of UFC's most popular active fighters in Khamzat Chimaev and Nate Diaz. Two cults of personality at opposite stages of their career meet in the main event from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Chimaev vs. Diaz is admittedly top-heavy. The co-main event features two fighters outside of the top 10. Chimaev and Irene Aldana are the only two fighters from top-to-bottom with a single-digit ranking next to their names. Still, there is juice worth squeezing despite a shortage of big fights. Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez should be a barnburner and Tony Ferguson will be flocked by feverish fan support.
Let's take a closer look at three fights worth watching outside of Saturday's main event.
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Tony Ferguson vs. Li Jingliang
Ferguson showed flashes of the fighter he once was against Michael Chandler in May. Unfortunately,(and an adjacent four-fight losing streak) further reinforced the narrative that Ferguson is nearing the end of an exhilarating career. Li is the step down in competition that Ferguson needs; however, it comes up one weight class. "The Leech" is a hard-hitting welterweight with defensive susceptibilities that have prevented him from breaking through to elite status. Between Ferguson being a fan favorite and a combined 18 performance bonuses shared between the two fighters, this should be a rollercoaster.
Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez
Introducing your leading candidate for Fight of the Night. Holland and Rodriguez are rough, rugged and raw fighters who talk trash and (usually) back it up. Holland has racked up seven stoppages in the Octagon by putting away the likes of Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Tim Means, Alex Oliveira and Joaquin Buckley. Rodriguez is 6-1 in the Octagon with three finishes, plus wins over Kevin Lee, Dwight Grant and Means. Holland is the higher profile of the two and has his reputation at stake against Rodriguez. Expect tension, bravado and heavy hands when the Octagon door closes.
Hakeem Dawodu vs. Julian Erosa
Dawodu is Canada's best hope for a UFC title. Erosa has evolved into a ferocious finisher in his third UFC stint. Dawodu bounced back from a decision loss to undefeated title prospect Movsar Evloev by defeating "The Ultimate Fighter" winner Mike Trizano. Dawodu's knockout power has not translated from the regional scene to the UFC, but his striking acumen has stifled six of his eight UFC opponents. If he can start putting away foes on a regular basis, that flicker of hope from Canadian fans will erupt. Erosa's latest UFC run is worth applause. He was cut from the promotion in 2016 following a KO loss and again in 2019 after losing all three fights in his second stint. Erosa re-signed one year later and roared to life. A 4-1 run is punctuated by stoppages of Charles Jourdain, Nate Landwehr and Sean Woodson. This one should be fun for as long as it lasts.
Honorable mentions: Irene Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson, Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba
Who wins Diaz vs. Chimaev? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 279, all from the incomparable expert who's up more than $13,000 on MMA in the past three years, and find out.