Monday, September 26, 2022

5 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC 279

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned to our screens for its latest pay-per-view event, UFC 279.

This past week, the UFC has been back on home territory in Las Vegas for another PPV card inside the T-Mobile Arena. The word ‘eventful’ doesn’t even come close to how fight week played out…

We had Khamzat Chimaev and Paulo Costa colliding at the UFC Performance Institute, an “unprecedented” backstage brawl that was sold as so crazy that Thursday’s press conference had to be cancelled, and a weight miss that not only affected the night’s main event but shifted the entire card in the process.

Still, fights were fought and punches were thrown.

After some re-shuffling, the UFC 279 leading attraction saw Nate Diaz in the kind of matchup fit for his expected farewell, with previous co-headliner Tony Ferguson stepping up to the plate. Whilst original poster boy Chimaev slipped one place on the card to collide with rival Kevin Holland, Li Jingliang proved his toughness by facing Daniel Rodriguez, who weighed in 10 pounds heavier than “The Leech” on Friday.

With the changes leaving many branding the card better than before, did it deliver an exciting set of bouts? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC 279.

Negative – Chimaev.

Messy, for so many reasons…

Chimaev’s antics and failings during fight week not only had immediate consequences for the UFC 279 card, but it did so for other fighters and plenty of the promotion’s employees.

I’ve got to start this with the usual disclaimer — I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what went on behind the scenes with his weight and any reported medical issues. However, to be so overweight that close to weigh-in time suggests a majorly malfunctioned preparation and cut, and even with some sort of logical explanation, will the wider fanbase look any deeper than the number on the scale? I’d suggest not.

That’s without even mentioning his conduct on the scale, which saw smirks and a middle finger, as well as his lack of remorse for the discretion post-fight.

Add into that the altercation with Costa, which had the potential to explode into something more serious, and the backstage action on Thursday — In reality, it looked incredibly exaggerated, but I’ll take White’s word on the safety concerns — and you’ve got a guy who clearly can’t be trusted to headline any event, yet alone a blockbuster PPV.

That’s true with regards to the card changes he forced, but also the weeks of production work that had no doubt gone to waste. The Chechen-born Swede’s antics left the UFC team with hours to prepare footage for the ceremonial weigh-ins and just a day to create content for an entire main card.

Regardless of the result, Chimaev went from a shoe-in for a future welterweight title shot with a likely victory over one of the sport’s biggest stars to a man who’s future in the division will now be questioned — and who likely can’t be trusted to headline in a championship fight yet.

Negative – ‘Why Is She Still Doing What’s Working?’

The women’s featherweight contest between Norma Dumont and debutant Danyelle Wolf was a negative for a myriad of reasons.

The main one was courtesy of the commentary team — color me shocked. Throughout the opening two rounds, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier, and numerous media figures online, seemed to question Dumont’s decision to strike with Wolf. The reasoning appeared to solely be because ‘she’s a three-time USA Boxing National Champion’.

Okay, but what about what’s actually happening in the fight?

Why are we looking at the ‘on paper’ section of the matchup when we can assess what’s happening right in front of us? In this instance, that was the Brazilian piecing Wolf up on the feet and knocking her down numerous times.

Could Dumont have taken Wolf down and submitted her in one round, as many had suggested should have been the case? Perhaps, but the American also did a somewhat adequate job of defending passes on her back in the final frame.

Either way, why would she choose to take the fight to the ground when she’s getting the better of a renowned boxer in the standup realm? Interestingly, the same individuals who claimed Dumont was making an error striking also suggested she was making a mistake by clinching Wolf after rocking her.

Okay, so which is it?

The other negative in this bout was the state of the 145-pound division. While the thin (if that’s even an extreme enough term) nature of the weight class was no secret pre-UFC 279, the fact that Dumont was matched with a 1-0 professional who hadn’t competed since a fairly underwhelming Dana White‘s Contender Series appearance in 2020 says a lot.

Positive – Barnett Has The Dog In Him

When I try and get my future kids into MMA, Chris Barnett may be the first person I show them.

Barnett appeared down and out. In the opening round, the overweight heavyweight (that’s a rare sentence to have to type) had been dropped more than once and looked beaten and bloody. Entering the corner, it appeared there was a good chance the fight would be called off, and by the looks of things, it probably should have been.

Barnett’s right eye was completely closed, and there also didn’t appear to be a check on the jaw, which appeared to be damaged. But while watching “Beastboy” head to the middle for another round was initially uncomfortable, he soon turned the tide and delivered some unbelievable entertainment.

After avoiding Jake Collier’s takedown attempt, Barnett unloaded with punches on the ground. Having forced a TKO stoppage, the 36-year-old left enough in the tank for a front flip and some dancing, which continued all the way to the back with a pair of beers in hand.

While it’s a shame that his weight miss meant he wasn’t eligible for a bonus, Barnett delivered one of the night’s best moments and had the crowd chanting his name.

Positive – The Almeida Express Rolls On

Jailton Almeida’s stock went up once again on Saturday night courtesy of yet another dominant display.

After dominating Danilo Marques en route to a first-round TKO win on debut this past February, Almeida headed to heavyweight having built a 10-fight win streak at 205 pounds. With a fast demolition of Parker Porter, “Malhadinho” signaled himself as one of the hottest prospects in the UFC.

And while his chance to jump into the rankings fell away thanks to Shamil Abdurakhimov’s withdrawal, Almeida once again impressed at UFC 279. The victim this time was the previously unbeaten Anton Turkalj, who accepted a late call to face the Brazilian in a 220-pound catchweight bout.

New opponent? New weight? No problem.

After delivering the kind of impactful takedown we’ve come to associate with him, Almeida went to work on the ground. With less than a minute left in the round, “Malhadinho” found himself in mount and took advantage of his rival’s twisting to reach around Turkalj’s back and latch onto a rear-naked choke.

Having maintained his 100% finishing record with another rapid triumph, Almeida looks to be a scary presence in the cage, and looks set for a quick rise up the heavyweight ladder in the coming months and years.

Positive – Worm Retribution

Johnny Walker via submission was certainly not a possibility I was giving much attention to heading into UFC 279.

Saturday’s main card opener was a huge one for Walker. When the Brazilian landed a flying knee to the head of Misha Cirkunov back in 2019, his ceiling looked immensely high. But things quickly went downhill, starting with his post-fight celebration, which saw Walker’s attempt at the worm end in a shoulder dislocation.

Whilst it’s taken a rough five-fight period that saw him go 1-4 inside the Octagon, Walker was back at the T-Mobile Arena looking to deliver on the worm he botched at UFC 235. And by stopping Ion Cuțelaba with a first-round rear-naked choke, Walker set the stage and completed the celebration shoulder intact.

This result was massive for Walker. Having suffered back-to-back headline losses, the most recent of which ended by way of a brutal KO, Walker was in danger of falling to his first three-fight skid and seeing his potential plummet further in the eyes of most.

Instead, Walker has returned to winning ways, cemented his place in the rankings, and perhaps laid the foundation to pick up where he left off post-2019 flying knee.

Positive – A Wild Finish

When you think you’ve seen it all…

There aren’t many sports that naturally encourage innovation quite like mixed martial arts. Be it through knockouts like Joaquin Buckley’s highlight-reel spinning back kick against Impa Kasanganay and Kevin Holland’s KO of Jacare Souza off his back to the ultra-rare twister and buggy choke submissions, there’s always knew techniques and fight-ending shots emerging.

Well, we can now add TKO via upkick to the liver to the list.

The catchweight contest between Irene Aldana and Macy Chiasson had been extremely entertaining, with the Mexican dominating the opening round with submission attempts and the American turning the tide with ground strikes in the second.

While things looked to be going in Chiasson’s favor — and on the way to inevitable controversy following a fairly clear first-round tap that was missed, robbing Aldana of a quick win — the arena was silenced when Chiasson fell to the ground having stood over the downed Mexican.

With a replay, it became clear that Aldana had delivered quite the miraculous stoppage, with a vicious upkick resulting in her heel landing flush to Chiasson’s liver, disabling her à la Kai Kara-France against Brandon Moreno in July.

A creative first-of-its-kind finish? That’s a positive.

Negative – “Misguided Boos”

Jon Anik summed up the Vegas crowd’s conduct during Li Jingliang vs. Daniel Rodriguez in a much politer way than most, but the sentiment remains — booing that fight was ridiculous.

Besides the fact that the bout itself wasn’t exactly lacking anyway, both men entered the Octagon to face a different opponent to who they expected to collide with when they weighed in. Not only were both men competing against each other on 24 hours’ notice, but “The Leech” was doing so opposite a man who weighed in almost a weight class above him.

The pair could have recreated Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza 2 and they still wouldn’t have deserved a chorus of boos.

Sure, boo The Queen, but don’t you dare boo “The Leech.”

Positive – A Fitting Conclusion

It’s worth remembering post-UFC 279 main and co-main events that the promotion wanted to send Diaz out off the back of a date in the cage with Chimaev.

Thankfully, whether through the MMA gods or pure justice, Diaz got the sendoff his career had earned. After three rounds that were bizarre in the best sense of the word, the Stockton native recorded his first finish since his upset against Conor McGregor, submitting Tony Ferguson via guillotine choke.

Ultimately, Diaz left on his terms off the back of a victory and as perhaps the biggest free agent the sport has ever seen. That’s 1-0 Diaz at the full-time whistle, and I’ll let you decide who that’s against…

What were your positives and negatives from UFC 279?

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