UFC 279 takeaways: Nate Diaz’s improbably perfect escape, plus the Khamzat Chimaev conundrum and more

UFC 279: Diaz v Ferguson

Nate Diaz got away unscathed. After a wild and chaotic week, Stockton’s native son exited the UFC with a fourth-round submission of Tony Ferguson in UFC 279‘s impromptu main event. This performance was the culmination of an exciting card, which also featured Khamzat Chimiev driving through Kevin Holland , and a brand new contender in women’s bantamweight. With so much to discuss, let’s hit our six biggest takeaways from UFC 279.

1. Happy endings in MMA are rare and far between. There aren’t many examples of happy endings in MMA, except for Khabib Nurmagomedov or Georges St-Pierre.

You know who wasn’t supposed to join that list? Nathan Diaz.

Heading into UFC 279 fight week, anyone paying attention knew the score. The fighting pride of Stockton, the eternal thorn in the UFC’s side, the superstar who isn’t a needle mover, he was going to be fed to the machine on his way out, a sacrifice upon the altar of Khamzat Chimaev for having the gall to try to do right by himself. Sky-high odds as lopsided as 10-to-1 were being posted online, terms like “assassination attempt” were being tossed around willy-nilly, and yet we all just kind of collectively nodded our heads and understood: This is just the way it has to be. The UFC is a game of house rules.

Only, the house didn’t win on Saturday.

A fighter can beat a machine in its own game if it is only used for one night.

That old Diaz magic at work.

Chimaev’s dramatic weight miss on Friday opened the door for a 37-year-old OG to pull off an improbably perfect escape — an escape so pristine it would’ve felt preposterous just 72 hours ago — and Diaz didn’t miss a beat. He bent and twisted and leveraged the chaos around UFC 279 into exactly the kind of sendoff he deserved after 15 years of UFC service, the majority of which he spent underappreciated and underpaid. He walked out of the gate with his fully locked-in Guillotine, barely scratched and a smile on his face. That was never meant to be his plan. But the MMA gods have mysterious ways of working things out.

Diaz, a man who just won a pay per view win is going to attract more attention than any other free agent in MMA history. He finally made it to his promised land, even after all his blunders, all his contractual lip service, endless legalese and all of the tedious layoffs.

It’s beautiful.

Of course, this is not a goodbye. It’s far from over. Diaz will be able to make one, if not more of the largest paydays in his professional career no matter where he goes. Jake Paul will likely be involved in at least one of these, but it’s possible that there are other avenues. Remember, the 209 is about the get into the promoting game. Perhaps there’s an eventual co-promotion down the road between Real Fight, Inc. and McGregor Sports & Entertainment?

Nothing is off the table now.

That was going to be true regardless of what happened at UFC 279, but if Saturday’s giggle factory of a post-fight press conference was any indication, things just taste a little sweeter when the house’s nefariousness gets foiled and the little man gets out unscathed.

UFC 279: Diaz v Ferguson

A fitting way to go out.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

2. Whether you love him or not, Khamzat Chimiev is still one of the most fearsome fighters in all of boxing.

The 28-year-old contender was a disrespectful jerk throughout much of the UFC 279 experience. He began fights with anyone and everyone. At multiple points, he showed disrespect for fans. He missed weight by an entire division and was entirely unapologetic about it, to the point where even Joe Rogan was taken aback by his flippancy in his post-fight interview. All in all, he probably leaves UFC 279 as MMA’s new No. 1 villain. Guess what? It doesn’t matter what it is because the man becomes a straight-faced demon once he enters the cage.

Chimaev tore through Kevin Holland as if it was the easiest task in the world. This submission took Chimaev just two minutes and was his fourth win in UFC. He has never been hit with a significant strike. In fact, Holland didn’t do anything at all. This is not an exaggeration. Look at the FightMetric stats: Zero attempted strikes, zero attempted takedowns, zero control time. Nada. Completely blanked. Remove the Gilbert Burns brawl from the equation and Chimaev has now been hit with just one — I repeat, ONE (1) — significant strike in his five other UFC wins. All of this is absurd no matter how you slice it.

After the s-show of the past few days, there’s a very real concern around the UFC about Chimaev’s ability to make the welterweight championship of 170 pounds limit with any sort of consistency. Chimaev created this problem for himself and these questions will follow him until he proves that he belongs in his weight class. It seems inevitable, regardless of his division, that he will win some UFC gold.

Any designs of Chimaev fighting the winner of Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman 3 flew out the window with the way he acted this past week, so instead there’s only two obvious fights to make, depending on the UFC’s feelings about his weight: Either Colby Covington or Robert Whittaker, for No. 1 contender status of whichever weight class he’s going to pursue.

Get it done, UFC.

3. Li Jingliang got screwed harder than any of UFC 279’s Switcheroo Six, didn’t get to show off his fancy new suit, fought a man 10 pounds heavier than him on a day’s notice — a man with a completely different skill set and far less sexy of a name than his original opponent — and yet he still nearly pulled out the win.

There has been much talk this week about gangsters, but Jingliang is? That’s a true gangster.

Here’s hoping the UFC compensates him for the win bonus he probably deserved in his split decision against Daniel Rodriguez on Saturday, because Lord knows that man has earned every penny the UFC can give him after the ordeal of the past few days.

UFC 279 Press Conference

Seriously, look at this suit.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

4. Irene Aldana’s upkick KO to the liver on Macy Chiasson was absolutely sick. It was almost like an ax with the way she threw it. I don’t believe I have ever seen anything similar before. The replays were not understood by even the UFC comment desk or the Las Vegas crowd. Brutal stuff.

Women’s bantamweight desperately needs a competitor worth elevating Amanda Nunes. Aldana battling Chiasson for 7 minutes may have been enough for the UFC to decide that Aldana is the best woman in the division.

I still prefer a road toward Nunes vs. Shechenko 3, but if Valentina Shevchenko isn’t interested, Nunes vs. Aldana wouldn’t be the worst consolation prize.

5. Is it possible Johnny Walker is actually fun again?

I’m cautiously optimistic after his four-minute romp over Ion Cutelaba.

The former contender was on borrowed time heading into UFC 279, a loser of four of his last five who looked nothing like the carefree lunatic who crept just one fight away from challenging Jon Jones in the early stages of his UFC run. Walker had suffered a series of poor performances and losses, so he moved to SBG Ireland in order to train under John Kavanagh . This was despite looking nothing like the carefree lunatic who was just one fight away from challenging Jon Jones at the beginning stages UFC. But Walker’s interview this past week with my pal Guilherme Cruz? It was eye-opening to say the very least.

It’s common for struggling athletes not to know where to look for the culprit in their downfall. Walker, however, described three years worth of drugging himself inadvertently. He claimed to be extremely allergic to THC. Walker claimed that he had dealt with paranoias, panic attacks and schizophrenic episodes as well as visions of aliens testing on him. He even dove back into the topic post-fight.

The 30-year-old Brazilian is alone in knowing how much of that rhetoric is real and how much is embellished, but it’s been nearly three years since Walker looked as good as he did on Saturday, so if this is what a clear-eyed Johnny Walker is capable of, that’s good news for a 205-pound division forever in need of compelling young contenders.

6. I formally demand the UFC opens a super heavyweight division so Chris Barnett can claim his rightful championship, because the man is gotdang delight.

Not only did his big-beef brawl with Jake Collier wake up a UFC 279 undercard that was barely treading water up to that point, Barnett also delivered one of the craziest comebacks of the year, summoning the strength to put Collier away with a second-round salvo, then cutting a heartfelt promo and dancing his way out of the arena under a shower of booze. All despite a mangled left eye and his jaw nearly drooping to the floor. It was, in the end, one of the best scenes of the weekend. This is the type of feeling-good moment that fight sports seldom give. Everyone can smile for five minutes without realizing it.

Look at that man! Look at how much fun he’s having! It’s hard to not love this!

(Keep in mind, this is the same magnificent big boy who gave us this gem last year. )

Considering the personal turmoil Barnett has been forced to overcome in 2022 — his wife and mother of his two children tragically passed away this summer — there are few people in MMA who deserve this type of celebration more. We can all just make “Huggy Bear” a regular fixture on every week’s fights. The man is an amazing performer and I think he may be the best fighter ever.

Hopefully one of y’all picked him up from the hospital.