Nate Diaz will face yet another fast-rising contender when he fights Khamzat Chimaev in the main event of UFC 279 this Saturday night.
Diaz, who has just one fight remaining on his UFC contract, is a huge underdog before this weekend’s five-round bout as many fans and the oddsmakers clearly believe that the dominant wrestler will make it six wins in a row in the UFC.
As always, we’re here to break down this UFC main event fight and share our predictions before Nate Diaz vs. Khamzat Chimaev.
Nate Diaz is a massive underdog before UFC 279 this weekend. At these odds, his implied probability to win is close to six percent.
Khamzat Chimaev is a massive favorite over Nate Diaz, and with good reason, but there are a lot of factors. Stylistically, Diaz has always struggled with big strong wrestlers, at lightweight he was able to offset some of these, such as Gray Maynard, with submission threats enough to force striking exchanges and utilize his boxing. However, with the exception of Conor McGregor and Anthony Pettis, who are also more natural lightweights like himself, he has struggled against true 170lbers. Rory Macdonald is the best example of this, who dominated so heavily in the wrestling that Diaz was suplexed thrice in succession. Chimaev is not only a true welterweight, but he has looked excellent at middleweight as well.
Chimaev is likely the best wrestler in the division. He is a junior bronze medalist at the Russian nationals and a 3x Swedish National champion. His takedowns are diverse and unpredictable as he shoots low but mixes up the level at which he finishes, ankle picking, digging underhooks or cutting to the back just as easily. On the mat, Chimaev usually laces one leg and allows his opponents to choose between eating ground and pound or give up their back.
In terms of striking, he is relatively fundamental, but offensively his weapons are sharp. He has good power in his straight right and has a nice jab, and his body and leg kicks are great. His head kicks are not quite as polished, but his head movement is smooth in short combinations. However, when drawn into longer exchanges the stiffness becomes more apparent as striking is not his first nature.
Diaz loves those longer exchanges, often throwing upwards of 6 or so shots in a combination, especially if he can trap someone on the fence and unload hooks to the body. He does this to a slightly lesser degree than his brother, which is a common misconception, but he is a bit more explosive. This is best exemplified in a very clean 1-2 combination, and he throws it on an off-rhythm, instead of throwing the cross as he retracts the jab the cross has started mid-jab making it difficult to read.
Regardless, however, the difference in volume will be negated by Chimaev’s grappling and power. His feints will force Diaz to react to the takedown threat and exchanging with him especially with the size difference will cause Diaz to take twice as much damage per shot they can each land. Diaz’s best opportunities will come if he can hurt Chimaev and latch onto a submission should Chimaev revert to straight wrestling instincts and offer his neck. Otherwise, the size, power, speed and technical grappling skills pits Chimaev at a massive advantage everywhere else.
Prediction: Khamzat Chimaev to win
Khamzat “Borz” Chimaev went from being relatively unknown prior to his UFC debut to a superstar in the organization soon after. Chimaev accomplished this by winning his first four UFC fights by emphatic finish while only absorbing one total strike. After his first 4 UFC fights, Chimaev was like a mythical creature- untouchable and unequivocally dominant. Gilbert Burns, though, nearly shattered the myth of “Borz” by not only surviving Chimaev’s typical onslaught but forcing a back-and-forth war. While many view Chimaev’s fight against Burns as a negative because Chimaev was unable to get the finish, was nearly finished himself, and showed he was human, I view that fight as a positive.
Chimaev demonstrated intelligence, toughness, and a granite chin. Early in round 1, Chimaev secured a powerful takedown and racked up 1:14 of control time that included his patented vicious ground and pound. But, with Burns’ elite jiu-jitsu, rather than continue heavy ground and pound which leaves his arms exposed for Burns to take home, Chimaev intelligently switched his game plan mid-fight. He finished the fight enduring and overcoming massive blows from an elite fighter and returning fire on the feet himself. Chimaev is a supremely talented and strong wrestler who has shown impressive timing and power in his takedowns. Those skills are undoubtedly still prevalent in his game. But, importantly, fans and backers of Chimaev can be confident in his striking power and output. The only remaining question, one that may never need to be answered if Chimaev returns to his electrifying early finishes, is his cardio. Typically, elite wrestlers, of which Chimaev is, can wrestle for five rounds without gassing out. Cardio questions occur when wrestlers get into striking wars. I suspect that is what happened to Chimaev last time out; therefore, when he isn’t facing an elite BJJ fighter and can confidently wrestle, cardio shouldn’t be an issue. The bottom line is that Chimaev has the skills and talent to not just win Saturday night but hold the belt sooner than later.
Nate Diaz may be the most popular and notorious fighter to have never held UFC gold. He helped put the sport on the map and make it into the global sensation that it is today. His style, unique to himself, is built on the foundation of cardio, toughness, and a well-rounded skillset. Diaz, both Nate and his brother Nick, have excelled in 5 round fights because they have the cardio to not only go five rounds but get better the later the fight goes on. Diaz is able to rack up volume throughout a fight while absorbing a hellish amount in return without so much as batting an eye, even if that eye is bleeding profusely. Diaz’s striking style, outside of his famous “Stockton Slap” where he literally slaps his opponent, is varied and awkward. Diaz typically fights with his hands low and moves freely in the octagon. His low hands allow him to land a quick jab from below his opponent’s eye line, making it more accurate and difficult to defend. His footwork, which is more like casually standing and walking in contrast to traditional footwork, is awkward enough to throw the timing off his foe and further improve his accuracy and effectiveness. Diaz, who isn’t the most powerful striker, inflicts damage through his volume and pressure, death by a thousand cuts. For Diaz, finishing fights tends to happen more on the mat, through his counter jiu-jitsu rather than on the feet or through his offensive wrestling. Diaz’s ability to survive and reverse position will be paramount if Diaz wants to win as a significant underdog.
Chimaev is a -1400, with a 93% implied win probability, for a reason, he is that good. Chimaev will have the edge in power and a significant edge in wrestling. “Borz” should be able to ragdoll Diaz with ease, he’s more skilled and much stronger than the Stockton native. However, Chimaev enjoys being a showman and might play with his food a bit. The longer the fight goes on, the better Diaz gets, and, while still unlikely, increases the odds for an upset. I expect Chimaev to strike with Diaz in round 1, looking to put on a show. Then, before the fight reaches championship rounds, I’m anticipating Chimaev to land a powerful takedown and get a finish soon after, just like he has in most of his UFC fights.
Prediction: Chimaev to win in rounds 2 or 3
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.