Diaz collected his first victory in over three years, forcing Tony Ferguson to tap in the fourth round of their main event bout. The win allowed Diaz (21-13 MMA, 16-11 UFC) to avoid a third straight loss, which has never happened in his career. He drilled Ferguson (25-8 MMA, 15-6 UFC) with a flurry of shots throughout the first three rounds, then did even more damage with piercing blows to Ferguson's head before locking in a guillotine choke for the win.
The defeat extends Ferguson's losing streak to five, putting his UFC future in serious jeopardy. Ferguson is clearly no longer the same elite fighter he once was, which was evident in the fourth round of this fight. There is more certainty regarding Diaz, who confirmed his UFC exit. This was the final fight of his contract, and he now plans to pursue a different sport, likely boxing–but left the door open for a return to the UFC, where a trilogy bout against Conor McGregor would be a major box office draw.
The rest of the reshuffled 279 card was solid. Khamzat Chimaev, who would have ripped Diaz in half, made quick work of Kevin Holland in their catchweight fight. Chimaev (12-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) did not even absorb one blow before making Holland (23-8 MMA, 10-5 UFC) tap in an opening round victory. The pressing question moving forward surrounding Chimaev will be whether he can make weight, which he failed to do at 279, but there is no doubting his absurd skill inside the cage.
In another bout that wasn't announced until Friday, Daniel Rodriguez defeated Li Jingliang by split decision in a catchweight bout. This could have been scored in favor of Jingliang (19-8 MMA, 11-6 UFC), but Rodriguez (17-2 MMA, 7-1 UFC) landed enough damage to give credibility to the decision.
The card included a third catchweight fight, with Irene Aldana defeating Macy Chiasson. This appeared to be on the verge of a victory for Chiasson (8-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC), until Aldana (14-6 MMA, 7-4 UFC) snatched victory from defeat with a vicious liver kick from the bottom. And the opener saw Johnny Walker defeat Ion Cutelaba with a rear-naked choke. Walker (19-7 MMA, 5-4 UFC) curtailed a two-fight losing streak with the victory against Cutelaba (16-8-1 MMA, 5-7-1 UFC), giving him new life in the light heavyweight division.
Built around two icons, UFC 279 unfolded in an entertaining manner. While there are more questions than answers surrounding Chimaev, the star of the night was Diaz, who finally fought Ferguson.
Diaz departs from the UFC in signature fashion, getting his hand raised in Las Vegas.
Diaz dials up a win, caps UFC career ... for now (12:13 a.m. ET)
In what could be his final UFC fight, Nate Diaz finished Tony Ferguson with a guillotine choke.
This was the first finish for Diaz since he made Conor McGregor tap six years ago. Diaz pieced up Ferguson in the fourth round, then refused to let go once he locked in the choke.
Diaz landed the more impactful shots in the opening round, especially with a left hand, but Ferguson found success with his inside low kicks. Diaz controlled the second round with his shots to the head, but the third round stuck out for the manner in which Ferguson, kick by kick, destabilized Diaz.
Diaz regained his footing in the fourth round, then laid into Ferguson with his combinations. His offense was too much for Ferguson, then ended the fight with the choke.
Ferguson's losing streak now extends to five, putting his UFC future in jeopardy. Diaz confirmed his UFC exit, which will only be temporary, as he pursues a new sport –likely boxing – before his next bout in the octagon.
Chimaev makes easy work of Holland (11:50 p.m. ET)
Nate Diaz has to be happy to have avoided Khamzat Chimaev.
Chimaev overwhelmed Kevin Holland, needing less than a round to force Holland to tap.
Chimaev instantly forced Holland to the ground. There was immediate urgency from Holland, who clearly understood the danger of Chimaev dictating the direction of the bout. Once he locked the D'Arce choke, it was inevitable that the end was coming for Holland. He dominated, and even more impressively, he did not take one strike of any kind from Holland.
Largely playing a larger-than-life character in his post-fight interview, Chimaev embraced his role as the villain with some of his comments. But ridiculous dialogue aside, he is a phenomenal fighter. His wrestling is remarkable, but the major concern moving forward will be whether he can make weight at 170. Chimaev said after the fight he wants to win the titles at welterweight and middleweight, a brash claim from someone who has yet to win gold in the UFC.
Rodriguez takes win via split decision (11:14 p.m. ET)
The reshuffled part of the 279 card began with Daniel Rodriguez against Li Jingliang, which went the distance and was awarded to Rodriguez by a split decision.
Rodriguez competed 10 pounds heavier than Jingliang. His jab did a number on Jingliang, and the victory extends his winning streak to four. But this could have easily been scored in Jingliang's favor. The crowd largely booed this bout, as it never reached that next level.
UFC 279 was built largely around two bouts featuring Khamzat Chimaev, Nate Diaz, and Tony Ferguson. The co-main event is now about to begin.
Aldana's liver kick finishes Chiasson (10:42 p.m. ET)
Irene Aldana delivered a gritty, hard-fought victory against Macy Chiasson, winning with a liver kick from the bottom. Both fighters agreed to compete at catchweight, so this was not a traditional bantamweight bout.
Aldana controlled the final stretch of the opening round. It appeared Chiasson tapped, but if she did, it went unnoticed by the referee. Still, there was plenty of damage done by Aldana, and it appeared she gave herself a 10-9 in the round. The roles were reversed in the second, with Chiasson doling out some real punishment while dominating the round.
Chiasson appeared on the cusp of victory in the third round, until Aldana landed a heel kick to the liver from the ground for a phenomenal knockout.
Walker taps out Cutelaba in light heavyweight bout (10:22 p.m. ET)
Johnny Walker submitted Ion Cutelaba in the opening round, a critical win that keeps him in the light heavyweight rankings.
Walker ended a two-fight losing streak with the victory, which will keep him ranked No. 13. The finishing sequence came after a takedown by Walker, then he got his arm under the chin of Cutelaba. Only his third submission victory of his career, it was an impressive rear-naked choke that put away Cutelaba.
The defeat marks the second in a row for Cutelaba, both by submission.
Setting the stage for tonight's card (5:33 p.m. ET)
In the event you've been away for the past 48 hours, the UFC 279 has been almost entirely reshuffled.
No longer is the main event Khamzat Chimaev against Nate Diaz.
Chimaev was drastically overweight at weigh-ins, registering 7.5 pounds over the maximum non-title limit. He now competes in a catchweight bout against Kevin Holland, losing a coveted spot in the main event. Instead, that now belongs to Tony Ferguson. Moved out of his fight against Li Jingliang, the new opponent for Ferguson is Diaz, making that the headline bout for 279. Jingliang will fight Daniel Rodriguez, while the other two bouts – Irene Aldana against Macy Chiasson, which was changed to catchweight, and Johnny Walker against Ion Cutelaba – remain part of the card.
How did we arrive here? Chimaev stepping on the scale so far overweight is difficult to process. He had also just engaged in a backstage fight the night prior against Holland, making this change seem also too convenient. Conspiracy theorists will have fun with this one. Chimaev walks around big, so his kidney issues could have started when started cutting weight, but there is also no doubt that the 279 card currently has much more excitement now than it did before.
Ultimately, the UFC's job is to sell fights. These matchups make the most compelling bouts for 279. Ferguson competes with his entire being, displaying a fighting spirit that is uniquely compelling to watch every time he steps in the Octagon. He now has the chance to end his four-fight losing streak against Diaz, who claims this will be his last fight in the UFC. This is the best chance possible for Ferguson to re-enter the win column, and it should be explosive to see these two finally do battle.
Here are my updated predictions:
UFC 279 main event: Tony Ferguson vs. Nate Diaz
- Pick: Tony Ferguson
UFC 279 catchweight bout: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Kevin Holland
- Pick: Khamzat Chimaev
UFC 279 catchweight bout: Li Jingliang vs. Daniel Rodriguez
- Pick: Daniel Rodriguez
UFC 279 catchweight bout: Irene Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson
- Pick: Irene Aldana
UFC 279 light heavyweight bout: Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba
- Pick: Ion Cutelaba
Last week: 4-1
2022 record: 100-59
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.