute romp over Ion Cutelaba.
The former contender was on borrowed time heading into UFC 279, a loser of four of his last five who looked nothing like the carefree lunatic who crept just one fight away from challenging Jon Jones in the early stages of his UFC run. Between bad losses and utterly listless performances, Walker’s move to SBG Ireland to work under coach John Kavanagh had seemingly neutered the traits that made the light heavyweight so damn intriguing. But Walker’s interview this past week with my pal Guilherme Cruz? Eye-opening, to say the least.
It’s not uncommon for struggling athletes to grasp around in the darkness, searching for any culprit to blame for their downward spiral. However Walker’s description of three years of inadvertently drugging himself — he claims to be “extremely allergic” to THC — was jarring. Paranoia, panic attacks, schizophrenic episodes, visions of aliens experimenting on him — Walker said he dealt with them all. He even dove back into the topic post-fight.
The 30-year-old Brazilian is alone in knowing how much of that rhetoric is real and how much is embellished, but it’s been nearly three years since Walker looked as good as he did on Saturday, so if this is what a clear-eyed Johnny Walker is capable of, that’s good news for a 205-pound division forever in need of compelling young contenders.
6. I formally demand the UFC opens a super heavyweight division so Chris Barnett can claim his rightful championship, because the man is gotdang delight.
Not only did his big-beef brawl with Jake Collier wake up a UFC 279 undercard that was barely treading water up to that point, Barnett also delivered one of the craziest comebacks of the year, summoning the strength to put Collier away with a second-round salvo, then cutting a heartfelt promo and dancing his way out of the arena under a shower of booze. All despite a mangled left eye and his jaw nearly drooping to the floor. In the end, it was one of the most memorable scenes of the weekend, the kind of feel-good moment fight sports rarely give us that leaves everyone grinning for a good five minutes after without even realizing.
I mean, look at this man! Look at how much fun he’s having! How can you not love it??
(Keep in mind, this is the same magnificent big boy who gave us this gem last year.)
Considering the personal turmoil Barnett has been forced to overcome in 2022 — his wife and mother of his two children tragically passed away this summer — there are few people in MMA who deserve this type of celebration more. So can we please just let “Huggy Bear” be featured on (or around) every fight week from here on out? Because the man is a natural performer, and I’m fairly certain he might be the greatest fighter of all-time.
Hopefully one of y’all picked him up from the hospital.