Forward of Saturday’s UFC 279 in Las Vegas, theScore’s Jack Browne makes his picks for the highest bouts.
Welterweight major occasion
Nate Diaz (21-13)
Khamzat Chimaev (11-0)
(NOTE: This text was revealed earlier than Chimaev missed weight by 7.5 kilos.)
Stand up, Diaz military. Your boy wants you now greater than ever.
From a advertising and marketing standpoint, the UFC 279 major occasion between Chimaev and Diaz is a slam dunk. Diaz continues to be a top-five draw within the UFC, a beloved cult hero who has transcended wins and losses. In true insurgent spirit, he is forcing his manner out of the UFC, with this being the ultimate battle of his contract. Chimaev, however, is the way forward for the promotion, a Goliath seemingly destined for gold. And, as he put it, a “hitman” employed by the UFC to ship Diaz packing within the worst manner attainable.
Nevertheless, from a purely aggressive view, that is near matchmaking malpractice. Sure, Diaz is a legend who earned one of many UFC’s all-time upsets by choking out Conor McGregor as a short-notice substitute in 2016. However that was then, and that is now. The 37-year-old ought to be preventing the likes of Robbie Lawler or maybe Dustin Poirier, not a monster that almost everybody else scurried away from. Whereas usually assured to the purpose of ignoring actuality, Diaz appears to know a loss is inevitable, saying this week that he “gave up” on making ready for the battle. “No matter; beat me,” he added.
Chimaev is certainly a horrible stylistic matchup for Diaz. He has ridiculous power for a 170-pounder, manhandling opponents like amateurs throughout his five-fight UFC run. Diaz, in the meantime, is much extra bodily suited to 155. Solely Gilbert Burns, an elite welterweight, was capable of face up to Chimaev’s strain, and he nonetheless misplaced the thrilling April battle through unanimous choice. Chimaev was examined for the primary time by Burns, and whereas the battle confirmed he is not invulnerable, the Swede proved his chin and can are ironclad.
Diaz’s probably solely hope is to attempt to survive till the later rounds and submit a tiring Chimaev. The chaos that might ensue if Diaz had been to take action could be wonderful, and he has the abilities to tug it off as a black belt in jiu-jitsu. Placing my private bias on full show for a second, there’s nothing I wish to see greater than a wild Diaz upset. However Chimaev is just too robust, too expert on the bottom, and too cussed to permit that to occur.
Even in his prime, Diaz wasn’t an influence puncher (his final TKO win got here in 2013). He likes to select away with quantity and a assorted stand-up sport. He additionally likes to construct his manner into fights slowly, ramping up the tempo in a while. That is not going to chop it towards a relentless Chimaev, who has a cannon of a proper hand and shall be wanting to make use of it early to trigger Diaz’s facial scar tissue to blow up right into a crimson masks as soon as once more.
In the long run, it’s going to be the rising star locking within the choke on the departing legend to seal the win, although there isn’t any manner Diaz will enable his potential final picture within the UFC to be him tapping out. Diaz will fall asleep, hopefully flipping everybody the double hen as he does.
The choose: Khamzat Chimaev, second-round submission
Li Jingliang (19-7)
Tony Ferguson (26-7)
With no practical path again into rivalry at light-weight, Ferguson is pulling the traditional late-career transfer of leaping as much as the subsequent weight class searching for rejuvenation. Whereas this generally results in success, it is extra generally a determined choice that seals the top of a fighter’s profession.
Ferguson is definitely determined after dropping his final 4 fights, with two defeats coming brutally by the hands of Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler. “El Cucuy” is probably going pondering that avoiding a strenuous weight minimize and returning to the division the place he started his profession will enable him to regain his chin. However the injury he is taken just lately and the cumulative results from a profession spent preventing and coaching with reckless abandon could be irreversible. Ferguson’s additionally 38 years previous; the one older ranked welterweight is Stephen Thompson.
Whereas the UFC is not throwing Ferguson into the deep finish at 170 kilos, the 14th-ranked Li is much from a simple out. Actually, Li’s pure ending abilities and spectacular energy on the ft are a scary proposition for Ferguson coming off the primary knockout lack of his profession, as 10 of Li’s 19 wins have come by KO/TKO. The Chinese language fighter has gained 5 of his final seven fights, with the 2 losses coming to the monstrous Chimaev through rear-naked choke and Neil Magny by unanimous choice. Whereas Li is not an elite 170-pounder, he boasts a granite chin, having by no means been knocked out.
Ferguson’s first spherical towards Chandler in Might was arguably the very best he is appeared since his final win in 2019, dropping the previous Bellator champion early and displaying better sharpness on the ft. Any confidence gained from that, although, was probably extinguished by Chander’s picture-perfect entrance kick to Ferguson’s chin. The large query is: Can Ferguson mentally and bodily get better in simply 4 months from the devastating knockout that left him out chilly?
The very best path to victory for Ferguson is to wrestle Li, who was managed on the bottom by Chimaev and Magny. However whereas Ferguson has traditionally been proficient on the mat, he is been manhandled by Chandler, Beneil Dariush, and Charles Oliveira throughout his skid. Even with probably higher stamina, because of much less of a weight minimize, it is unlikely Ferguson can overwhelm the youthful and stronger fighter in grappling encounters. With all that thought-about, Li ought to put one of many closing nails in Ferguson’s profession.
The choose: Li Jingliang, third-round TKO
Kevin Holland (23-7, 1 NC)
Daniel Rodriguez (16-2)
The ultimate two fights of UFC 279, in my view, will not be tremendous aggressive. However Holland-Rodriguez, however, is a real coin flip. And it may find yourself being the very best battle of the occasion, with each fighters greater than keen to throw down.
Holland, one among 2020’s breakout stars, lastly has his mojo again. “Trailblazer” gained 5 straight fights in underneath 5 months till his “anybody, anytime, wherever” philosophy bumped into the brick wall that’s Derek Brunson in March 2021. His momentum was additional halted by a unanimous choice loss to Marvin Vettori. Realizing he did not have the scale to compete in a wrestler-dominated middleweight prime 15, Holland dropped right down to welterweight and has now gained two fights through stoppage in 2022.
This main-card battle will happen at a catchweight of 180 kilos, with Rodriguez unable to make it right down to 170 kilos on brief discover, in line with Holland. Rodriguez hasn’t fought since August 2021 however has earned a formidable 16 wins in 18 fights. He is solely misplaced as soon as contained in the Octagon, a comparatively shut unanimous choice defeat to Nicolas Dalby in 2020.
This has all of the makings of a pure stand-up brawl. Holland’s major weak point is his wrestling, and whereas Rodriguez may attempt to make the most of it, it appears like he is dying to knock out Holland after their 2020 matchup was canceled. Holland has the pace and vary benefit. He may choose away at Rodriguez from distance, forcing his opponent into a very aggressive transfer to get shut. Neither man has been knocked out throughout their profession, so it may take one thing particular for this bout to finish by end. Finally, I will roll with Rodriguez’s energy and physicality benefit in an in depth bout that’ll go the gap.
The choose: Rodriguez, unanimous choice