6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 279
UFC 279 went down Saturday night in Las Vegas, and it was quite a ride.
After a chaotic weigh-in that caused six fighters to receive new opponents, the card resulted in some pretty memorable fights—some that we'll probably be talking about for years to come.
In the main event, fan favourite Nate Diaz picked up a fourth-round submission win over fellow veteran Tony Ferguson, wrapping up his current UFC contract in the process.
In the co-main event, surging welterweight contender Khamzat Chimaev, who was set to meet Diaz in the main event until he missed weight by 7.5 pounds, took on Kevin Holland in a 180-pound catchweight. The Chechen-Swede kept his unbeaten record intact with a breezy first-round submission win.
Earlier on the card, Daniel Rodriguez, who was originally set to fight Holland, met fellow welterweight contender Li Jingliang at 180 pounds. The American defeated Li, who had been slated to meet Ferguson in the co-main event, with a contentious split decision.
One of the biggest moments of the night came from Mexican bantamweight contender Irene Aldana, who stopped Macy Chiasson with an up-kick to the liver in a 140-pound catchweight fight on the main card. It was the first stoppage of its kind that we've seen in the Octagon, and good for a $50,000 performance bonus.
Light heavyweight contender Johnny Walker also impressed on the main card, tapping Moldova's Ion Cutelaba with a choke in Round 1—also a bonus-winning performance.
Keep scrolling for the fights we're hoping to see for the stars of the card when the dust has settled.
Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor 3
After closing out his UFC contract with a submission win over Tony Ferguson in Saturday's short-notice main event, Nate Diaz is probably the hottest free agent in combat sports today.
He can effectively do whatever he wants.
That might mean boxing Jake Paul, though that potential matchup lost some lustre when Paul agreed to fight Anderson Silva, who is an objectively tougher challenge than Diaz. That might mean meeting somebody else in the boxing ring, be it one of Paul's fellow influencers or one of the growing number of veterans staging comebacks in exhibition bouts. That might mean signing with another MMA promotion, like Bellator or the PFL, although he is probably a bit too big for those organizations at this point.
Of all the options at Diaz's fingertips, the biggest and most lucrative is likely still a tiebreaking trilogy fight with Conor McGregor, who remains the biggest star in MMA. That would require Diaz to re-sign with the UFC, which he seems very reluctant to do, but money talks, and if there's one thing the UFC has, it's money.
He and McGregor are tied 1-1 across two fights. Diaz won the first encounter by submission in early 2016, and McGregor evened the score with a majority-decision win in their immediate rematch later the same year.
The trilogy fight has made sense since the moment the pair's second fight ended and has always stood out as the biggest fight the UFC can make, at least in terms of mainstream appeal.
It's also good matchmaking for both fighters at this point. While Diaz got back to winning ways at UFC 279, he is still just 2-3 in his last five and, at 37 years old, is clearly on the tail end of his long and physically taxing career. McGregor, meanwhile, is also showing signs of significant decline, having been decisively beaten in three of his last four fights. Better they fight each other than young, hungry contenders who will most likely subject them to the kind of punishment they frankly do not need any more of.
Last but not least, it would give the fans closure. What a shame it would be, after all, if two of the biggest stars in MMA history never settled their headline-dominating rivalry.
It feels a bit unlikely. Diaz seems pretty set on boxing, and unless the UFC is willing to offer him a one-fight deal, he may not be willing to sign another multi-fight contract—even if the money is right. But hopefully the parties involved can come together and make this one happen before it's too late.
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Paulo Costa
It's hard to imagine Khamzat Chimaev coming across much worse in the lead-up to UFC 279. First, he was involved in a backstage skirmish that caused the card's pre-fight press conference to be cancelled. Then, he missed weight for his planned headlining showdown with Nate Diaz by a ludicrous 7.5 pounds and showed nothing in the way of remorse. But in this sport, we routinely forgive grown men for acting like children, particularly if they're world-class. And Chimaev, as poorly as he comported himself all week, is absolutely world-class.
He reaffirmed that in the hastily arranged UFC 279 co-main event, dominating Kevin Holland to a first-round submission win without taking a modicum of return fire himself. It was as effortless and dominant as victories get.
While it's clear that Chimaev is one of the best fighters in the world, it's unclear what his next move will be. Had he made weight and beaten Nate Diaz—as pretty much everybody expected him to do—he would probably be guaranteed a welterweight title shot just as soon as new champion Leon Edwards runs it back with the former king, Kamaru Usman. But after he missed weight and blew the UFC 279 main card to smithereens, the promotion will probably be hesitant to book him for any big welterweight fights. In fact, Dana White stated at the event's post-fight press conference that it "makes sense" for Chimaev to return to the 185-pound middleweight division, where he has competed several times in the past.
That seems like a good idea—particularly since there is a big-ticket matchup waiting for him in the weight class.
Before Chimaev got into it with Holland and Diaz backstage at the UFC 279 pre-fight press conference, he had a heated run-in with No. 6-ranked middleweight contender Paulo Costa.
Costa is fresh off a decision win over former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold, and while we recently suggested him as an opponent for former middleweight champ Robert Whittaker, that was before he ran into Chimaev at the UFC PI and before Chimaev sentenced himself to a return to middleweight at the UFC 279 weigh-ins.
This is a matchup that makes sense for both men from a rankings perspective and one that comes with a built-in storyline. Doing anything else seems like a mistake.
Daniel Rodriguez vs. Neil Magny
Daniel Rodriguez picked up arguably the biggest win of his career on the UFC 279 main card, defeating No. 14 welterweight contender Li Jingliang by decision in a short-notice 180-pound catchweight fight.
The verdict was quite controversial, as most experts scored the fight for Li, but it set Rodriguez up for some big opportunities nonetheless. Not only did he beat a ranked contender, which should push him into the rankings, but he also improved to a strong 7-1 in the UFC. That's the recipe for a big step up in competition, particularly given that he is already 35. Time is of the essence.
Our pick for Rodriguez's next fight is No. 13-ranked welterweight contender Neil Magny. Magny, while very good, has become a bit of a gatekeeper in the weight class and is just the kind of test Rodriguez needs. And after a lopsided submission loss to surging contender Shavkat Rakhmonov in his last fight, the veteran is probably due to fight somebody below him in the welterweight hierarchy.
It's an interesting matchup on paper—both guys are clever and methodical strikers—and it should tell us a lot about Rodriguez's ceiling and what Magny has left in the tank.
Li Jingliang vs. Michael Chiesa
Li Jingliang seemed to win a lot of fans in the lead-up to UFC 279. They loved the excitement he showed about his new tailored suit. They loved his subtle joke about the time Tony Ferguson withdrew from a fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov after tripping on a cable at a pre-fight press obligation. The Chinese welterweight could not miss.
Unfortunately, the week ended in disappointment for Li. After accepting a short-notice 180-pound catchweight with Daniel Rodriguez, who was about nine pounds heavier than him at Friday's weigh-ins, and winning two of three rounds of their fight in the eyes of the vast majority of pundits, he came up short via split decision.
The good news is that the short-notice circumstances and controversial verdict should insulate him from the typical implications of defeat. He is unlikely to lose much ground in terms of his standing in the weight class.
From here, we'd like to see him fight No. 12 welterweight contender Michael Chiesa.
Chiesa is currently dealing with a nagging back injury but should hopefully be fighting fit again soon. And after losing to Vicente Luque and Sean Brady in his last two fights, he is no doubt eager to get back on the right side of defeat—much like Li after UFC 279.
It makes sense for both guys, and it's a solid matchup on paper. Throw it on a Fight Night main card when Chiesa is ready to get back to action.
Irene Aldana vs. Amanda Nunes
When we reminisce about UFC 279 years down the road, we'll probably talk about Khamzat Chimaev's chaotic scale fail and very possibly about Nate Diaz's final fight in the Octagon. But we mustn't forget to mention Mexican bantamweight contender Irene Aldana, who picked up a stunning stoppage win over Macy Chiasson on the event's main card.
Aldana met Chiasson at a 140-pound catchweight after Chiasson had trouble with her cut. The pair gave fans a great fight, splitting the first two rounds in the eyes of many viewers. But Aldana was able to put an end to their competitive contest in Round 3, crumpling Chiasson with an up-kick to the liver from her back. We had never seen anything like it in the Octagon before.
The win, which to nobody's surprise led to a $50,000 post-fight bonus, pushed Aldana to 4-1 in her last five fights. When you consider that her lone loss came to former champion Holly Holm—one of the division's great fighters—and that three of her four wins were violent stoppages, that streak looks even more impressive.
In fact, her recent handiwork has been impressive enough that she deserves a crack at champion Amanda Nunes, who recently reclaimed the throne after a shocking stoppage loss to Julianna Peña last year.
Ordinarily, a two-fight streak probably wouldn't be enough to earn Aldana a title shot, but nobody else deserves the opportunity more, and as we've covered, context is important when examining her recent record. She's been blowing people away and has only lost to a legend. It's time.
Johnny Walker vs. Tyson Pedro
Brazilian light heavyweight contender Johnny Walker got back in the win column at UFC 279, rebounding from losses to Thiago Santos and Jamahal Hill with a first-round submission over Moldova's Ion Cutelaba.
The win reminded us all why Walker was so highly regarded in the early chapters of his UFC career. When he's as it best, he's capable of some pretty amazing things, and even after his first couple of losses, he looked like he was just a few key adjustments away from becoming a title contender.
Yet even after his win over Cutelaba, it's probably safe to say we overestimated Walker's ceiling. Yes, he is a great finisher, but his finishes tend to come against fringe contenders, while he typically gets finished himself almost every time he steps into the cage with a Top 10 opponent. Maybe he'll surprise us with a run to the title, but at this stage, there's no sense in pushing him into another fight with a top-flight foe, because there's clear precedent for how that will go. Instead, it makes sense to match him up with another foe of Cutelaba's ilk—somebody good but a few wins shy of great.
Our pick is Tyson Pedro.
The popular Australian recently returned from a three-year layoff and has since picked up a pair of first-round knockout wins over Ike Villanueva and Harry Hunsucker.
He's actually a similar case to Walker: a guy with obvious ability but problems with consistency. It makes sense to pit them against each other, and it looks like an incredible matchup on paper. In fact, it seems almost impossible that the judges' services would be required.