In the end, UFC 279 wasn’t the fight card the fans, or the UFC expected, but in a way, that was a good thing.
When Khamzat Chimaev missed the welterweight limit for his planned scrap with Nate Diaz by 7.5 pounds, the UFC’s dream of sending Diaz into free agency with a crushing defeat evaporated into the desert air. Instead, Diaz faced Tony Ferguson in a bout between two well-respected fighters that ended with Diaz closing out his UFC contract with his first guillotine choke submission since his memorable finish of Jim Miller at UFC on FOX 3 in May 2012(!).
In the co-main event, Khamzat Chimaev ran over Kevin Holland with ease, submitting Holland in the first round, while once again taking part in a UFC fight where his opponent failed to land a single significant strike. If you’re keeping track at home only two fighters have landed significant strikes against Chimaev in UFC action, John Phillips (one) and Gilbert Burns (119).
Before that, in another fight that came about after Chimaev came in overweight, Li Jingliang had an admirable performance in a losing effort to Daniel Rodriguez. That matchup saw Jingliang fight at 180 pounds after weighing in at 170.5 for his initially booked contest opposite Tony Ferguson.
Nate Diaz and Tony Ferguson:
Fans who had expectations that the 2012 version of Nate Diaz (check out the Gomi, Cerrone, Miller run) was going to face off against Tony Ferguson 2015-2019 might have been disappointed in what they saw in the main event. Those who had more realistic expectations of the matchup between the 37-year-old Diaz and the 38-year-old Ferguson, who had one win between them since August 2019, were likely happy — or at least satisfied — with what they saw. I was in the latter camp.
The Diaz vs. Ferguson fight was two veteran fighters with a healthy dose of respect between them each doing their thing. Sure, those things might have been a little slower and a little less spectacular than when they were in their prime, but as fights between veterans go, it was entertaining and a lot better than seeing either of them being led to the UFC abattoir, which seemed to be the promotion’s initial plans for both men.
Daniel Rodriguez: Daniel Rodriguez accepted a spot on UFC 279 on short notice after being out of action for more than a year. He didn’t look his best against replacement opponent Li Jingliang, but he got the win and that’s the most important thing.
Li Jingliang: Li Jingliang was the hero of UFC 279 before the fight card took place on Saturday. He went from facing Tony Ferguson in the co-main event at 170 pounds to competing against Daniel Rodriguez at 180 pounds thanks to Khamzat Chimaev’s weight miss forcing the card to be reshuffled.
Jingliang put on a solid performance against the favored — and larger — Rodriguez. He showed a high level of confidence and superb skills during the contest, but the judges didn’t see things his way.
The split decision loss to Rodriguez should not hurt Jingliang’s standing in the official UFC rankings because of the circumstances of this fight.
Irene Aldana: Irene Aldana had an excellent first round against Macy Chiasson. but the second round did not go her way. Aldana took the judges out of the equation when she ended the fight with the first finish via a heel kick to the liver from the bottom. It was a crazy finish that was made crazier when Aldana said the technique was one that she works on during training.
I’m not sure if the win will be enough to get Aldana a fight against UFC women’s bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes, but it won’t hurt her.
Johnny Walker: Johnny Walker saved his spot in the official UFC light heavyweight rankings with a first round submission win over Ion Cutelaba in the opening fight of the UFC 279 main card.
Walker was 1-4 dating back to November 2019. A loss to Cutelaba might not have ended his UFC career, but it would have likely dropped him out of the rankings.
What made the victory sweeter is that Walker had not had a submission win since before he joined the UFC. If Walker is adding wrinkles to his game, that bodes well for his future.
Julian Erosa: Julian Erosa put in some solid work in earning a win over the favored Hakeem Dawodu. He mixed up his attacks well and did a fine job in negating most of Dawodu’s attacks. Despite Dawodu coming in overweight, the decision win should be valuable for Erosa’s future.
Jailton Almeida: Jailton Almeida is a skilled and patient fighter who needs a test. Anton Turkalj, who was a late replacement opponent for this card, was not that test.
Denis Tiuliulin: Denis Tiuliulin got his foot in the door as a late replacement opponent for Aliaskhab Khizriev in March. Khizriev submitted him at 1:58 of the second round.
Tiuliulin scored his first UFC win on Saturday with a late second-round TKO win over the favored Jamie Pickett on the UFC 279 prelims. Tiuliulin was effective with his elbows and knees, which went a long way toward getting him the finish.
Chris Barnett: Perhaps the doctor was negligent in allowing Chris Barnett to continue into the second round of his heavyweight fight with Jake Collier, but he did, and Barnett made the most of that opportunity.
With his left eye practically swollen shut and something funky going on with his jaw, Barnett unloaded an onslaught of ground strikes to win the fight via TKO in the second round.
Barnett followed his come from behind win with a remarkable post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan.
Norma Dumont: For the first half of her fight opposite Danyelle Wolf, Norma Dumont decided that since Wolf was content to fight at long range, she would be happy to engage Wolf, who has a background in boxing, to a striking match.
Dumont also dominated the fight in the clinch and on the ground.
I don’t know what a fight against a woman who was 1-0 as a pro MMA fighter does for Dumont, but she got a lopsided decision win.
Alateng Heili: Alateng Heili had a solid showing at UFC 279 opposite Chad Anheliger. Heili had better technical striking to go along with power when he needed it.
Elise Reed: Elise Reed scored a first-round knockdown of Melissa Martinez, but she didn’t capitalize on the advantage she had at that moment. It seemed as if Reed’s confidence in her ability to score a knockout later in the fight was the reason she gave Martinez the opportunity to get back in the fight. That moved seemed a little foolhardy after the Martinez came back in the second stanza.
The bout turned back to Reed’s favor in the third when Martinez made some tactical mistakes that allowed her opponent to get back in the fight. Reed’s UFC experience and the fact that her entire pro MMA career — eight fights — has taken place since the last time Martinez fought, likely played a part in her getting the decision win.
UFC production team: The UFC production team had to scramble to get things ready for the three unexpected fights at the top of the UFC 279 pay-per-view card. It’s always impressive when that team reacts to a single change in a card, but to do so for three big fights deserves praise and more than a pat on the back from UFC brass.
Kamaru Usman: With Khamzat Chimaev missing championship weight by 8.5 pounds, the path for a trilogy fight between UFC welterweight champ Leon Edwards and former champion Kamaru Usman was cleared.
Jake Collier: Jake Collier had alternated wins and losses throughout his entire UFC career. That run ended on Saturday when his cardio failed him and Chris Barnett scored a TKO win over Collier in the second round of their heavyweight bout. With the loss, Collier dropped to 5-7 in the UFC and is now on his first career losing skid.
Danyelle Wolf: Danyelle Wolf found out that MMA striking is not boxing. The question Wolf leaves this fight with is, what will she do with that knowledge?
UFC: From the way UFC president Dana White sold the incident that prevented the press conference from taking place, White led folks to believe lives would be in danger and families would have been torn apart, had the presser went off as planned — and then the UFC released the video of what went down. With that, White’s storyline died.
The promotion had everyone believing a near riot went down before the presser. The video put truth to that lie. The UFC would have been better served by keeping the footage in the vault.
Joe Rogan: During the first fight of the night, long-time UFC commentator Joe Rogan wondered if there is a difference between a takedown in wrestling and a takedown in MMA. It’s 2022. Rogan should know the answer to this — which is yes.
Misc.: Anyone who gave the UFC credit for “saving” UFC 279 after Khamzat Chimaev missed weight. The UFC’s role in “saving” this event was writing slightly bigger checks to the fighters and (maybe) pocketing a little less revenue.
The fighters saved this card. Give them all the credit.
Khamzat Chimaev: Khamzat Chimaev’s weight miss — which he didn’t seem all that bothered by — resulted in a lot of extra work for many people and the reordering of the fight card, which forced fighters to accept fights against opponents they had not trained for. If there was a fighter who left UFC 279 fight week far less popular than he was with fans before the event, it was Chimaev.
Daniel Cormier: During the preview for UFC 280, UFC commentator blamed the Arizona commission for taking the lightweight title from Charles Oliveira. That’s not the case. The commission announced that Oliveira missed weight for a title fight, but the UFC title is a promotional title. The UFC took the title from Oliveira, not the commission.
Jon Anik: In speaking of Khamzat Chimaev, who missed weight by 7.5 pounds, UFC commentator Jon Anik referred to Chimaev as “disciplined.”
UFC: In the aftermath of UFC 279, the fact that the UFC wanted to send Nate Diaz out of the promotion with a fight against Khamzat Chimaev seems despicable and indefensible.
Khamzat Chimaev: Khamzat Chimaev ran over Kevin Holland with little problem, submitting him in the first round after an incredibly aggressive start to the fight.
As impressive as Chimaev’s win was, the question facing the UFC is what does it do with a fighter who missed the championship weight limit for a welterweight title fight by 8.5 pounds?
Melissa Martinez: Melissa Martinez made her return to MMA on Saturday after nearly three years. The former Combate strawweight champion had some nervous energy in the early moments of the fight. However, she settled into using her kickboxing background as the bout progressed.
Martinez made some mistakes in the fight — abandoning leg kicks that were working and wrestling at an ill advised time. However, this, which she lost to Elise Reed via decision, allowed her to shake off any cage rust and get a UFC matchup under her belt.
The big test for Martinez will come in her next UFC outing where we see what she learned from this, her first professional defeat.