UFC 279 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks
Editor's note: This article was published before multiple fights on the card were rescheduled due to Khamzat Chimaev missing weight.
UFC 279 goes down this Saturday in Las Vegas, and all signs point to a wild night.
Headlining honors for the card will go to a welterweight showdown between undefeated contender Khamzat Chimaev and fan-favorite veteran Nate Diaz. The bout is hugely significant for both men, as Chimaev is looking to take a final leap toward title contention, and Diaz is looking to maximize his value as he wraps up his UFC contract and moves into free agency.
In the co-main event, former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson will look for a fresh start in the welterweight division, taking on Chinese slugger Li Jingliang. It's a gamble for Ferguson, who has been beaten in his last four fights, but the payoff could be huge, as Li is ranked inside the welterweight Top 15.
Before Ferguson and Li get down to business, we'll be treated to a 180-pound catchweight fight between flashy finisher Kevin Holland and slick boxer Daniel Rodriguez, and a women's bantamweight fight between ranked contenders Irene Aldana and Macy Chiasson.
The main card will be kicked off by a light heavyweight fight between dangerous finishers Johnny Walker and Ion Cutelaba, both of whom seem wholly capable of knocking the other senseless.
A couple of the fights on the bill look a tad predictable, but as Leon Edwards so recently proved when he knocked out pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman, nobody is safe in MMA.
Keep scrolling to see how the B/R combat sports crew sees the main card going down.
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz
Tom Taylor: I really don't see any way Nate Diaz can win this fight. He's an MMA legend, and I'm a fan, but as I covered in my pre-fight breakdown, he is outgunned in nearly every area of this matchup. In fact, I would say that, on paper, Chimaev is the toughest challenge of Diaz's career to date.
The Chechen juggernaut is strong in all of the areas where the Californian is weak, and his technical advantages will be magnified by his sheer strength and athleticism. A takedown or two and some ground-and-pound should be all it takes.
Chimaev, TKO, Rd. 1
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'd love for the oddsmakers to be wrong. Heck, I'd love to be wrong myself. I think it'd be an amazing spectacle if somehow Diaz could get into Chimaev's gas tank and get this thing into a third, fourth or even fifth round. The atmosphere would be unreal. But it's far more likely to go exactly as everyone seems to expect. A couple of hard shots. Things go to the mat. And Diaz is either pummelled to a TKO or choked out.
Chimaev, TKO, Rd. 1
Scott Harris: There's nothing suggesting Diaz won't be steamrolled in what is purportedly his final UFC bout. We'll have plenty of good memories to wash away the taste of Chimaev mercilessly ground-and-pounding our favorite antihero into strawberry jam on the mat. I wish Diaz the best in his recovery and future endeavors.
Chimaev, TKO, Rd. 3
Tony Ferguson vs. Li Jingliang
Tom Taylor: I'd love to see Tony Ferguson get back to winning ways, but I don't think moving up a weight class to fight a Top 15 fighter with proven stopping power is the way to do that. In fact, this strikes me as the worst possible course of action for Ferguson. I hope I'm wrong, but after all the abuse he's taken over the last few years, it should take a whole lot less than a Li Jingliang hook to put him down.
Li, KO, Rd. 2
Lyle Fitzsimmons: This one seems just as cut-and-dried as the main event. Ferguson was a flat-out beast for a lot of years, but those days are long gone. He's not only lost, but he's also been brutalized in recent fights, so, no, moving up in weight to fight a guy with power doesn't seem like a logical response. Don't get me wrong: I'm not confusing Jingliang with Leon Edwards or Kamaru Usman. He could find a way to lose. But he's a big, powerful welterweight, which seems to be the last thing Ferguson needs.
Li, TKO, Rd. 1
Scott Harris: Li Jingliang has been slept on for years, at least in more casual circles. Lyle and Tom are right: Unless Ferguson proves otherwise, he's looking pretty washed of late. It's no wonder given those wars—and he'll always have the full respect of the MMA community—when it goes, it goes, and Jingliang isn't going to do him any favors.
Li, TKO, Rd. 2
Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez
Tom Taylor: It is very hard to make confident predictions for Kevin Holland's fights because he is maddeningly inconsistent. One moment he's knocking somebody out with something straight out of a video game, the next he is getting thrown around the Octagon like he has never stepped foot in the wrestling room in his life. Granted, he's looked very good in his last two fights, but if history is any indication, that just means he's due for a weird loss. I think Daniel Rodriguez has the skills to make that happen. He has good defense on the feet, and he should be savvy enough to weather the early storm and win Rounds 2 and 3 with his boxing and maybe a few takedowns.
Rodriguez, unanimous decision
Lyle Fitzsimmons: This one comes down, as much as anything else, to whether you buy into Holland's apparent resurgence as a welterweight. Maybe that was the reason for his maddening tendencies. Or maybe he's just an enigma in the body of an occasionally world-class performer. I'll go with the former until someone proves me wrong at 170, just as Marvin Vettori and Derek Brunson did at 185, or until he retires on a long win streak. Whichever comes first.
Holland, unanimous decision
Scott Harris: This card really falls off a cliff after the main event, doesn't it? Holland has been sharp back at welterweight, and he'll keep it rolling against Rodriguez. Rodriguez is 6-1 in his UFC career to date, but his strength of schedule isn't amazing. I think Holland has too many ways to win, and his volatile style can really knock opponents off their games, especially if they're new to the bright lights. This is Rodriguez's first pay-per-view main card appearance.
Holland, submission, Rd. 1
Irene Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson
Tom Taylor: This could be a pretty good fight. Irene Aldana has shown some serious killer instinct lately, finishing two of her last three fights, and Macy Chiasson has generally been pretty willing to exchange with her opponents. Chiasson's range might make things interesting, but I think Aldana's obvious power edge will be the deciding factor. She might not get the finish this time, but Chiasson will be wearing it by the time the decision is read.
Aldana, unanimous decision
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Color me as one who's more impressed by Aldana's recent work—including wins over the Nos. 2 and 6 in the division—than Chiasson's. She's a hard worker and a decent puncher. That's not to say I'm not a fan of Chiasson, but a submission loss and a split-decision win in her last two bouts don't carry quite the same weight.
Aldana, unanimous decision
Scott Harris: This could be a title eliminator at 135 pounds. But wait a minute. Hold the phone...I hear something in the distance. Could those be, could they be, the upset alarms? Why yes, indeed they are sounding for Macy Chiasson, who is a +155 underdog in this contest. I think she clinches up with Aldana, keeping that athleticism and power under wraps. Chiasson is a strong, experienced vet, and she'll execute a smart game plan to pick up the win.
Chiasson, unanimous decision
Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba
Tom Taylor: Johnny Walker and Ion Cutelaba remind me a lot of Kevin Holland, in that they're both capable of wild finishes and disappointing losses. It's hard to know what you're going to get from either guy from fight to fight, which makes it difficult to say who will come out on top when they're in the cage together this Saturday. Walker's chin is a cause for concern, but I think his range and versatility will cause problems for Cutelaba, who is a bit of a head hunter. It might be a knee, it might be an elbow, it might be a punch, but it's going to hurt.
Walker, KO, Rd. 2
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'm going deep into the old-guy boxing fan vault here, but Walker reminds me of an '80s lightweight named Alvin Hayes. Tall, lanky guy who could move like crazy and punch well, but when his level of opposition finally caught up to him, he was on the wrong end of some spectacular flameouts. Walker is not nearly as skin and bones at 205 pounds as Hayes was at 135, but when he goes, he goes big. I feel like Cutelaba will get to him, and he'll go again.
Cutelaba, KO, Rd. 2
Scott Harris: I loved the spinning backfist and flying knees and wacky celebrations as much as anyone, but I've been off the Walker train for quite a while and don't see myself back on after UFC 279. It's just like Tom said: Walker has a suspect chin. Cutelaba likes to test chins to see whether the suspicions are true. (Twelve pro knockouts to his name, by the way.) Sometimes this MMA game is not so difficult after all.
Cutelaba, TKO, Rd. 1