‘If we pull this off, it is going to be a miracle’



FOR MAJDI SHAMMAS, the early morning hours of Friday, Sept. 9 in Las Vegas had been a supervisor’s worst nightmare.

At roughly 4 a.m. native time, Shammas knew his fighter, Khamzat Chimaev, wouldn’t make weight for a UFC 279 major occasion towards Nate Diaz. Chimaev and his group had accomplished all they may, however with about 5 kilos left to chop to the 171-pound restrict, Chimaev’s physique was seizing up. He was vomiting and cramping. Below the recommendation of physicians, the lower was referred to as off.

Now, Shammas wanted to inform the UFC. He wanted to inform the most important battle promotion on the planet that its major occasion Sept. 10 could not occur because it was presently drawn up. UFC 279 was an enormous alternative for Chimaev — an opportunity to beat one of many sport’s greatest stars in his first pay-per-view headliner. To overlook weight forward of a present like this was nothing in need of catastrophe.

Shammas’ telephone name awoke UFC chief enterprise officer Hunter Campbell, who lives in Las Vegas. When chaos hits the UFC, Campbell is the one furiously working behind the scenes. The UFC unmistakably follows the imaginative and prescient and lead of its president Dana White, however Campbell often handles the act of seeing it by.

With the solar nonetheless but to rise, Campbell and Shammas mentioned Chimaev’s weight, the inevitable fallout that was to return and potential options which may maintain the cardboard collectively.

At the moment, the highest of the UFC 279 lineup consisted of a welterweight bout between Diaz and Chimaev, a welterweight bout between Tony Ferguson and Li Jingliang and a 180-pound catchweight bout between Kevin Holland and Daniel Rodriguez. It was instantly clear that every one three fights may want to vary, as one change would result in one other and one other in a domino impact. And all of this was happening simply hours earlier than all six fighters concerned had been scheduled to weigh in at 9 a.m. PT.

“Once we talked about pulling this off early that morning, it was only a fantasy,” Shammas instructed ESPN. “Hunter was like, ‘If we pull this off, it is going to be a miracle. An absolute miracle.'”

That is the story of these 14 hours in Las Vegas, based mostly on data from a number of sources who had been concerned all through the method of maintaining the cardboard alive.

CHIMAEV’S WEIGHT CUT started simply after midnight Sept. 9, at New York New York Lodge & On line casino on the Las Vegas Strip. In response to his longtime head coach Andreas Michael, Chimaev wanted to chop round 15 kilos within the ultimate 12 hours earlier than the weigh-in, which is critical however not exceptional in skilled MMA.

The Chechen-Swedish fighter ran in a sweat go well with for about 90 minutes, then biked. The load was coming off. After a pair hours, Chimaev was exhausted and inside 5 to seven kilos of his goal. Michael elected to cease chopping for the night time and ordered Chimaev to mattress. The group would get up round 6 a.m. native time on Friday morning and end the lower in a sizzling bathtub, as they’ve accomplished earlier than.

A number of hours later, nonetheless, Michael woke as much as a few of his group members at his door. There was an issue.

“I all the time have associates observe the fighter all night time throughout a lower, since you by no means know what is going on to occur,” Michael mentioned. “They got here to me in the course of the night time and mentioned, ‘It is not trying nice.’ I went there and noticed what was occurring and gave it a little bit little bit of time. However I used to be pondering to myself, ‘My God, I’ll should put him in a sizzling bathtub [like this]? That is harmful.'”

Below the recommendation of physicians, Michael referred to as off the lower. It wasn’t protected to ask Chimaev to proceed. This prompted Shammas to make his name to tell the UFC.

Somewhat later that morning, earlier than the beginning of the official UFC 279 weigh-ins at 9 a.m. native time on the Apex, Diaz’s group was knowledgeable of Chimaev’s anticipated weight miss. It is vital to notice that UFC 279 was the ultimate battle of Diaz’s UFC contract, and he already wasn’t thrilled with the UFC’s number of Chimaev as his ultimate opponent. He seen it as the corporate making an attempt to construct one other fighter off his title, turning him into “a fall man.”

“What they acquired me doing proper now’s performing like I referred to as for this battle, which I did not name for and I do not need and did not need and nonetheless don’t need,” Diaz told ESPN earlier that week.



Khamzat Chimaev explains the recommendation he acquired from docs whereas coping with his weight lower.

Diaz’s consultant Zach Rosenfield declined to offer element on the occasions of Sept. 9, however did inform ESPN that when the UFC knowledgeable Diaz’s group of Chimaev’s scenario, he was very particular about whether or not Diaz would nonetheless take the battle.

“We made it clear that we’d battle Khamzat on the contracted weight of 171 kilos,” Rosenfield mentioned. “We did our weight lower as professionals, in addition to every little thing else we had been presupposed to do.”

Round 8 a.m. native time, one hour earlier than the beginning of the weigh-in, the UFC reached out to Holland to inquire about his weight.

Holland instantly referred to as his supervisor, Oren Hodak, to tell him of the decision, which had caught him off guard.

“I believe I am in bother,” Holland instructed Hodak. “They’re asking about my weight.”

“Dude, you are not in bother,” Hodak responded. “In the event that they’re asking about your weight, one thing is up. There are some items shifting.”

When Holland arrived on the Apex to weigh in, the UFC stuffed him in on the scenario. Chimaev was going to overlook weight and weigh about what Holland weighed, 179.5 kilos. The UFC proposed a change: How would Holland prefer to battle Chimaev, whom he’d gotten into an altercation with yesterday throughout a information convention, as an alternative of Rodriguez? Holland mentioned he would, however they wanted to name Hodak to iron out the main points.

An hour later, Holland weighed in, trying noticeably irritated on the size. Shortly after that, he wrote on Twitter, “Professionals make weight.”

Across the identical time Holland came upon in regards to the proposed change, nonetheless earlier than the beginning of the weigh-in, Campbell met Ferguson’s representatives in particular person on the Apex. It was already apparent to Ferguson’s group that one thing was happening. Holland had simply met with Campbell, and now they had been being summoned. Campbell gave them a chunk of paper with a brand new battle card for UFC 279. On the high was ‘Diaz vs. Ferguson.’ A five-round major occasion.

Ferguson arrived on the Apex himself not lengthy after this assembly, able to weigh in for his initially scheduled welterweight bout towards Li. He drove himself to the Apex, and on his manner in, he seen a good looking Bentley sitting within the car parking zone. Ferguson is one thing of a automobile man — he appreciates an excellent experience when he sees one — and he admired the Bentley on his manner in.

Contained in the Apex, Campbell and Ferguson met face-to-face for the primary time that morning. The 38-year-old former interim champion calmly instructed the UFC he favored the concept of saving the cardboard and he favored the battle. In truth, he and his camp had even joked about this very risk weeks in the past — however he wanted to talk to his spouse earlier than accepting. Ferguson mentioned he consults his household on all choices pertaining to his profession.

After Ferguson weighed in, whereas everybody was nonetheless on the Apex, he went again to go to with Campbell. Some say he was half-joking, others say he was utterly critical: He instructed Campbell he actually wanted to consider it extra, and that he would in all probability do his greatest pondering behind the wheel of that costly Bentley parked outdoors.

Campbell threw Ferguson the keys and mentioned, “You are taking the automobile for so long as you need. I do not give a s— in regards to the automobile.” About 45 minutes later, Ferguson and the Bentley had been again, and he agreed to maneuver into the principle occasion.

About 250 miles away in Los Angeles, Tim Simpson was at residence recovering from main shoulder surgical procedure. Simpson is among the key brokers at Paradigm Sport Administration, whose purchasers embrace Li. Simpson wasn’t meant to be working due to his restoration, however he’d been monitoring Twitter all morning and he was anxious. One thing was up with the principle occasion. It had been reported that Chimaev was prone to miss weight.

In fact, Simpson’s first thought went instantly to Li. He understands the game nicely. He knew Diaz would doubtless refuse to battle Chimaev at a catchweight, and that nobody would blame him for turning that down. What that meant, although, was a brand new battle for Diaz — and Ferguson was the plain backup. What did that imply for Li?

Simpson lastly spoke to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby at 10:25 a.m. native time. Every part was nonetheless fluid at the moment. Campbell, Shelby and matchmaker Mick Maynard had been working arduous, however nothing was set. They did inform him, nonetheless, that Li’s battle towards Ferguson was doubtless getting blown up. They’d already provided Ferguson a brand new battle.

Simpson referred to as Li to relay the information. The Chinese language welterweight, who has fought within the UFC for greater than eight years, instantly went into the lavatory by himself and refused to return out.

“Folks do not perceive how huge of a star Tony is in China,” Simpson mentioned. “Tony is an enormous star there, so preventing him was a dream battle for the Leech. This was like a title battle for him. He was tremendous devastated.”

After just a few moments, Li collected himself and he and his group began to debate choices. He may bail on the cardboard and ask to be rebooked as quickly as attainable, or he may take a totally completely different battle towards Rodriguez.

“It is D-Rod, but it surely’s 10 kilos heavier,” Simpson instructed Li over the telephone.

“No drawback,” Li mentioned. “I am going to battle him.”

“I am so sorry this occurred to you,” Simpson mentioned. “You probably did every little thing proper. You do not deserve this.”

“The one factor that issues is the second of proper now,” Li answered.

Simpson accepted the change on Li’s behalf at 1:05 p.m. native time. Rodriguez, who has a repute for taking short-notice fights, additionally agreed.

It was early afternoon, and the UFC was making progress — but it surely did not but have ultimate approval from Diaz, Chimaev or Holland. And with out these three, there could be no card.

CAMPBELL’S VIEW HAD turned from the easy act of saving UFC 279 to an even bigger image across the UFC’s model. He instructed different UFC workers this was a chance for the UFC to indicate its customers that in case you’re a kind of followers who saved up cash and invested it into journey and occasion tickets, you could possibly rely on there being an occasion.

That resolve led Campbell to contemplate every little thing. As a final, final resort, the UFC was in touch with former interim light-weight champion Dustin Poirier, who had been coaching for weeks in Louisiana and already let the corporate know: ‘If something occurs with Chimaev, give me Nate.’ It might have been a protracted shot choice, with lots to hash out with the Nevada State Athletic Fee — Poirier did not weigh in in the course of the allotted window — however Campbell was prepared to pursue it if want be.

Happily, it did not come to that. At 2:30 p.m. native time, Diaz accepted a brand new major occasion opponent in Ferguson.

In the meantime, Holland had nonetheless not come to phrases on the Chimaev battle. After leaving the weigh-in, he referred to as Hodak once more and mentioned he’d take the battle, however he wished it to be 5 rounds. He felt 5 rounds had been extra in his favor than Chimaev’s, and because it was Chimaev who blew this entire factor up, why ought to he dictate the size of the battle? Holland was adamant there could be no battle if it wasn’t 5 rounds.

Holland’s insistence created a last-minute hurdle. Chimaev was wanting to battle Holland, however his group did not love the concept of 5 rounds.

“In fact, after having the burden lower that we had, we wished three rounds, which is logical,” Shammas mentioned. “Usually, I might embrace 5 rounds, as a result of I understand how Khamzat’s conditioning is. He is like a truck for 5 rounds. However as a result of weight lower, I might have liked to make it three rounds — however we understood Kevin’s calls for.”

Because the UFC, Shammas and Hodak continued to barter phrases of the brand new matchup, the battle had already began between Chimaev and Holland over direct messages on Instagram.

“Khamzat was operating his mouth, claiming he missed weight on goal simply in order that he may kick Kevin’s ass,” Hodak mentioned. “Writing out a bunch of crying emojis.”

“Khamzat was mainly telling Kevin, ‘Settle for the battle. Settle for the battle,'” Shammas mentioned. “Whereas Kevin was saying, ‘Oh, it will not even be a battle, you simply wish to [wrestle].'”

At 3 p.m. PT, Dana White scheduled a live broadcast from both his and SportsCenter’s Instagram accounts. Talking to ESPN’s Michael Eaves remotely — Eaves was already on the UFC’s scheduled ceremonial weigh-in at MGM Grand Backyard Enviornment, whereas White was on the UFC’s headquarters — White introduced the brand new card.

Diaz vs. Ferguson, 5 rounds. Chimaev vs. Holland, 5 rounds. Jingliang vs. Rodriguez, three rounds.

At the same time as White made his announcement, Campbell was nonetheless engaged on finalizing the occasion. A number of of the fighters formally signed their new bout agreements in the course of the ceremonial weigh-ins at 4 p.m. native time. Others did not get round to signing theirs till later that night time or, in Chimaev’s case, the day of the battle. All events declined to disclose particulars of negotiations, solely that discussions encompassed every little thing from financials to rounds to potential future matchups.

As they are saying, the remainder is historical past. Rodriguez beat Li by controversial cut up choice. Chimaev dominated Holland in a first-round submission, and may need became the game’s greatest heel due to the way it went. His future at welterweight is unknown. Michael has already mentioned his next bout will likely take place at middleweight. Diaz went on to submit Ferguson within the fourth-round of their major occasion, and can head into free company off a memorable win.

In a twist, many observers felt the revamped card really performed out higher than the unique would have, which has led some to even pose conspiracy theories that the UFC deliberate all the factor. Why else did Chimaev and Holland get into it on the information convention, in the future earlier than weigh-ins? How may he have missed weight by that a lot? Was all of it staged?

“When you assume that the loopy dudes we had this week may very well be orchestrated into one thing … you are actually out of your thoughts,” White instructed ESPN’s Marc Raimondi after the occasion.

In actuality, the best way by which the cardboard was constructed from the start allowed the UFC some flexibility. Often, UFC pay-per-views comply with a components of at the least one title battle on the high. Within the final two years, solely 4 pay-per-view occasions have been headlined by nontitle fights. Two of these had been Conor McGregor taking over Poirier. One was a grudge match between Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington. The fourth was UFC 279.

As a result of it was a novel card, the UFC purposefully added Ferguson only a few weeks earlier than. He was, because it turned out, the proper backup. And the very fact Holland vs. Rodriguez was a 180-pound catchweight, reasonably than a 170-pound welterweight battle because it usually would have been, allowed flexibility with Chimaev’s 178.5-pound miss.

This card had some built-in insurance coverage, however contemplating every little thing that occurred in that 12-hour span, nobody would in all probability say Shammas’ preliminary take was incorrect. It was one thing of a fantasy, earlier than it grew to become a actuality.

“On the finish of the day, everyone has a group, it isn’t nearly what the managers need,” Shammas mentioned. “For the final two months, we have solely had southpaws within the gymnasium going through Khamzat in preparation for Nate. Now, abruptly he has to go to Kevin Holland, who’s tall and completely different in each manner. Similar for Kevin, he had a striker, now he has a wrestler. If simply a kind of coaches say, ‘Hell no, my man is not taking that battle,’ all of it falls aside.

“What the UFC and fighters had been in a position to pull off, it is loopy.”

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