While UFC 279’s main event is easily a fan favorite matchup, it has garnered its fair share of criticism as a mismatch. Khamzat Chimaev has been on an absolute tear across both 170 and 185 pounds, owns an undefeated record, and last beat Gilbert Burns, a top contender in the welterweight division.
Nate Diaz is a former lightweight turned welterweight, coming off of two losses, with his last win coming in 2019 against Anthony Pettis, another former lightweight. Diaz is absolutely one of the largest stars in the promotion right now due to his rivalry with the notorious Conor McGregor and his BMF belt match with Jorge Masvidal.
The decision by the UFC to put the veteran star up against the surging contender left a few fans scratching their heads despite the obvious excitement. Analysts, including Dan Hardy, have been extremely harsh in their criticism of the promotion, but at the end of the day, the two will fight. So the question remains, does Nate Diaz have a chance against Khamzat Chimaev? Well, in a game of inches, where anything can happen, of course Diaz has a shot, but the true question is, “what are his chances?”
Nate Diaz’s career as a whole is a splatter of mixed results, but to be fair, the fights he pursued were ambitious. In terms of ranking, the highest level he achieved in the sport was fighting for the 155lb title in 2012 against Benson Henderson and he stayed a perennial contender for most of his career afterward. However, throughout his career, Diaz has been counted out many times. The first major being Donald Cerrone who at the time was undefeated in the UFC and on a six-fight win streak. Cerrone was dubbed the -400 favorite, meaning that oddsmakers had enough faith in him that it cost $400 just to win $100 on him.
Diaz shocked those same oddsmakers by putting on a boxing clinic against “Cowboy” Cerrone, but that was only the second most well-known time Diaz defied the odds. In 2016 Rafael Dos Anjos was pulled from the biggest UFC at the time against Conor McGregor. The two held titles in separate divisions, and the bout was scheduled for McGregor to potentially make history as the first-ever double champion. However, on 11 days’ notice, Diaz stepped in to save the card and take on the Irishman at welterweight.
While McGregor was the reigning champion, having just dethroned Jose Aldo, Diaz called his shot after beating Michael Johnson on FOX as an undercard fight for Cerrone. However, a perfectly worded callout and his willingness to leave his vacation to fight in just a week and a half were more than enough. That being said, few gave him a shot. Oddsmakers had McGregor as high a favorite as -475. Yet, it was McGregor who wobbled and was submitted in the second round.
Nate Diaz’s style is one made for the upset. He lacks much explosive power, slick movement, or sharpness, but he makes up for this with persistent pressure, volume boxing, and dangerous submissions. Diaz trains his cardio via triathlon training, which is what lends him his tremendous pace over long fights. He tends to get outworked early when he and his opponent are both fresh, and his speed detriment is on display. However, as time goes on, his superior conditioning, as well as the efficient boxing style in which he doesn’t need to explode with big kicks, allows him to start snowballing them with strikes. He doesn’t throw 100% into each shot instead pot shots with 3 or 4 before landing one power punch. The other major attribute Diaz possesses is his reach becomes accentuated with exhaustion as he begins to land too far away to be countered by tired opponents.
Diaz also has extremely slick jiu-jitsu, he has 11 submissions on his record and grappled one step ahead of Anthony Pettis their entire fight. However, the vast majority of his submission victories have come off of his back, via guillotine or triangle. As a smaller fighter at welterweight, it’s easy to imagine Diaz being rag-dolled by the better wrestlers of the division, and there isn’t really any chance we see Diaz gain any ground going head to head with Chimaev in this apartment. It’s that split moment in transition where Diaz could snake in a choke or snap something should Chimaev gas or get tagged.
Diaz’s style lends itself to the upset because it’s not fanciful or fast. He often loses until he pulls ahead seemingly from nowhere. He often catches opportunities in disadvantageous positions. Will Diaz beat Chimaev? Probably not, but just look at his record, if there’s ever a fighter who can never be counted out, it’s Nate Diaz.