UFC 279: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz Head-to-toe Breakdown

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor ISeptember 7, 2022

UFC 279: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz Head-to-toe Breakdown

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    In a few short days, Nate Diaz and Khamzat Chimaev will meet in one of the biggest fights of the year. The fan-favorite veteran and surging contender will collide in the headlining attraction of Saturday's UFC 279 event in Las Vegas, and while there will be no title on the line in their welterweight clash, it is incredibly significant for both.

    Diaz (20-13), one of the most popular fighters in MMA history, will be fulfilling the final obligation on his UFC contract and potentially leaving the promotion afterward. A loss to Chimaev would hurt his negotiating power as he explores his options outside the Octagon, but a win would make him arguably the hottest commodity in combat sports.

    He would be a prime target of every major MMA promotion with the budget to court him, and most likely a host of boxing promoters too—chief among them Jake Paul.

    But beating Chimaev (11-0) will be easier said than done. Much, much easier.

    The Chechen-born Swede is perfect as a pro, and outside a decision win over the world-class Gilbert Burns in his last appearance, he has been ridiculously dominant in every one of his fights—to the point that calling him a runaway train feels like an understatement.

    The oddsmakers see this fight for what it is: The UFC's attempt to put Chimaev over and crush Diaz's bargaining power in one fell swoop. As of Tuesday, DraftKings had the Chechen dynamo installed as a -1050 favorite—and that is one of the more conservative betting lines you will find on the World Wide Web.

    The reality is that few people believe Diaz can win this fight. But as the pride of Stockton, California, proved in his shocking 2016 victory over Conor McGregor, he can never be counted out.

Striking

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    Khamzat Chimaev punches Gerald Meerschaert (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

    Diaz is often praised for his boxing. Some fans have even gone so far as to suggest he is one of the best boxers in the UFC. That is probably an overstatement, but it is rooted in reality: The Californian has excellent hands.

    We've seen him string together some beautiful punching combinations, oftentimes targeting the head and body in the same sequence. And while he has never packed a ton of stopping power, he has proved many times that he can hurt his foes with punches when he lands cleanly.

    The best examples of his deceptive pop can be found in his 2016 win over McGregor—a submission that he set up by hurting the Irishman with punches—and his recent decision loss to new welterweight king Leon Edwards, whom he stung with a big punch in Round 5.

    Diaz also throws decent kicks to the legs and body, but he typically uses those weapons to control distance and sap his opponents' energy, not to shut their lights off.

    All that to say he's a good striker—even if he's only finished five of his twenty victories by KO or TKO. Still, winning a striking battle with Chimaev will be a massive challenge.

    While Diaz is known as a volume puncher, Chimaev lands at a greater clip: 7.89 strikes per minute compared to 4.51. The Chechen star also throws with greater accuracy, landing 59 percent of his strikes compared to Diaz's 45.

    The biggest disparity in the pair's striking games, however, comes down to power. While you have to do some digging to find footage of Diaz hurting people with strikes, Chimaev has done so in the bulk of his matchups—some of them against the hulks of the middleweight division. He has won six of his 11 fights by knockout or TKO and rocked his foes in several bouts that he's won by other methods.

    He has big, big power, and as he proved in his recent firefight with the stone-fisted Burns, he's got a granite chin too.

    He should be able land on Diaz with serious consequences for his opponent and survive whatever return fire comes his way.

    Edge: Chimaev

Submissions

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    Nate Diaz submits Jim Miller (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    You have to search thoroughly to find areas of this matchup where Diaz will be at an advantage, but he might just have the upper hand with submissions.

    The Californian is a long-time Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie, and he has picked up submissions in 11 of his 20 pro victories. In fact, it is one of the MMA's unimpeachable truths that if you grapple with Diaz, you are in serious danger of being choked out.

    Still, Diaz will have his hands full in this phase of the fight.

    Chimaev has finished four of his 11 victories via submission. That falls short of Diaz's 55 percent submission rate, but it is still impressive. Surprisingly, he also chases submissions with greater regularity than Diaz: 2.7 attempts per 15 minutes compared to 1.3.

    Those are interesting stats, but once again, it is the intangibles that will probably matter here. Chimaev may be a less skilled submission fighter than Diaz, but he is plenty good and will have a massive size (6'2" vs. 6'0") and strength advantage to close whatever gap in skill exists between them.

    Yes, Brazilian jiu jitsu was designed to neutralize larger opponents, but it's not quite as effective when the larger opponent is also well-versed in the art, with a ridiculous wrestling acumen to boot.

    We're going to give Diaz the edge, but that doesn't mean he'll have a nice time on the mat with Chimaev.

    Edge: Diaz

Wrestling

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    Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

    We don't need to spend a ton of time on this one.

    Wrestling is Chimaev's bread and butter. He is a three-time Swedish national champion, and in just five Octagon appearances, has proved he can ply this skill as effectively as anybody in MMA.

    He attempts 3.23 takedowns per 15 minutes compared to Diaz's 1.1. He completes takedowns at a 66 percent rate compared to 30. He has a 100 percent takedown defense rate, while Diaz stops just 41 percent of takedown attempts. And if you still need more evidence of his wrestling chops, check out his 2021 wrestling match with No. 8-ranked UFC middleweight contender Jack Hermansson, who he effortlessly defeated by points.

    The reality is he is as good as wrestlers get in MMA, whereas Diaz has always been vulnerable in this area.

    Over the years we've seen the Californian veteran taken down and controlled by a host of fighters, such as Dong Hyun Kim, Rory MacDonald, Benson Henderson, Rafael dos Anjos and Leon Edwards, all of whom grounded him at least twice. MacDonald and Henderson took him down seven and eight times, respectively.

    There's no debating this one. Chimaev should be able to rag-doll Diaz if he wants to, and he will probably want to.

    Edge: Chimaev

X-Factors

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Diaz's X-Factor: Deep Waters

    Diaz's best chances at winning seem to come down to X-factors—and even then, it looks like a long shot. That said, he might have some success if he can drag things into the later rounds.

    There is a pervasive legend that Diaz somehow transforms into an unstoppable destroyer in the championship frames (Rounds 4 and 5). This is factually inaccurate. He has only competed in six championship rounds in his career, and according to MMA Decisions, only two of those have been scored in his favor.

    Still, the Stockton native has proved he has the gas tank to go five rounds—and probably a lot longer. We cannot say the same for Chimaev. The unbeaten welterweight has won all but one of his fights inside the distance, and his only decision win came in a three-rounder with Gilbert Burns. He might have the cardio to fight five hard rounds, but the reality is that we don't know.

    It is in Diaz's best interest to try to find out; to survive the first three rounds and drag Chimaev into deep water, where his lungs and body may begin to fail him.


    Chimaev's X-Factors: Size and Strength

    Chimaev has many advantages in this matchup. None are likely to matter as much as his physical advantages. The unbeaten welterweight has competed in four fights up at middleweight, whereas Diaz has spent significant segments of his career down in the lightweight division.

    You could confidently wager everything you own on Chimaev being the significantly stronger man in the Octagon this Saturday, which will only make his technical advantages more pronounced.

    He can win this fight any number of ways. The simplest seems to be to lean on his physical tools and run Diaz over with takedowns and power punches. If Rory MacDonald could do it in 2011, Chimaev can do it in 2022.

Prediction

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    It's fun to imagine a world where Diaz beats Chimaev, walks out of the Octagon and throws one final middle finger into the air—perhaps directed at UFC executives who seemed determined to send him to slaughter against the brightest young star in the sport.

    If he could pull off such a feat, he would probably walk right into a bajillion-dollar showdown with Jake Paul, and that's the kind of opportunity he deserves after all the entertainment he has given us over the years.

    But the odds of that happening are incredibly slim. Outside a fluky knockout—a long shot considering Diaz has never been a big puncher—it is very difficult to picture him winning this one.

    Maybe he can gas out Chimaev and submit him in Round 4 or 5, but doing so would hinge on him surviving the first three rounds with his ferocious opponent, which seems unlikely.

    The Stocktonian is deserving of great affection, both for his entertaining style inside the cage and for his anti-authority attitudes outside it.

    I just can't pretend for a second that I think he will win this fight. Chimaev takes him down, batters him, and stops him. Quickly.

    Prediction: Chimaev by TKO, Rd. 1


    Unless otherwise noted, all stats are via UFCStats.com and Tapology.

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