LAS VEGAS — To paraphrase that renowned philosopher, UFC president Dana White, fight week for UFC 279 has been a “sh*t show” from start to finish, mostly thanks to Khamzat Chimaev.
On Thursday, Chimaev put his fight that was scheduled for the main event against Nate Diaz in jeopardy when he allegedly threw a front kick at fellow fighter Kevin Holland. That started a brawl, causing White to cancel the news conference.
On Friday, Chimaev missed weight by 7.5 pounds.
The entire card could have been canceled because of Chimaev’s failure to make weight, but what White, UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell, and matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard pulled off was borderline miraculous.
After Chimaev missed weight by an egregious amount, the UFC brass jockeyed the schedule. It took the better part of the day, wound up costing them a lot of extra cash and, without doubt, plenty of heartache not only for them but for the fighters who had done their jobs and weren’t sure if they’d get the chance to compete.
The re-jiggered card will now have Diaz fight Tony Ferguson in the main event, with Chimaev meeting Holland and Li Jingliang taking on Daniel Rodriguez. White said Chimaev’s body locked up on him during the weight cut and the doctor said he shouldn’t continue to cut.
The Diaz-Ferguson bout in the main and the Chimaev-Holland bout in the co-main will both be five rounders, White said.
There is no other promotional company in the world that could have kept the card together on such short notice under the circumstances.
When Chimaev missed weight, it led to a trickle down effect where fighters wanted significant pay increases to meet other opponents and brought in the Nevada Athletic Commission to approve the new matches.
Chimaev also put other fights in jeopardy because of Thursday's brawl. Eventually all six fighters who were scheduled to compete in the final three bouts on Saturday got involved. The safety of the crowd was put at risk, too, because several of the fighters came with huge entourages. White said Thursday that combined, the entourages of Diaz and Chimaev were at least 100 people.
If things boiled over and got to the front of the stage, members of the public would have been put at risk with that many people fighting.
Chimaev has taken to calling himself a gangster, but it’s time to retire that word in MMA. Dictionary.com defines the word gangster as “a member of a gang of violent criminals.”
Chimaev’s attempt to play gangster were mildly — at best — humorous, but it changes when something like the news conference brawl occurs and many people are put at risk. Fighters are going to talk, and Holland talks more than most, but Chimaev can’t just run around like a one-man vigilante squad hitting people who have said things about him he doesn’t like.
Chimaev made things worse Friday when he missed weight, coming in at 178.5 when the contracted limit was 171.
He got on the scale and was smirking and chuckling when his weight was read. At a point when he should have been remorseful, he was defiant and gave the middle finger to the cameras as he walked off the scale.
He also in effect gave the middle finger to the fans who bought tickets to his fight. Those fans traveled to Las Vegas to see him battle Diaz, and because of his miss, that they won’t get that chance.
He also inconvenienced other fighters, most notably Jingliang, and the fighter managers.
Jingliang made weight at 170.5 pounds for his original fight with Ferguson. Holland was supposed to fight Rodriguez in a catchweight bout at a limit of 180 pounds. Holland was 179.5 and DRod was 179.
So Jingliang, who did his job, now has to fight an opponent who is 8.5 pounds heavier. Who knows how much heavier Rodriguez will be when they finally step into the cage after they’ve rehydrated?
All of it, though, goes back to Chimaev. For much of his UFC career, he’s been a bright light. He debuted in the UFC’s initial stop on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in 2020. He submitted John Phillips with a D’Arce choke in his UFC debut on July 16, 2020, then stopped Rhys McKee 10 days later with strikes.
That September, he jumped to middleweight and knocked out the estimable Gerald Meerschaert in just 17 seconds, establishing himself as an exceptional talent.
After a long battle with COVID-19 and many proposed fights falling through, he returned to fight Jingliang at UFC 267 on Oct. 30, 2021. He dominated Jingliang and choked him unconscious in 3:16.
He wasn’t as dominant next time out, but still defeated Gilbert Burns at UFC 273. That win established him as a clear contender to the welterweight title.
The one thing Chimaev has going for him is White has incredible patience with his fighters in instances like these. He said during a scrum with reporters Thursday after the canceled news conference that he would not fine or otherwise discipline the fighters.
Suddenly, though, Chimaev is not looking dependable. How could the UFC consider pairing him with the Leon Edwards-Kamaru Usman winner given his miss Friday? And it’s now going to have to operate all public events differently because he can’t act professionally and not start fights.
It was a wild, crazy and unpredictable 48 hours. Chimaev did a lot of damage, but it could have been worse were it not for Messrs. White, Campbell, Shelby and Maynard, as well as the managers and the other five fighters.