UFC 279: Nate Diaz and Khamzat Chimaev news conference canceled after backstage altercation

LAS VEGAS — UFC 279 is scheduled for Saturday, but the fights began Thursday.

A wild brawl that UFC president Dana White said involved all six fighters who were scheduled to take part in the UFC 279 news conference Thursday at the MGM Grand Garden caused a nearly half-hour delay in its start and then its cancellation midstream.

The six fighters, Nate Diaz, Khamzat Chimaev, Tony Ferguson, Daniel Rodriguez, Li Jingliang and Kevin Holland, were all involved in different incidents. White said the UFC didn’t anticipate the kind of trouble that there happened to be, and said there was not enough security.

He said there would be heavy security at Friday’s weigh-in and at Saturday’s fight card at T-Mobile Arena, where Diaz is slated to meet Chimaev in the main event in what the popular Diaz says is the final fight of his career.

White said the UFC would not penalize the fighters involved in any way and said he didn’t think there would be any disciplinary action taken by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

All six fighters were supposed to be on the dais. After a nearly-half hour delay, White stepped to the dais and announced to the media and public that instead he’d bring the fighters out two by two. He said a “real s*** show” was going on in the back.

First came Holland and Rodriguez, and they answered a few innocuous questions and were allowed to leave. Then, as White was awaiting the next two, Hunter Campbell, the company’s chief business officer, and Lenee Breckenridge, its spokeswoman, both whispered to White.

At that point, he announced that “for everyone’s safety,” the press conference had been canceled.

Later, he held about an 11-minute news conference with reporters. He refused to specify exactly what had occurred, but said there were various skirmishes breaking out at different spots where the fighters were waiting and the UFC didn’t have enough security to handle everything.

“There were guys who had beefs that we didn’t know had beefs,” White said. White confirmed that things “got very physical,” and that the incident began when Chimaev and Holland got into it. Holland himself appeared to confirm that to be a case with a pair of tweets claiming he had offered Chimaev a free beard trim. Chimaev is an observant Muslim, a religion in which the shaving of a beard is often considered taboo.

ESPN, which had at least one reporter and a camera crew in the vicinity of where the incidents occurred, reported that Chimaev threw a front kick at Holland to start the incident.

“Let me just start off by saying I’m not going to tell everyone what went down back here,” White said. “But there were multiple, crazy, I don’t even know what to call it. For 22 years, however long I’ve been doing this, we’ve never had an incident like today. All hell broke loose out here. We stopped it, but we didn’t do a good job of not letting it happen.

“I don’t know what went on here. It’s never happened before. We’ll be ready for it the next time. … It was crazy. It was absolutely nuts back here.”

White said that Diaz and Chimaev had about 100 people between them at the press conference. He feared if the press conference began with all of the fighters, those camp members, which included multiple fighters, would have joined in, putting the media and public at risk.

White confirmed the issues began with an altercation between Chimaev and Holland. Everything apparently devolved from there. But it spilled over and other fights broke out.

White said no fighters were injured and all should be able to participate in Saturday’s card. He said Tiki Ghosn, a former UFC fighter who now manages fighters, was hit by thrown water bottles and was kicked and slapped trying to break things up.

“Tiki took one for the team and he’s not even on the team,” White said, laughing.

White said the UFC will reexamine its policies and procedures for handling security at news conferences in light of what occurred.

“What we need to do is look at how this happened and [figure out] why we were unprepared for it,” White said. “Why weren’t we able to manage this backstage area better than we did. We’ll be better next time we do a press conference. This will never happen again.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 08: UFC president Dana White hosts the UFC 279 press conference at MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 08, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
The UFC 279 news conference did not go according to plan. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)