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UFC 279: Previewing Nate Diaz vs. Khamzat Chimaev and the Rest of the Card

After spending the dog days producing spotlight shows in Texas and Utah, the UFC heads back to its Nevada desert stomping grounds for September’s summer finale.

UFC 279 will originate live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with a 13-bout show on September 10 that’ll be topped off with a five-fight pay-per-view slate featuring a clash of one of the promotion’s legends against perhaps its highest-caliber young gun.

Former title challenger and all-time badass Nate Diaz takes on unbeaten third-ranked welterweight Khamzat Chimaev in a scheduled five-rounder that could ultimately supply an opponent for newly crowned 170-pound champion Leon Edwards.

Two more welterweights will share the stage in the co-main event as well, with 14th-ranked veteran Li Jingliang trying to make it two straight wins since a first-round loss to Chimaev 11 months ago. He faces ex-lightweight star Tony Ferguson, who’s lost four straight since a 12-fight win streak that had spanned six years and included nine finishes.

Of course, that’s not all the show has to offer. The rest of the card features some of the UFC’s most familiar fighters, from strawweight all the way up to heavyweight. The B/R combat sports team perused the menu and identified a few of the tastier highlights.

Main Card (ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)

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If you’re not excited about this one, you’re not trying.

Though Diaz hasn’t won a fight in more than three years and Chimaev has beaten one contender (Gilbert Burns) who’d have been considered title material, it’s easy to envision these two engaging in the sort of match folks will talk about for a while.

Yes, Diaz is 37 years old. And yes, he’s been beaten by both Edwards (UD 5) and Jorge Masvidal (TKO 3) since he defeated Anthony Pettis at UFC 241, but he’s also one of the toughest men in the sport’s history and he’d given Edwards more than a little scare by the time their UFC 261 match was over last June, a feat that looks better nowadays.

His fighting style relies heavily on boxing, but he’s strong in other facets of the game, has a third-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has 13 submissions among his 21 career wins—including a choke-out of Conor McGregor in their epic first encounter in 2016.

He’ll have his hands full with the supernova that is Chimaev, who arrived to Fight Island in the pandemic-addled summer of 2020 and scored a pair of finishes across less than 10 combative minutes within 10 calendar days in July. He returned to vaporize Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds at the Apex two months later before a prolonged recovery from COVID-19 meant he missed over a year of action. Since his return in October 2021, he has defeats of Jingliang (SUB 1) and Burns (UD 3).

The Burns fight was the first time he’d gone past seven minutes in the Octagon, and it proved there was mettle in addition to the perpetual trash talk and pursuit of highlight finishes.

But if you think the talk has stopped, think again.

“(Diaz) is not top, but he’s famous,” Chimaev told Sportskeeda.

“Everyone loves him, everyone talk about this gangster. I eat gangsters for the breakfast. I’m gonna f–k that guy (up).”

2 of 4

Hey, did you used to be Tony Ferguson?

Had a fan stepped away from the sport 27 months ago and returned this week, it’d be hard to comprehend the plummet experienced in that stretch by the former 155-pound ace.

Ferguson strung together a dozen wins from 2013 to 2019 before suffering the sort of comprehensively brutal loss from which fighters have difficultly recovering.

And so far, he hasn’t.

Justin Gaethje beat him to a bloody stupor before the carnage was stopped in Round 5 atop the UFC 249 show, and Ferguson hasn’t sniffed a victory since while losing to both Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush on the cards and by second-round KO to Michael Chandler.

He heads to welterweight for reinvention at age 38 and will meet Jingliang, 34, who’s worked the fringes of contention since arriving to the UFC in 2014.

The Chinese veteran was 10-4 with the company before the one-round choke-out loss to Chimaev 10 months ago at UFC 267, but returned last month to stop Muslim Salikhov in two.

And now, he’s in the unique position of defending his imminent opponent against those who suggest the bout between a powerful welterweight and a skidding lightweight is suspect.

Jingliang has 10 KOs in 19 wins and is labeled a striker, while Ferguson has been dented recently by smaller men and will probably need to chase submissions (he had six during the 12-win streak) if he’s to compete successfully at 170.

“He is Tony Ferguson,” Jingliang told MMA Junkie. “You forgot all those people whose face got cut by Tony Ferguson. Amazing fighters were choked by him.

“You should give credit to him. I believe if you fight against him, you would know how hard to deal with a guy like ‘’El Cucuy’ is. You shouldn’t forget those fighters like Tony, who is a pioneer in the sport. You should give him respect.”

3 of 4

It’s the sort of fight that a casual fan might pass by, but the hardcore UFC set will recognize that the get-together matching Aldana and Chiasson is an important one at 135 pounds.

Aldana is ranked fourth in the division and looks to continue a run that’s seen her win six of eight fights since her tenure with the company began with consecutive losses.

She’s been beaten by the third- and fifth-ranked fighters at bantamweight, but KO’d No. 6 Yana Kunitskaya on the Poirier-McGregor III card at UFC 264 last summer to restart the momentum toward a shot at recently recrowned champion Amanda Nunes.

Ex-champs Julianna Pena and Holly Holm are above her in the rankings at spots one and three, while the 34-year-old holds a first-round KO win over No. 2 Ketlen Vieira.

It’s likely getting close to “last run at the top” time for the veteran striker, who’ll meet a comparative upstart in the 31-year-old Chiasson, who turned pro in 2017 and arrived to the UFC as a champion of season 28 on The Ultimate Fighter.

The New Orleans native is two inches taller at 5’11”, holds a three-plus-inch edge in reach and has spent part of her career at featherweight while also fighting at 135 and at catchweights in between the two divisional limits.

She had a submission win on TUF and won by KOs in two subsequent Octagon appearances, but she has scored her last four wins by decision with a pair of losses along the way to Lisa Lansberg (UD 3) and Raquel Pennington (SUB 2).

Chiasson beat Norma Dupont by split decision in her last fight at UFC 274 in May, so she’s looking to advance her position while Aldana is hoping to hold onto hers.

“At this point of my career and being in the top five of the division, it’s harder to fight frequently,” Aldana told MMA Junkie. “I can’t do what I did in 2019 when I had four consecutive fights while I was climbing the rankings. Now, I have to see what fight could get me closer to the title. I do like to be active. I do like to be working.”

4 of 4

Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez

All of a sudden, Holland is making himself relevant again.

The Texas-based “Trailblazer” was a staple of the pandemic’s initial year, fighting and winning five times in a seven-month stretch from May to December 2020.

A KO of Jacare Souza from a sitting position was the highlight of the streak, and Holland seemed prepped for a run at middleweight contention. However, consecutive losses to Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori in early 2021 and a no-contest against Kyle Daukaus (clash of heads) in October snuffed the momentum.

He returned to welterweight and is 2-for-2 since, while Rodriguez is 6-2 in the Octagon and has won three straight since last losing to Nicolas Dalby at UFC 255.

Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba

If 205-pound crossroads bouts are your jam, sit back and enjoy this one. But don’t blink.

Walker arrives while clinging to a No. 13 ranking at light heavyweight despite a run of four losses in five fights that followed a nine-fight win streak. Meanwhile, Cutelaba is on the outside of the rankings looking in and has gone just 1-3-1 in five fights since 2020 arrived.

A submission to Ryan Spann in less than half a round was the most recent result for the Moldovan, while Walker was KO’d by by Jamahal Hill in five ticks less than three minutes.

Walker is five inches taller at 6’6″ and has 15 KOs in 18 wins, while Cutelaba, who’s two years younger, has 12 KOs in 16 wins of his own, including three in five UFC victories.

Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Jailton Almeida

Short of Chimaev’s almost impossibly prohibitive -1250 (bet $1,250 to win $100) tag courtesy of the folks at DraftKings, there’s no bigger favorite on the T-Mobile Arena board than Almeida, a chiseled Brazilian who’s finished two 2022 fights in less than a round and is going off these days as a -675 proposition.

The 6’3″ 31-year-old has six KOs and 10 submissions in his 16 career wins and hasn’t been beaten since a scorecard loss in a fight for a Brazil-based promotion four years ago.

He jumped from 205 pounds to heavyweight for the defeat of Parker Porter in May and stays there for the meeting with Abdurakhimov, who’s been KO’d five times in the UFC and has lost three straight in eight minutes or less since the middle of 2019.

The 40-year-old will likely have a weight advantage in the neighborhood of 30 pounds, but it may not matter if he can’t handle the younger man’s shots or if he finds himself on the mat with a longer, busier guy who’s ended six fights by rear-naked choke.

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