Nate Diaz vs. Tony Ferguson: a Head to Toe Breakdown for UFC 279
And suddenly, the UFC 279 main event is a close call.
Just hours after a botched weigh-in knocked prohibitive favorite Khamzat Chimaev out of a would-be five-rounder with Nate Diaz, the now-37-year-old ex-title challenger goes from a huge underdog to a near pick 'em proposition against skidding veteran Tony Ferguson.
The new main event is perched atop a reconfigured card that now has Chimaev in the co-main against Kevin Holland, while the foes that had initially been penciled in with Ferguson and Holland—Li Jingliang and Daniel Rodriguez, respectively—will meet in the No. 3 slot.
The Ferguson-Diaz bout matches a pair of guys in their late 30s who've fallen on hard times, with Ferguson having lost four straight fights since UFC 238 in June 2019 while Diaz has dropped two in a row and hasn't earned a victory since UFC 241 two months later.
The B/R combat team took in the breaking news and dissected the new matchup while looking at a handful of potentially decisive factors. Scroll through to see how we see things and feel free to drop a thought or two of your own in the comments section.
Diaz's best chance to beat Chimaev was probably in a drawn-out striking match.
Against Ferguson, it may not be so clear a path.
Though the Stockton-based fan favorite is one of the company's best with his hands and can string together combinations to the head and body that seem effortless, he actually has less than half as many KOs (five) in 20 career wins as Ferguson (12) does in 25.
But while he hasn't always had his hand raised over a semi-conscious opponent, he is capable of hurting his opponent with the sorts of shots that can change a fight's dynamic, as he did on the way to a choke-out of Conor McGregor six years ago at UFC 196.
As for Ferguson, it may be a question of how much pop he's got left.
The prolific career KO ratio was compiled during a long run at lightweight and prior to the four-fight skid in which he's been stopped twice and shut out twice.
He was a master striker in his successful days, dynamically mixing front kicks from distance before focusing on the legs and working in spinning elbows as the combat got closer. The success of his punches was often tied in to his movement and defense from in close as well, which allowed him to stay in range to land counters.
How much the four beatings have taken from him and how much, if any, the move to welterweight will help could go a long way toward deciding the outcome.
If not a knock down, drag-out battle between two aging sluggers, it may turn out to be a battle on the ground between two jiu-jitsu aces with an affinity for one another's necks.
Diaz has racked up no fewer than eight submissions in his 15 UFC wins, including seven by chokes. His high watermark came in the aforementioned bout with McGregor, during which he battered the Irishman with enough punches to prompt the Notorious One into an ill-advised takedown that saw Diaz gain position and lock in a decisive rear-naked choke.
Where Diaz had been facing a size disadvantage against Chimaev that might have neutralized his grappling acumen, both he and Ferguson stand six feet tall and are comparable in reach, which could make it a much more interesting proposition.
Ferguson, meanwhile, has six choke-outs in his 15 octagonal triumphs since 2011, though the most recent one—against Kevin Lee in Round 3 of an interim lightweight title bout at UFC 216—came just a month short of five years ago.
He's worked into chokes by defending takedown attempts as well as by snapping foes down during clinches. He's chased submissions via leg locks, knee bars and heel hooks as well, and could attack Diaz in a number of ways if he gets to the floor in a controlling position.
While submissions are a statistical hallmark for both, wrestling is not the focus.
Diaz averages barely more than one takedown every 15 minutes and isn't particularly adept at fending them off, with just a 41 percent success rate. And had his match with Chimaev gone on as planned, there's a strong chance he'd have been battered into oblivion.
He was taken down a combined 15 times by Rory MacDonald and Benson Henderson and controlled by several others including Dong Hyun Kim, Rafael dos Anjos and Leon Edwards.
As for Ferguson, he wrestled in both high school and college, but his MMA career hasn't consisted of much in the wrestling department beyond defense and changes of pace.
He's gone for takedowns after catching kicks and getting his opponents off balance and he occasionally tries for a level change and a single-leg attack, too. He scrambles well to get back into positive position after stand-up attacks leave openings for takedowns.
Diaz's X-Factor: Is He Still Ready for Prime Time?
There's been no shortage of digital "ink" spilled while telling the tale of Diaz's beef with Dana White and the UFC, which will presumably end shortly after Saturday's final decision is in.
He was consistent in suggesting his preparation for the Chimaev match was spotty at best, too, and it's hard to know for sure how he'll react to the late-stage opposition change.
If he's ready, willing and able to rise to the new main event occasion, the fans at T-Mobile Arena could be in for an instant classic. But if he's just biding time until a better offer from the likes of Jake Paul or someone else of that crossover ilk, it may be less memorable.
Ferguson's X-Factor: Is He Still Ready for Prime Time?
It's the same question for Ferguson, but not for the same reasons.
He was among the company's most successful fighters during a 12-fight win streak that covered six years, but the four losses he's taken since have been either physically brutal or competitively one-sided or both.
He'd have been up against a less skilled, but more powerful opponent in Jingliang, while Diaz presents a different kind of challenge—more varied but not quite as brutal. It could provide a chance at career redemption, but, if not, he's less likely to be hospitalized.
Neither Diaz nor Ferguson were expected to beat their original opponents. Now, they're both in far closer proximity to a main-event victory.
So the winner will be the late-30-something whose best able to wake up the echoes of what he'd been three or four years ago.
Diaz is a more fluid puncher and has long drawn raves for his gas tank and ability to snatch late-round victories from the jaws of early-round defeats. And if he's able to dent Ferguson, he may also start sapping what remains of the the California-based veteran's confidence.
"El Cucuy," on the other hand, was a more dynamic attacker when things were going well and he arrives with more potential means of victory than Diaz. But given the dominant nature of the losses he's sustained over his last four fights, he may not be that guy anymore.
All other things being equal, the biggest wild card in the new matchup is Ferguson sidestepping a brutal weight cut and fighting at 170 pounds instead of 155.
Assuming those experiences were at least partially to blame for his recent downfalls—and recognizing that Diaz may not be the same physical threat that Jingliang would have been—he's earned one more vote of confidence here before a loss sends him into the sunset.
Prediction: Ferguson by split decision