Inside the UFC, the frantic fight to save UFC 279 after Khamzat Chimaev’s bad weight loss

LAS VEGAS — UFC president Dana White said he never thought he would be challenged professionally as he tried to navigate the company through the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. The UFC was the first major sports franchise to return after the competition. the pandemic has begun.

Then it was Thursday and Friday, and White had another story to add to his book.

“It was like COVID again in a day,” White said, laughing moments before jumping onto the stage for the ceremonial weigh-ins for UFC 279 at the T-Mobile Arena.

When White woke up on Friday, the main event was the heavyweight match between Nate Diaz and Khamzat Chimaev. Tony Ferguson was scheduled to face Li Jingliang at the joint main event and Daniel Rodriguez to face Kevin Holland in a 180-pound limit weight match.

On the bottom card, Chris Barnett missed the 266 heavyweight mark and came in at 267.5 for his fight against Jake Collier. Then, Hakeem Dawodu was 149.5 pounds, 3.5 pounds over the 146 pound mark for a featherweight match with Julian Erosa. However, none of this impressed White too much. But when Chimaev hit the scales at 178.5, White entered one of his toughest days. His target was 171 and he missed by 7.5 pounds.

After a big worry, the card has changed and Diaz and Ferguson will meet at the main event. Holland and Chimaev will face off in the main event, which will again be five rounds, and Jingliang and Rodriguez will meet in the third fight.

Complicating things for White on Friday was the incident that occurred at the final pre-game press conference on Thursday at the MGM Grand. Backstage, a brawl broke out between Chimaev and the Netherlands. Eventually, White said that all six fighters started fighting and there were fights throughout the backstage. The lack of security made it difficult to get things under control and led to the cancellation of the press conference.

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But with Chimaev so far behind on Friday, it was up to Diaz whether he wanted to confront him. Saying that this will likely be his last UFC match, Diaz has had all the cards since he gained weight. With such a weight disadvantage, he chose not to fight Chimaev, who was racing at the age of 185.

“We had everyone [Apex, where the weigh-ins were held] Ideally, we could go backstage and get this done right away,” White told Yahoo Sports. “But we didn’t finish it until 3 o’clock. [Pacific time]. The men had fights with each other and a lot of stuff was going on, so it took time to get things done.”

Nate Diaz will face Tony Ferguson at the main event of UFC 279 after Khamzat Chimaev lost weight for the heavyweight match. (Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

However, six main fighters agreed to compete. Jingliang has an 8.5-pound downside, but still chose to fight Rodriguez. Ferguson had wanted to fight Diaz for a long time, and Chimaev and Holland were within half a kilo of each other.

“The event at the press conference started between these two,” White said of Chimaev and Holland. “And it made sense to see if we could figure that out.”

Focusing on his pre-scheduled match with Rodriguez, Holland posted a video on social media saying that he would not face Chimaev in the main match unless it was five rounds. He took five rounds but didn’t get the main game and that was enough for him to sign.

When asked if the match against Chimaev at the ceremonial weigh-in was better for him, the Netherlands got a great response.

“F*** no, but it’ll be fun,” he said.

Chimaev booed round and gave the crowd a double bird on the scale during the interview.

Still, Ferguson seemed to sum up most of his fans’ feelings when he said, “Get your popcorn and your blue slushies, you motherfuckers, because we’re going to have some fun.”

Friday wasn’t much fun for White. He praised Hunter Campbell, the UFC’s chief business officer, for his work, his work on contracts and details.

“Hunter was a stallion, believe me,” White said.

But so were the warriors who agreed to take on new opponents without training for themselves.

White said it took some time to negotiate things, as each had specific demands, but it was clear from the very first moments what needed to be done.

“When you look at where we were and the weight of Khamzat, the fights were almost spontaneous,” said White. “He was just going through with each of them and making sure everything was taken care of. But Tony and Nate have been around for a long time and people wanted to see this fight forever. Like I said, Kevin and Khamzat ate beef and discussed it at the press conference, and they were about the same weight, so that made sense. And ‘Leech’ [Jingliang]What an annoying stud that kid is. The man didn’t care. He just wanted to fight.”

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