UFC 279: Is Nate Diaz being put out to pasture in Khamzat Chimaev fight?

The UFC 279 main event marks the last fight on Diaz’s UFC deal, and pits the 37-year-old against the company’s fastest-rising star

Alex Pattle
Combat Sports Correspondent
Friday 09 September 2022 19:33 BST
Nate Diaz on Jimmy Kimmel

If the main event of UFC 279 is to represent Nate Diaz’s swansong in MMA’s leading promotion, do not expect lush melodies and warm chord sequences. It is likely to be a sombre, uncomfortable affair, soundtracked by brutal strikes and taunting from the UFC’s hired gun, Khamzat Chimaev.

When 37-year-old Diaz was paired with the Russian-born Swede, the fight announcement was met with incredulity and anxiety in equal measure. Diaz is unranked at welterweight and has fought just three times in the past six years – winning only one of those bouts, three years ago. Meanwhile, Chimaev is the UFC’s fastest-rising star, 11-0 as a pro with 10 finishes; 5-0 in the UFC with four stoppages. The 28-year-old seems to be fast-tracking himself towards a welterweight title shot, especially with his last victory – a decision win against former title challenger Gilbert Burns.

So why would the UFC pit the most fearsome prospect in the promotion against an ageing icon, one who was never known for championship pedigree and who has just one fight left on his contract?

Some suggested spite was the motivation; that the UFC was out to punish a wantaway Diaz for allegedly playing hardball. The American has long expressed frustration with his current deal, after all, and has made clear his desire to move on. The UFC, some suggested, might be keen to send Diaz on his way with a significant defeat, damaging his profile and potentially costing him lucrative crossover bouts with the likes of YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul.

UFC president Dana White dismissed that narrative, claiming that Diaz himself asked for a clash with Chimaev.

“I care about Nate a lot, I like Nate,” White said at a press conference in July. “I said: ‘Listen, kid, you think about the wars that Nate Diaz has put on and the incredible fights and the big fights that he’s done with us; go do whatever you want to do, man.’ But getting a fight done with him isn’t as easy as seems.

“Everybody’s like: ‘Well, why don’t you make a fight?’ Well, he asked for [UFC heavyweight champion] Francis Ngannou. I could go on forever, but I won’t. We got it done. [Chimaev is] the fight he wanted, and it’s a good fight; it’s a fight that people will want to see, it’s a fight that people will be interested in.”

White is correct that the fight – a rarity as a pay-per-view main event without a title on the line – is an intriguing one. He at least stopped short of what would have been a disingenuous suggestion that the fight ‘makes sense’, which it does not, as one glance at the welterweight rankings reveals. Chimaev is remarkably already No 3 at 170lbs; Diaz is absent from the top 15 altogether.

Khamzat Chimaev is 5-0 in the UFC and 11-0 overall (Getty Images)

Diaz has also disputed White’s suggestion that he asked to face Chimaev, saying in an interview with ESPN this week: “What they’ve got me doing right now is, they’re acting like I called for this fight, which I didn’t call for and I don’t want – and didn’t want and still don’t want.

“But I don’t give a f***, I’ll fight anybody. The pressure’s on him; he better finish me, because he’s the next killer in town.”

Diaz’s use of the word “killer” might have been a reference to fans’ appraisals of Chimaev’s brutal style; the “Wolf” has exhibited one-punch knockout power, even at middleweight, but prefers a suffocating wrestling offence with the end goal always being a submission or vicious TKO. However, there is a connotation to “killer”, one that fans perceived upon the announcement of Diaz vs Chimaev and one that Chimaev has gleefully acknowledged as well.

When asked by ESPN this week how he envisions the fight with Diaz going, Chimaev said: “Make some money and smash his head, you know? Have some fun. The UFC wants me to kill that guy, I have to do it. I say always, I’m like a killer, you know? They pay for me, I take his head.”

When interviewer Brett Okamoto asked whether Chimaev saw himself as the UFC’s hitman in this weekend’s main event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the welterweight said: “Yeah, I’m like that.”

Diaz last fought in June 2021, losing on points to now-welterweight champion Leon Edwards (Getty Images)

Chimaev grew up watching Diaz but will exhibit no respect for the veteran for however long they are locked in the Octagon together on Saturday night. Some predict that it will be the full 25 minutes; if so, Diaz’s well-documented resilience might end up doing him more harm than good. Others anticipate that the American’s tendency to get cut easily will lead to a stoppage at some point in the first three rounds. Very few predict that Diaz will win, regardless of the means.

Then again, very few predicted that Diaz would beat Conor McGregor on short notice in 2016, but the Californian did just that, submitting the then-featherweight champion to go viral and cross over into the mainstream.

Diaz proved on that night in Las Vegas that he has little regard for the UFC’s machinations. Six years on, on the same strip in the same sinful city, Diaz has the chance to prove that once more by producing what would amount to a stunning upset.

The truth is, Diaz is not supposed to be the swan in this scenario; the UFC might just see him as the old dog, and it is handing the leash to Chimaev and pointing to the shed.

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