LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nate Diaz stopped Tony Ferguson with a guillotine choke in the fourth round of the hastily arranged main event of UFC 279 on Saturday night.
The 37-year-old Diaz (21-13) finished his current UFC contract by finishing fellow veteran Ferguson (25-9) in a matchup only made on Friday after Khamzat Chimaev badly missed weight for his main-event bout with Diaz.
Chimaev stopped Kevin Holland with a D'Arce choke 2:13 into the first round of their grudge match, which was also created after Chimaev (12-0) missed weight by 7 1/2 pounds on Friday morning. The UFC dramatically shuffled its card to keep both Chimaev and Diaz on the show, resulting in three new matchups for the final three fights at T-Mobile Arena.
Diaz's desire to fight the vaunted Chimaev seemed foolhardy in a distinctly Diaz way, but the late matchup with Ferguson was much more competitive than the original booking likely would have been. Ferguson, who only agreed to be on the card three weeks ago, had lost his previous four fights over the past three years, while Diaz was 1-2 in the last six years.
“At the end of the day, I love the UFC,” Diaz said. “I feel like I’ve had the longest career in the UFC, and I’ve had the most successful one out of everybody."
Diaz landed punches regularly on Ferguson in the first two rounds, and he played to the crowd in the third with long walks around the cage between exchanges, even resting with one arm atop the cage momentarily.
Ferguson got Diaz's attention with leg kicks — but when Ferguson attempted to get into a grappling match, Diaz applied the choke and finished at 2:52 of the fourth.
Diaz has already announced plans to start his own promotional company outside the UFC, and each fight could be the last for a well-loved fighter who has competed only four times in the last six years.
But Diaz might not be done with the UFC, since he got a tweet earlier Saturday from Conor McGregor, who promised to complete their trilogy. Diaz and McGregor split two largely thrilling bouts in 2016, and the results catapulted Diaz into the top echelon of celebrities in mixed martial arts.
“I want to get out of the UFC for a minute and show these UFC fighters how to take over and own up another sport how you’re supposed to do it,” Diaz said. “Because Conor McGregor didn’t know how to do it, and none of these other fighters know how to do it, so I’m going to go out there and I’m going to take over another organization, another profession, and become the best at that, and then I’m going to be right back here to get another UFC title. It’s the best battle in the world.”
The pay-per-view went off with several significant changes made just one day earlier because Chimaev didn't come close to his contracted weight — and then shrugged and smiled about it on the scale. Chimaev, the Chechnya-born Swede considered one of MMA's top rising talents, was loudly booed by the crowd just off the Las Vegas Strip on fight night.
Instead of removing Chimaev or Diaz from the card, the UFC scrambled to make three new matchups for the top three fights on the show. Diaz and Ferguson were paired in a fight long coveted by MMA fans but initially rejected by Diaz, while Chimaev was matched at a catchweight against Holland.
Chimaev and Holland already had bad blood from earlier in the week when they fought backstage at the UFC 279 news conference, forcing the event's cancellation.
After a frantic exchange in the opening seconds, Chimaev made quick work of Holland. His burgeoning reputation as a heel only grew when he was asked about missing weight in the post-fight interview and responded “I don't care about (that),” to thunderous boos.
“I'm the black belt here,” Chimaev added. “I'm Mike Tyson. I'm Muhammad Ali.”
Li Jingliang, who began the week expecting to face Ferguson, was matched with Daniel Rodriguez, Holland’s scheduled opponent. Rodriguez (17-2) beat Li (19-8) by split decision in an uneventful bout in which both fighters were understandably cautious of their unfamiliar opponent.
Light heavyweight Johnny Walker led off the pay-per-view card with a submission of Ion Cuțelaba before Irene Aldana stopped Macy Chiasson with an extraordinary upkick to the body while Aldana was down on the canvas. Aldana drove her heel into Chiasson's abdomen while Chiasson was towering over her, ending the fight abruptly.
On the early undercard, heavyweight Chris Barnett stopped Jake Collier in the first round with punches. Barnett missed weight for his bout, which was fought at a catchweight.