Li Jingliang believes Nate Diaz can find ‘miracle’ against Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Li Jingliang is here to remind MMA fans that anything can happen in the octagon — not that they need much of a reminder these days.

There’s a new UFC welterweight champion right now because no underdog can ever be written off. So Jingliang isn’t doing the same to Nate Diaz before UFC 279.

“I can’t give you a number about the chance [Diaz will win], but we all know based on the statistics and the data, Khamzat is the favorite Nate is the underdog,” Jingliang said Monday via translator on The MMA Hour. “But I think Khamzat has never fought in a five-round fight.

“Another big X-factor is Nate Diaz is Nate Diaz — you don’t know what happens if the fight goes to the fifth round and the last minute and last seconds if you fight with Nate Diaz. What we really need is a miracle, is a surprise in the fight, and I believe Nate Diaz is the guy that can give you this.”

Diaz nearly pulled off a miracle in the fifth round of his fight with Leon Edwards at UFC 263, winning a moral victory by hurting the U.K. welterweight late. Edwards went on to notch what might be the definitive come-from-behind win in the UFC with a head-kick knockout of Kamaru Usman at UFC 278.

“I said to my boxing coach before that fight, I think Leon has a chance to knock out Kamaru Usman — and then what happens in the fight?” Jingliang said. “We all know Kamaru Usman is a very well-rounded fighter, but I think most people underestimate how good Leon is at striking, and like I said, anything can happen at any moment in this sport.

“It doesn’t matter if you are an underdog in other’s eyes. You have to trust in yourself and fight for your family, no matter who you fight against. If you are in the octagon, you are 50-50.”

That’s why Jingliang doesn’t put much stock in critics of his own matchup, a short-notice meeting with former interim lightweight title challenger Tony Ferguson in the co-headliner of UFC 279. Many look askew at Ferguson’s recent record — a four-fight skid punctuated by a brutal knockout loss — and his move to the welterweight division, where Jingliang has a huge head start in experience. The Chinese fighter is coming off a big win over Muslim Salikhov and isn’t fighting for his job or career. It’s unlikely Ferguson will recover from a fifth straight UFC loss.

So the matchup appears to be tilted in Jingliang’s favor. But the way he sees things, it’s a little different when the punches are flying straight at you.

“I believe Tony knows what he’s doing now,” Jingliang said. “He’s been in this business for a very long time. I think for each fighter, we just fight for ourselves, for our families, so I don’t think we need to care what others think about how this fight goes.

“Our job is to fight, and the matchmakers job is to match fighters up who will give the fans a surprise, and your job as media is to let everybody know and watch this fight,” he said. “We’re not just simply hyping up the fight, we just want to let you fans know that it’s going to be a very exciting fight, a very interesting fight you have to watch.”

Jingliang knows exactly what it’s like to bounce back from a tough defeat. Before his win over Salikhov, he fell short in the biggest opportunity of his career, a fight with Chimaev at UFC 267. He was put to sleep in the first around against the Chechyan fighter, and yet, he never stopped believing in his abilities. Salikhov and his five-fight winning streak learned that firsthand.

“I always trust myself,” Jingliang said. “I always have confidence about myself since day 1 in the UFC, before each fight. No matter win or lose, even for the Khamzat fight. I know that night, he was the better guy than me. But that’s the sport. We should learn from our failures, the losses, but we should trust … and believe and have confidence in ourselves, always.”

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