Sunday, October 2, 2022

UFC 279 Predictions: Expert Picks By MMA News Staff

UFC 279: Chimaev vs. Diaz is now days away, and MMA News is here to continue getting you prepared with our expert staff predictions!

In the main event, Khamzat Chimaev will be taking on Nate Diaz in a battle between two of the baddest men alive. This could be the last time we see Diaz ever compete in the UFC, as this will be the final fight on his contract in what may serve as the dramatic finale of a 15-year promotional run.

The co-main event will feature former UFC interim lightweight champion Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson making his return to welterweight when he takes on proven veteran Li Jingliang.

If you missed the official Countdown video, which previews both of the above contests, you can get all caught up right here.

The action doesn’t stop there, though. The main card will also feature a certified banger between Kevin Holland and Daniel Rodriguez plus bouts between Irene Aldana and Macy Chiasson as well as light heavyweights Johnny Walker and Ion Cutelaba slugging it out.

UFC 279 takes place this Saturday, September 10, 2022. The main card will be available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view and begins at 10:00 PM ET. The ESPNEWS preliminary card kicks off at 8:00 PM. The early ESPN+ preliminary card starts at 6:00 PM. The event will take place from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Staff Predictions For UFC 279: Chimaev vs. Diaz

MMA News is the place to be for all the latest UFC 279 updates. Harvey Leonard, Andrew Starc, Drew Beaupré, and Jamie Harkin have provided their picks for you below.

Here is the full main card for UFC 279: Chimaev vs. Diaz

Welterweight: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz

Welterweight: Tony Ferguson vs. Li Jingliang

Catchweight (180lbs): Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez

Women’s Bantamweight: Irene Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson

Light Heavyweight: Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba

Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba

Johnny Walker, Ion Cutelaba
Image Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Harvey Leonard: Two once-highly touted prospects who have both fallen short of breaking through to contention. With the pair boasting just one win in their last five respective outings, this clash is a crucial one for both men’s trajectories. I think the matchup favors Cuțelaba.

Walker will look to keep things at range and often looks uncomfortable against forward pressure, which is something the Moldovan will be happy to bring. If he puts the Brazilian on the back foot, perhaps mixing in wrestling to drain some of Walker’s energy and power away, he should have the better chance at landing a KO blow. (Prediction: Ion Cutelaba)

Andrew Starc: Johnny Walker and Ion Cuțelaba could be fighting to keep their UFC careers alive in this one, with both having only one win in their last five. For Johnny Walker, his has been a fall from lofty expectations like no other in recent memory. Once touted to be the first to dethrone Jon Jones, the Brazilian started his UFC stint with three unbelievable first-round finishes. 

But since facing the best of the light heavyweight division and being finished by both Corey Anderson and most recently Jamahal Hill, Walker has looked out of his depth. Cuțelaba has experienced a similar, albeit less dramatic fall from initial expectations. He’s coming off a first-round submission loss to Ryan Spann in May. I think Cuțelaba’s wrestling will be the difference here. (Prediction: Ion Cuțelaba)

Drew Beaupré: As interesting as it may look at first glance, the UFC are taking a bit of a risk by opening the UFC 279 main card with this fight. No doubt they’re hoping for the kind of wild slugfest that both men are capable of producing, but that relies on Walker going back to his old ways rather than the more recent “safe” style he’s displayed. If the Brazilian wants to recapture any of the hype he had as a future title contender, this is a must-win for him.

That’s not to say he’d necessarily be cut with 3-straight losses, but Cutelaba is the kind of guy you need to beat if you plan on staying at the top of the UFC’s light heavyweight rankings. Cutelaba certainly has his flaws but given how brutally Walker was knocked out by Jamahal Hill earlier this year I’ll take “The Hulk” to get the win. (Prediction: Ion Cutelaba)

Jamie Harkin: Cutelaba has alternated wins and losses (with a draw to Dustin Jacoby thrown in there) since 2018. He’s figuring out whether or not he’s a striker (he’s not) after being KO’d by Magomed Ankalaev, who doesn’t have half the raw power of Walker, even if he has more than twice the skill.

Walker on the other hand has looked extremely healthy and in shape on socials and needs to prove he deserves to be in the UFC after going 1-4 in his last five. Stylistically, Cutelaba has the ability to take him down and hold him there, but I don’t think he gets the half-foot-larger Walker down. (Prediction: Johnny Walker)

Consensus: 3-1 Cutelaba

Irena Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson

Harvey Leonard: While Chiasson has a sizable reach advantage, she’ll be looking to close distance and engage in clinches. But Aldana could make that difficult with her sharp boxing, stiff jabs, and power advantage, which she used to stop both Ketlen Vieira and Yana Kunitskaya last time out.

Chiasson also somewhat slows late on, and with the possibility of that being accentuated with her first cut to bantamweight in a while — not to mention the possible effect that could have on her ability to withstand shots — I back Aldana to find an opening, be it early or late in the day. (Prediction: Irene Aldana)

Andrew Starc: Irene Aldana looked to be heading for a title shot after defeating Ketlen Vieira in 2020, but a decision loss to Holly Holm stopped her in her tracks. She’s since rebounded with a first-round TKO of Yana Kunitskaya in July last year. 

Macy Chiasson will be making her return to bantamweight for this one. She’s won three of her last four, with her only loss coming to Raquel Pennington at featherweight in December. She’ll have a three-inch reach advantage over Aldana, but I think the Mexican gets it done here. (Prediction: Irene Aldana)

Drew Beaupré: A 1-1 run at featherweight was apparently enough for Macy Chiasson to return to bantamweight, and she’ll have an opportunity to jump right into the title picture against #4-ranked Irene Aldana. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any sort of a size difference at the weigh-ins, but Aldana’s last two bouts were also against former featherweights in Holly Holm and Yana Kunitskaya.

Aldana has been in the UFC for nearly 6 years now but has continually fallen short of being seriously considered for a title shot, and a win here could put her on the short list of challengers. I think she’ll be able to handle Chiasson’s takedown attempts and do enough work on the feet to take a decision. (Prediction: Irene Aldana)

Jamie Harkin: Aldana has been doing fairly well but has only fought once a year since 2019, her most recent win against a distracted Yana Kunitskaya. But she’s dropped fights to post-prime Holly Holm and Raquel Pennington.

Stylistically, I don’t think there’s much analysis to be done here beyond that Chiasson is longer and taller and Aldana typically struggles fighting strikers her own size, so I’m going Chiasson by decision here. (Prediction: Macy Chiasson)

Consensus: 3-1 Aldana

Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez

Kevin Holland, Daniel Rodriguez
© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports © Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Harvey Leonard: This will be a good one. Both men are long and rangy strikers, but Holland will have the advantage in height and reach. Will that make a difference? Perhaps, especially given Holland’s edge when it comes to striking accuracy. With that, I expect “Trailblazer” to keep Rodriguez on the end of his punches and utilize his speed and movement to avoid any of Rodriguez’s attempts to burst into range.

Rodriguez is certainly a live underdog, but Holland is a difficult puzzle to crack on the feet, especially for someone coming off such a long layoff. Whoever comes out on top, this one should bring fireworks. (Prediction: Kevin Holland)

Andrew Starc: Kevin Holland has looked impressive since returning to welterweight in March this year. Following two losses and a draw to some of the best middleweights, as a 170-pounder Holland has finished Alex Oliveira and Tim Means, with both wins earning him a Performance of the Night bonus.

Daniel Rodriguez, meanwhile, is riding a three-fight win streak, having last year secured victories over Mike Perry, Preston Parsons and Kevin Lee. I think Holland’s athleticism, seven-inch reach advantage and experience fighting much higher caliber opponents will see him make easy work of Rodriguez. (Prediction: Kevin Holland)

Drew Beaupré: This fights stands out as probably the most well-matched and meaningful bout on the UFC 279 main card. Holland is a fan-favorite who appears to have silenced some of the concerns about his ground game after submitting Tim Means, but it’s unlikely that he’ll have to worry too much about being taken down in this fight anyway.

Rodriguez is fairly underrated considering he’s 6-1 in the UFC (plus a Contender Series win), and he’ll come into this matchup with very little to lose but a whole lot to gain given Holland’s popularity. I’ll go with Rodriguez to not be bothered by any of Holland’s antics and score the upset victory. (Prediction: Daniel Rodriguez)

Jamie Harkin: I’m a huge Big Mouth fan, so I may be biased here, but I believe Holland has been fighting significantly higher caliber opponents and has severely underrated ground game. He’s got three blackbelts (two in Kung Fu and one in BJJ). Holland has only lost to Thiago Santos, Brendan Allen, Derek Brunson, and Marvin Vettori, and even then, Brunson and Vettori were terrified to strike with him.

D-Rod has significantly less high-level experience, but fairly recent wins over Mike Perry and kicking Kevin Lee out of the promotion can’t be overlooked. That said, 25 minutes with Marvin Vettori is worth more in experience than anything, I’m going Kevin Holland by something slick. (Prediction: Kevin Holland)

Consensus: 3-1 Holland

Li Jingliang vs. Tony Ferguson

Photos via ZUFFA

Harvey Leonard: This feels like somewhat of a bizarre matchup for a 38-year-old who was knocked out cold. When I think of Ferguson’s defeat at UFC 274, moving up to welterweight four months later to face a man with the size, strength, and power as Li doesn’t jump out as a good option, especially given how “The Leech” has dispatched Santiago Ponzinibbio and Muslim Salikhov in recent times.

In such a short period, Ferguson can’t have adequately prepared for this move up. Yes, he’s competed at 170 before, but he fought at 155 in May, and now he’s looking to square up with a natural welterweight four months later, post-brutal KO. I think it’s a risk that won’t pay off. (Prediction: Li Jingliang)

Andrew Starc: After being annihilated by Khamzat Chimaev, Li Jingliang rebounded spectacularly against Musli Salikhov in July, earning a second-round TKO win. That victory was a reminder that the 34-year-old is far more than the helpless victim who was effortlessly picked up and paraded before Dana White by Khamazat in their 2021 encounter. Some may forget that just one fight prior, Jingliang had knocked out Santiago Pinzinibbio in the first round.   

Having lost his last four, Tony Ferguson will be fighting at welterweight for the first time since 2011, when he defeated Ramsey Nijem to win The Ultimate Fighter season finale. And I don’t think the change in weight class is going to help his cause. I’ve got Jingliang getting a finish here. (Prediction: Li Jingliang)

Drew Beaupré: Let’s not let the main event distract from the only marginally less-weird matchmaking in the co-main event. Ferguson’s welterweight debut comes after 4-straight losses and one of the year’s most brutal knockouts in his last fight against Michael Chandler. Li Jingliang has never been in serious title contention, but “The Leech” has spent his entire career at welterweight and has won a lot more fights than he’s lost in the UFC, plus he’s a hard hitter.

“El Cucuy” certainly isn’t going to back down from a challenge, but at this stage of his career it seems like a strange fight even by the standards of one of MMA’s most unique personalities. (Prediction: Li Jingliang)

Jamie Harkin: Tony’s only path to victory here is to pull guard and wrap up a submission. Tony is too tough for his own good, and this is far too soon for him to return after getting flatlined by Mike Chandler. As good as he looked in the first round of that fight, Tony’s chin went along with his streak. (Prediction: Li Jingliang)

Consensus: 4-0 Jingliang

Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz

Khamzat Chimaev, Nate Diaz
© David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Harvey Leonard: It’s hard to see this going any way other than Chimaev having his hand raised. Those who suggest Diaz can cause an upset seem to buy into some new narrative that “Borz” fatigues. I’m not sure that looking tired after a three-round war that will no doubt be in the FOTY conversation equals ‘fatigue’.

Diaz is certainly outmatched in this contest. Of course, he can’t be fully counted out — he has the BJJ skills to capitalize on any mistakes and latch onto a submission. But will Chimaev make mistakes? Perhaps the only one we’ve seen from him was choosing to brawl with Burns. Given that Diaz hasn’t knocked anyone out since 2013, it’s hard to see him doing what “Durinho” couldn’t (Prediction: Khamzat Chimaev)

Andrew Starc: Khamzat Chimaev’s first real UFC test against Gilbert Burns told us many things. Namely, that he has what it takes to hang with welterweight division’s best, but also that he’s human and even flawed. Still, Khamzat passed the test that was Burns, showing otherworldly durability and takedown defense.  

Perhaps the only test Nate Diaz poses for Khamzat is that relating to his gas tank. The Swede will be fighting a five-rounder for the first time, against a man seemingly built for that very purpose. Can Diaz survive an initial onslaught, outlast Chimaev and finish him in the later rounds? It’s possible, but I’m leaning toward Chimaev getting a finish here. (Prediction: Khamzat Chimaev)

Drew Beaupré: The last UFC PPV headlined by a non-title fight was UFC 272: Covington vs. Masvidal. That card certainly had a questionable main event, but at least there was plenty of history between Covington and Masvidal to make it interesting. The UFC may try to build this up as a grudge match, but there’s really no narrative aside from it being the last fight on Diaz’s contract. Diaz spent the majority of his career at lightweight, while Chimaev’s pre-UFC career was spent at welterweight and middleweight.

There’s also the fact that Chimaev is a horrific stylistic matchup for Diaz; fans will be quick to laud his jiu-jitsu skills, but that doesn’t change the fact that fighters much smaller than Chimaev have managed to hold him down for long periods. Going the distance without getting absolutely battered could be considered a good result for Diaz, but whatever happens he’ll at least be free to do what he wants with the remainder of his fighting career. (Prediction: Khamzat Chimaev)

Jamie Harkin: “I’m not surprised, motherf*cker” was my first thought when this fight was made, and I’m not going to be surprised by the outcome. Khamzat is the real deal, and so is Nate. However, Nate has 10 years on Khamzat, and a lot more experience, but also three times as many pro fights as Khamzat.

Diaz will be dangerous off his back as he always is, and if he can push through the first two rounds and deep into the third, his chances improve dramatically, but everyone who’s ever even smelled Khamzat in the gym has said he’s the strongest person they’ve ever met, and I can’t imagine Diaz resisting the takedowns and eventually getting choked out.

That’s if Khamzat fights smart, which as we saw in March, he doesn’t always do. He’s looking past Nate, and he wants a dogfight to prove himself. This is the ideal situation for Nate, and he thrives on it. Diaz. Late R4 triangle. Stockton M’Fers. (Prediction: Nate Diaz)

Consensus: 3-1 Chimaev

That’ll do it for our UFC 279 staff picks! What do you think? Do your picks look similar? Let us know in the comments section! Also, you can check out the UFC 279 undercard below. And be sure to stick with MMA News for all the coverage leading up to UFC 279 as well as Fight Night and post-fight coverage!

UFC 279 Preliminary Card (8:00 PM ET, ESPNEWS/ESPN+)

Featherweight: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Julian Erosa

Heavyweight: Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Jailton Almeida

Middleweight: Jamie Pickett vs. Denis Tiuliulin

Heavyweight: Jake Collier vs. Chris Barnett

UFC 279 EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD

Women’s Featherweight: Norma Dumont vs. Danyelle Wolf

Bantamweight: Alateng Heili vs. Chad Anheliger

Women’s Strawweight: Elise Reed vs. Melissa Martinez

Welterweight: Darian Weeks vs. Yohan Lainesse

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