The curtain looks set to fall on once-great career, while an emerging star aims to further enhance his status as the next big thing in the UFC 279 main event in Las Vegas on Sunday (Australian time).
Mixed martial arts legend Nate Diaz (20-13) will make one final appearance in the world’s biggest promotion, and he will bow out in fitting style, taking on the biggest challenges right until the very end as he has done throughout his storied career.
And there are few tougher opponents in the welterweight division right now than the No.3 contender Khamzat Chimaev (11-0).
Watch UFC 279: Chimaev v Diaz LIVE on Main Event available on Kayo & Foxtel, Sunday 11 September from 12pm AEST. ORDER NOW >
The undefeated Swedish wrecking ball has taken all before him since joining the UFC, famously sweeping aside John Phillips, Rhys McKee and Gerald Meerschaert in the space of 66 days back in 2020 (a UFC record), before blitzing Li Jingliang and edging past Gilbert Burns in April via unanimous decision.
Diaz has lost three of his last four fights, but has only stepped into the Octagon three times in the past six years, and hasn‘t tasted victory since defeating Anthony Pettis three years ago.
But Diaz told Fox Sports Australia’s Fight Week program that the stakes were high for both men.
“The pressure’s on him. He better finish me because he’s the next killer in town,” Diaz said.
“The pressure’s on me because I better not get killed by the next killer, the best in town, because they’re saying he’s the best in town. If I whip his ass, they’ll say, ‘Oh, he wasn’t the best in town’.”
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And while the bookmakers have installed Chimaev as an overwhelming favourite, Diaz provided a reminder of what he will be up against at T-Mobile Arena.
“I’m the champion of the whole UFC altogether and I don’t give a f–k,” he said.
“Nobody’s fought the top 10 guys in the last 15 years but me. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody. I’m the greatest fighter to ever step into the UFC Octagon.”
UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski anticipated that Diaz would provide Chimaev a stern test, just like Burns did in April.
“When you’ve got these top guys who are going to be a little bit more durable or (have a) little bit more strategy, a little more (capable of making the) right decisions at the right time and things like that and you’ve got guys like Nate Diaz who is very durable,” Volkanovski said.
No.14 lightweight contender Dan Hooker was also interested to see how Chimaev would go against another “higher echelon” fighter.
“The skillsets get finer as you get into that top 10, top 5,” Hooker said.
“I expect Nate Diaz is not one of those guys that you can just come out there and blow out of the water, he (Chimaev) is going to have to be a bit more patient, he’s going to have to show him a bit more respect.
“He (Diaz) is one of the best in the world, there’s absolutely no denying that.”
Diaz’s proven durability could pose a serious challenge for Chimaev, according to Volkanovski.
“Chimaev is no joke and there’s a reason why he’s favourite, but at the same time, Nate Diaz has been in there with everybody and he’s taken it from the best and he’s always still standing,” Volkanovski said.
The UFC 279 co-main event sees former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson return to welterweight after 11 years where he will take on China’s Li Jingliang.
After four consecutive losses at lightweight, Hooker said Ferguson‘s move to welterweight “makes sense” considering he won the Ultimate Fighter tournament in that division.
Despite his lengthy active losing streak, Volkanovski remained optimistic about what lay ahead for Ferguson.
“I thought he was looking great in his last fight, he looked like that dangerous Tony Ferguson that was always there,” Volkanovski said.
“I think he even hurt (Michael) Chandler but then obviously got caught the way he did, but it looked like that pressure he was putting on … he looked scary and I feel like that’s what we’re going to see.”
Li might be the warm favourite, but he certainly won’t be underestimating Ferguson.
“For those people who didn’t turn Tony Ferguson out, I think you forgot how he cut those faces of those high-level fighters, how his D‘arce choke choked a lot of amazing guys, you cannot forget about all of those things,” Li said through an interpreter.
CHIMAEV v DIAZ TALE OF THE TAPE
MMA record: Chimaev 11-0, Diaz 20-13
Age: Chimaev 28, Diaz 37
Height: Chimaev 6’2”, Diaz 6’0”
Weight: Chimaev TBC, Diaz TBC
Reach: Chimaev 75”, Diaz 76”
Chimaev $1.09, Diaz $7.50
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WHEN DOES UFC 279 START?
The main card starts at midday AEST
The prelims start at 10am AEST
The early prelims start at 8am AEST
UFC 277 CARD
Main card (from midday AEST)
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz – welterweight
Li Jingliang vs. Tony Ferguson – welterweight
Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez – catchweight (180 lb)
Irene Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson – women’s bantamweight
Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cuțelaba – light heavyweight
Preliminary card (from 10am AEST)
Hakeem Dawodu vs. Julian Erosa – featherweight
Jailton Almeida vs. Anton Turkalj – catchweight (220 lb)
Denis Tiuliulin vs. Jamie Pickett – middleweight
Jake Collier vs. Chris Barnett – heavyweight
Early preliminary card (from 8am AEDT)
Norma Dumont vs. Danyelle Wolf – women‘s featherweight
Chad Anheliger vs. Alateng Heili – bantamweight
Melissa Martinez vs. Elise Reed – women‘s strawweight
Darian Weeks vs. Yohan Lainesse – welterweight