UFC 279 Main Card Predictions: Chimaev vs. Diaz

This Saturday, the UFC holds their monthly Pay-Per-View card in Las Vegas, Nevada, with a matchup of fan favorites in the main event as Khamzat Chimaev faces the always-game Nate Diaz.

In the co-main, Tony Ferguson will make his return at Welterweight opposite Li Jingliang. Kevin Holland and Daniel Rodriguez will face off in the featured bout sure to be a barn burner.

Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz (WW)

One of the most hyped names in the sport, Khamzat Chimaev (11-0, 5-0 UFC) is looking to secure a title shot here. Chimaev bulldozed through his first four UFC wins, earning stoppages in each and absorbing just a single significant strike. Then came Gilbert Burns, who excanged shots in the pocket with “Borz” for three rounds, though Chimaev still emerged victorious. He has an excellent Sambo background, with beautiful takedown entries and usage of the body lock. On the mat, Chimaev has a variety of submission attacks, along with devastating ground and pound. His striking is composed, though he showed he can be caught with counters opposite Burns. Chimaev has finished all but one of his pro wins.

A veteran of the fight game and fan favorite for many years, Nate Diaz (20-13, 15-11 UFC) will likely be making his final UFC appearance this weekend. Younger brother of Nick Diaz, Nate is a credentialed BJJ black belt and member of Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu. His boxing is also a threat, with crisp combinations and quick counters. Diaz’s main issues come from his striking and takedown defense. He absorbs his fair share of shots and the feet and does not operate well at kickboxing range, eating heavy low kicks. While he is a slick submission artist, he can often be outwrestled. Nineteen of his pro wins have come inside the distance, with fifteen by submission.

The lopsided odds seem to be right here, as Chimaev will almost assuredly dominate this contest. Khamzat has looked nothing shoprt of a wrecking machine since joining the UFC, able to domiante on the feet or the mat as well as exchange in a war. Diaz, on the other hand, has just one victory in his last four bouts. Even in his prime, Diaz is grossly outmatched by Chimaev in nearly all aspects of MMA besides pure BJJ and cardio. Factoring in age and Nate’s mentality at this stage in his career, I expect Chimaev to dogwalk Diaz, likely on the mat. I can’t imagine Chimaev having much difficulty securing takedowns or racking up strikes, likely securing a ground and pound TKO.

My Pick: Khamzat Chimaev via Knockout

Li Jingliang vs. Tony Ferguson (WW)

Li Jingliang (19-7, 11-5) kicked off 2021 with a bang, securing a first round knockout over Santiago Ponzinibbio. He was dominated by Khamzat Chimaev in his next outing, but rebounded with another highlight reel KO, this time opposite Muslim Salikhov. Jingliang is a powerful striker, holding nine knockouts among his fourteen stoppages. He utilizes powerful counters and keeps a good volume, but can be lulled into a brawl and outworked. Jingliang has some offensive wrestling, but his takedown defense is porous and he can be controlled on the mat.

After picking up a twelve-fight win streak and earning an interim title in the process, Tony Ferguson (25-7, 15-5 UFC) is now on a four-fight losing streak. None were as brutal as his last loss, as Michael Chandler scored a highlight reel front kick knockout in May. El Cucuy’s chief weapons are his versatility and pace, with the cardio to go ten rounds, if needed. He is a stellar finisher, with twenty-three stoppages to his name including fourteen by knockout. However, recent outings have seen him dominated on the mat along with batterings on the feet to Gaethje and Chandler, with questions now looming about his once unbreakable chin.

I am super hyped for this bout and can’t wait to see how Ferguson looks at Welterweight. I find this line should be closer than it is, though Tony’s age and surprisingly quick turnaround are certainly going against him. Jingliang is a powerful Welterweight and will certainly test Ferguson’s recently cracked chin. Ferguson has advantages in pace and wrestling, which I expect he will look to utilize in this fight early. I see this fight likely going to Ferguson if it reaches the scorecards, as he keeps the higher volume and will look to score control time. The power of Jingliang is a dangerous threat, as he only needs one shot. I feel the odds should be closer and will look to exploit that, with Ferguson’s footwork and speed making the difference up a weight class.

My Pick: Tony Ferguson via Decision

Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez (180-lb. Catchweight)

After a three-fight winless streak, Kevin Holland (23-7, 10-4 UFC) dropped down to Welterweight, picking up a knockout over Alex Oliveira. He followed that up with a submission victory over Tim Means to announce his presence in the division. “Trailblazer” has a massive height and reach for the weight class and is a threat in every area of this fight. He has crisp striking and utilizes his range well, finding angles while mixing up his attack to the body and legs. While he has dangerous jiu-jitsu, his wrestling defense is lackluster.

Daniel Rodriguez (16-2, 6-2 UFC) came to the UFC and quickly racked up three straight wins before suffering a controversial decision loss to Nicolas Dalby. He returned to win another three straight fights, topped off with a decision over Kevin Lee. He has not competed in over a year, out dealing with several hand injuries. Rodriguez traisn out of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu and has a slick submission arsenal, but the highlight of his game is his boxing. He has excellent combinations and does serious damage inside the pocket. However, he is susceptible to leg kicks and distance striking, along with holding subpar wrestling in comparison to his elite jiu jitsu.

This is an exciting matchup to insert a new contender into the stacked Welterweight division. Kevin Holland is massive for Welterweight and manages that size well. While his takedown defense remains a clear weakness, Rodriguez, while a competent grappler, does not have the wrestling to take advantage of it. On the feet, I favor Holland’s diverse attack to Rodriguez’s high volume boxing. Rodriguez can get caught bursting into the pocket and also doesn’t throw enough damage at range. I expect Holland to keep the distance and catch Rodriguez coming in to extend his streak at Welterweight.

My Pick: Kevin Holland via Knockout

Irene Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson (BW)

Irene Aldana (13-6, 6-4 UFC) picked up her biggest UFC win in late 2019, securing a highlight reel KO over Ketlen Vieira. She dropped a five-round decision to Holly Holm in her next outing, but got back on track with a first round TKO over Yana Kunitskaya. Aldana has excellent boxing with heavy power in her hands. She mixes up her attack well to the body and keeps a high volume, though she can get caught up throwing in the pocket. Aldana has some defensive jiu-jitsu but is most vulnerable off her back, though she has a high rate for takedown defense.

Macy Chiasson (8-2, 6-2 UFC) came into the UFC with some hype after winning the Ultimate Fighter Season 28, going 5-1 in the UFC before being submitted by Raquel Pennington. She got back on track in her last bout, claiming a narrow decision over Norma Dumont. Chiasson has a massive frame for the division at 6’0″, though she relies on her size to bully opponents against the fence. She has effective striking and keeps a good rate, though her head movement leaves something to be desired. Chiasson has threatening grappling, though she can be secured on her back.

We have a fun Bantamweight fight here, with the winner potentially getting into a contender bout with a win. I expect this fight to play out entirely on the feet, with Aldana’s takedown defense taking Chiasson’s wrestling out of the equation. On the feet, Aldana’s boxing looks to have the advantage in both volume and power. Chiasson will need to keep the fight at range to find success, and I do not expect her to be able to. While she is live for a knockout, I see Aldana picking up a domiannt decision win.

My Pick: Irene Aldana via Decision

Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba (LHW)

Johnny Walker (18-7, 4-4 UFC) came hot out the gate with three straight UFC knockouts, all inside the first round. He is 1-4 in his last five, suffering a violent KO loss in his last outing to Jahamal Hill. Walker is the epitome of a glass cannon, with violent one-shot knockout power but poor striking durability. Walker has freakish size advantages at Light Heavyweight, standing at 6’6″, though he relies too heavily upon his reach for his striking defense. All but one of Walker’s wins have come inside the distance, with fifteen by knockout.

A UFC Light Heavyweight since 2016, Ion Cutelaba (16-7-1, 5-6-1 UFC) has shown he brings aggression and excitement into the Octagon every fight. “The Hulk” has a high level Sambo background and is aptly characterized by the word “explosive”. He has powerful takedowns and hellacious ground and pound, and is no slouch on the feet, either. He has twelve career knockout wins and throws heavy power with every strike, blitzing forward with pressure. His main issue has been his cardio and pace, taking a somewhat more measured approach in recent bouts.

This fight promises violence from bell to bell, with both fighters living and dying by the sword. Cutelaba has high-level skills but is often undone by his own cardio and fight IQ, rushing into dangerous situations. Similarly, Walker is a dangerous knockout artist but turns into a balloon man when hit clean. I expect Cutelaba to also utilize his wrestling to success here, as Walker’s takedown defense leaves much to be improved. I see Cutelaba getting through with an early blitz and finding Walker’s chin, but Walker finding his own kill shot would not surprise me in the slightest.

My Pick: Ion Cutelaba via Knockout

The main card kicks off at 10 PM EST on ESPN+ Pay-Per-View!

Tune in to http://www.fightfreaks.com on fight day for the results and play-by-play analysis!

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