UFC 279 was expected to be a ho-hum event. Subpar for a PPV, but not so lowly it would appear to be just another Fight Night card. Then, all hell broke loose leading into the event, leading to cancelled press conferences, several fighters missing weight, and a jumbled card featuring a glut of catchweight contests. In the process, Nate Diaz sails out of the UFC on a high note, finishing out his contract, and Khamzat Chimaev sees his public persona perform one hell of a 180 after being in the middle of every controversy over the week. Given the circus that tends to follow a Diaz fight week – pick either Nick or Nate at this point – I suppose we should have expected shenanigans. It was just odd that while they were involved in some of them, they were never the central figure.
For a quick recap of the lesser storylines of UFC 279 – and a brief touching on some of the larger ones – let’s dig into my Unofficial Awards….
For a different perspective, click here. For an audio recap of the event click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: If’s rare a fighter improves their stock in a loss – particularly if the loss isn’t in the main or co-main event – but Jingliang Li proved to be an exception to the rule. Granted, that’s because all the happenings leading into the event proved to be an exception to the rule, but Li can’t be blamed for all the shenanigans; he simply turned it all around into his favor. First, Li opted to agree to fight Daniel Rodriguez despite Rodriguez having weighed in a good 8.5 pounds heavier than him. To many, that was the most gangster move of the night on an evening when the victors of the main and co-main events were jostling to prove who was more gangster. Second, there is a very small minority that believed Rodriguez deserved the win. Out of 23 media scores on MMA Decisions, 21 believed Li should have been awarded the victory, myself included. The deck was stacked against Li, but he didn’t care, nor did he complain when it ultimately worked against him. The organization should have him on their list of favorites at this point. If it doesn’t that says a lot about the UFC.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This is a tricky spot. Some would say Chimaev, but I’ll address that later. Some would say Tony Ferguson, but I would say he is who we thought he was, at least at this stage. It isn’t the sexiest name to pick out of one of the craziest weekends the UFC has ever seen, but I’ll slide Hakeem Dawodu in here. The Canadian was roughly a 2-to-1 favorite over Julian Erosa and never looked like he should have been at any point in their contest. He looked flat and uninspired, not bothering to press the issue after it was obvious he was down two rounds. While no one had any illusions of Dawodu developing into a contender at this stage, there was still a belief he make a few more improvements and perhaps turn himself into an entertaining gatekeeper from within the official rankings. That would appear to be a pipe dream at this point.
Best Newcomer: There were three fighters who made their UFC debuts, but none of them had a good outcome. Out of those three, I’d say Melissa Martinez had the most promising debut. It was a poor tactical decision in the final round that prevented her from securing a potential decision victory. At 25 with just eight professional contests under her belt, there’s a lot of room for her to grow into a fixture at women’s strawweight.
Saved Their Job(s): I was convinced it was put up or shut up time for Johnny Walker. The charismatic Brazilian had been a shell of the explosive version of the guy who exploded onto the UFC in his first three fights. If he couldn’t put together a winning performance, it very much felt like Uncle Dana was going to pull the plug. While it wasn’t the type of performance that originally had everyone buzzing about him, Walker did display some poise in reversing Cutelaba on the ground and eventually finding the submission finish. I’m not gullible enough to think he’s about to go on a title run, but I do believe he has it in him to hang around for years to come.
Uncle Dana doesn’t care for what he would perceive as a sideshow. That’s why he kept Kimbo Slice around for only two fights, even though the legendary street brawler would have continued to lend eyeballs to the UFC product. Thus, even though Chris Barnett produced one of the UFC’s best KO’s of 2021, it would have been his third loss in four UFC appearances had he fallen to Jake Collier. That Barnett missed weight – just the second heavyweight to do so – didn’t help either. After Collier came this close to putting Barnett away in the first round, Barnett regrouped in the second round and pounded Collier into the mat after a scramble put Collier on his back. The fight was an absolute joy to watch and Barnett’s post-fight interview only added to the moment. The man is a treasure and the hope here is the UFC keeps him around as long as Barnett wants to be around.
Given the reserved nature in which he fought, Yohan Lainesse should send a fruit basket to the judges for deciding in his favor. His victory over Darian Weeks was a poor way to start out the night, Lainesse doing a lot of dancing around the cage with very little engagement. Weeks wasn’t much better, but most Twitter scorecards seemed to lean in favor of Weeks. Regardless, Lainesse keeps his job, but it’s doubtful matchmakers do him any favors going forward.
Start Typing a Resume: Even though the guess here is that Ion Cutelaba appears to be a favorite of the brass, the results haven’t been there as of late, a 1-4-1 record dotting the landscape over his last six appearances. To be fair to Cutelaba, he isn’t losing to bums, either this loss to Johnny Walker or the previous one to Ryan Spann being the worst of the losses. But the Moldovan product needs to produce results. Perhaps the UFC will give him one more chance given not just the level of difficulty he has faced, but the aggression he regularly shows. If that’s the case, expect the UFC to give him a favorable contest so there won’t be any excuses should another loss follow.
I get the feeling Jamie Pickett is going to survive the next round of cuts, but I’m not sure I’d be so forgiving. The UFC gave Pickett every opportunity to make the roster, requiring three appearances on TUF before he picked up a contract. Now that he has made the roster, he sports a 2-4 record, the wins coming against a guy who had no business fighting at middleweight and another against a youngster who got called to the big show too soon. Each of his UFC losses also appear to look worse as more time goes by. I certainly wouldn’t be astonished if Pickett returns, but I’d probably lean towards letting someone else have his roster spot.
It’s no sure thing that he’s out the door, but the UFC doesn’t appear to have a soft spot for Collier. Thus, his three losses in his last four appearances could be enough to award him a pink slip. After all, Collier isn’t a natural heavyweight and appears to be what he is at the age of 33. He’s certainly serviceable and I’d bring him back if I was the one pulling the strings. However, the UFC also has a different and better perspective, meaning Collier could be on the way out.
I have been of the belief the UFC signed Weeks before he was ready, so seeing him drop his third fight in as many tries under the UFC banner. Thus, while I’m flabbergasted the judges ruled against him – I can’t conceive of Lainesse taking either of the last two rounds – I also don’t believe it is anything to get up in arms about. At 28, Weeks isn’t so old that some polish wouldn’t be bad for him. Of course, he could end up in Bellator, but I don’t see that being a bad fit for him either.
Best Heel Turn: While Chimaev’s likeability factor has taken a massive hit, I wouldn’t say his stock has. After all, it was his fourth UFC contest he won without absorbing a significant strike, fifth with one or less. He’s still an incredibly talented fighter who appears destined to wear UFC gold someday. Whether that’s at 170, 185, or both, that’s a debate that we can have going down the road. Regardless, I couldn’t say Chimaev’s stock took a hit given he was as dominant as we expected him to be in the cage, manhandling Kevin Holland and getting him to submit in a hurry. We’ve seen Holland manhandled at middleweight; we never saw him submit. The funny thing is Chimaev may have done the best thing for his career in the long-term with the heel turn. Floyd Mayweather was a PPV star not because he was an exciting watch; people tuned in because they wanted to say they watched when he finally suffered that first loss. Conor McGregor has as many people watching his fights in hopes of seeing him lose as well. It could be argued all the shenanigans of this past week have boosted Chimaev in the long term.
Biggest WOW Moment: This is a hard spot to figure. Diaz submitting Ferguson offered a degree of surprise, but not to the extent it would have had the fight happened three years ago before Ferguson began his decline. Given Holland’s reputation as being difficult to put away, Chimaev subbing him could have secured this spot. However, the spot I like was more of a What the Hell moment before a second viewing turned it into a WOW moment. Macy Chiasson was standing over a prone Irene Aldana, Aldana throwing upkicks to keep Chiasson from diving in. However, as those kicks seemed to crash harmlessly against the body of Chiasson, the standing fighter collapsed in a heap, the referee not completely sure what happened before waving the fight off. Instant replay showed one of those upkicks from Aldana landed with some serious force right in the liver of Chiasson, thus causing the collapse. I’ve seen thousands of fights – many of them multiple times – and I can’t recall having seen an upkick incapacitate someone upon connection to some place other than the face. Thus, while I may have been more confused upon seeing it in real time, I was certainly saying wow after figuring out what in the hell happened.
Cure for Insomnia: I understood why the UFC put Lainesse and Weeks in the curtain jerker. I thought they were going to produce fireworks myself. Instead, their fight was the worst way to open the card thanks to the lack of activity from both fighters. About the only thing they accomplished with their blah performances was ensure whoever came out on the short end of the stick would end up on the chopping block.
Best Chart Climber: While many would say Diaz isn’t as good as his reputation would indicate, the 15-year UFC vet has had one of the more storied careers in the organization. He added to the accolades in what could very well be his last fight in the organization. The submission over Ferguson was the 10th in the UFC for Diaz, tying him with Royce Gracie for fourth-most in UFC history at 10. Being awarded a Performance Bonus gave him 16, moving him into sole possession of the third-most Bonuses in UFC history to break the tie he had with Joe Lauzon. Even if you don’t consider Diaz to be an all-time great – a stance I fully understand — it can’t be denied that he’s a legend of the sport to fight at a high level for such a long time… and doing so consistently in an entertaining fashion.
Bonus Numbers: Due to his missing weight, Chimaev was ineligible to pick up a Performance Bonus, marking the first time in his six UFC fights that he didn’t get a bonus. It also snapped a streak of two appearances in which Holland snapped up a bonus, though it should be noted it should be noted Holland can still claim he has picked up a Bonus in all of his welterweight fights in the organization. Walker also took home his first Bonus since he opened his UFC career with three in a row. There was also what could prove to be the first Bonus of many for Jailton Almeida. In terms of a lack of Bonuses, Norma Dumont and Pickett extended their UFC careers to six fights without having received a Bonus, the most on the card. However, in terms of the longest drough overall, Cutelaba has now gone 10 fights without receiving a Bonus, dating back to his FOTN with Jared Cannonier in December 2016.
About the author