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‘I grabbed Khamzat’ - Li Jingliang gives eye witness account of backstage brawl before UFC 279

The ‘Leech’ had to hold Khamzat Chimaev back at one point. 

Dressed to impress in a new suit, Li Jingliang was excited to address fans and media alike at the pre-fight press conference for UFC 279 this past Thursday.

Unfortunately, Jingliang would never get the chance to do so after a brief brouhaha broke out backstage between Khamzat Chimaev and Kevin Holland. The pair were fighting different opponents — Nate Diaz and Daniel Rodriguez, respectively — but ‘Borz’ and the ‘Trailblazer’ have had their fair share of exchanges in-person and online. This time, however, it got physical.

Details were initially scarce, but once footage was released, Chimaev was seen throwing a kick at Holland. But Jingliang told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour that the cameras missed what actually started the altercation.

“We were there and there were three pairs of fighters for the press conference, so Kevin Holland, ‘D-Rod’, me, Tony [Ferguson], Khamzat and Nate,” said Jingliang through a translator. “We red corner were on this side, so when we were waiting for the press conference, we made a line. So Holland is the first, I’m the second and when Khamzat came in, in my eyes, he was trying to say hello to us. So he said hello to me and then went to Kevin, and in my eyes he was trying to say hello to Kevin. But I don’t know why, maybe Kevin felt he was a little bit aggressive, and then he just pushed him — Kevin pushed Khamzat.

“And then Khamzat just went backwards and came back with a kick at Holland, and so then they threw punches and kicks to each other,” continued Jingliang. “So everybody was shocked. And then I just grabbed Khamzat, I held Khamzat and I separated them and I told Khamzat, ‘Not today. Not today, bro. Not today.’ So it’s complete chaos there. Then everybody comes — the securities, even [UFC president] Dana [White]. We just separated these two, but they were still shouting at each other.”

UFC officials separated Chimaev and Holland, but opted to keep them from being on the same stage. Instead of having the six fighters atop the pay-per-view event all out at once, UFC president Dana White introduced them in pairs of two.

Only one pair — Holland and Rodriguez — made it to the stage, though. Once Diaz and his team arrived, more chaos ensued and the UFC was left with no choice but to cancel the pre-fight press conference.

“Dana went on the stage and they changed the plan, so they let Kevin and ‘D-Rod’ get onto the stage first to separate everybody,” said Jingliang. “So they’ll do the press conference first and then the other two and then the other two. But while Kevin and ‘D-Rod’ were on the stage, we were waiting in the backstage, Nate came with his crew. I can’t remember how many people, maybe 10 or more. And then he just shout something to Khamzat, and then I saw a water bottle thrown by Nate to Khamzat. And Khamzat dodged the bottle. Nate brought a lot of people to the press conference. So, when I was ready to get on the stage, they just told me, ‘Ok, we’re canceling the whole event’.”

Though originally scheduled to fight Ferguson, Jingliang ended up sharing the Octagon with Rodriguez after a massive weight miss by Chimaev led to a reshuffling of the event. The ‘Leech’ went on to suffer a split decision loss.