LAS VEGAS – The list of competitors in the lightweight class continues to grow. The latest to establish himself as a real contender is Rafael Fiziev, who defeated ex-champ Rafael dos Anjos 18 seconds into the final round on Saturday at the Apex in UFC Vegas 58’s main event.
The next step for him, Fiziev said, is to determine who the best Rafael is. When asked in the Octagon who he wants next, he naturally called out tennis superstar Rafael Nadal.
If Nadal saw his fight with dos Anjos it would be wise to stay away from Fiziev as much as possible. Fiziev is a decorated Muay Thai kickboxer, but he showed the full game on Saturday.
Dos Anjos attempted a staggering 16 takedowns over the four rounds and completed two. When a guy who hits as well as Fiziev can also defend takedowns and keep the fight going, he’s a problem.
And yes, Fiziev is a problem for the rest of the lightweights.
He’s got quick hands, accurate shots and, as he showed at the end of the match, plenty of power in both hands. He caught dos Anjos with a crushing left hand that practically ended the fight.
Fiziev went after him on the ground and landed a couple of close shots, forcing referee Mark Smith to step in to stop him.
“I was so tired in the fight but I got a finish on lap 5,” said Fiziev, who called out Justin Gaethje for 3rd place. “That means something. [It proves] I can fight five rounds.”
Fiziev largely neutralized dos Anjos’ offensive throughout the fight. Dos Anjos tried to slow the fight, clinging to the cage with Fiziev and going for takedowns. But Fiziev’s takedown defense was brilliant and he repeatedly frustrated dos Anjos.
Once in space, Fiziev hit the spot and he took apart dos Anjos with sharp and clean shots.
Fiziev never let dos Anjos gain momentum and scored points with his goals.
Fiziev noted that as dos Anjos was struggling for takedowns, it was important to be patient and not try to pass yourself.
“My head, my brain is dumb sometimes and I start fighting like a drunk,” Fiziev said of the need to be patient. “I thought a lot and fought wisely. I wasn’t trying to get too crazy.”
The win was Fiziev’s 12th in 13 pro fights and his sixth straight in the UFC after a first-round TKO loss in his 2019 promotion debut against Magomed Mustafaev in St. Petersburg, Russia.
But he’s now beaten dos Anjos, Brad Riddell, Bobby Green, Renato Moicano, Marc Diakiese and Alex White – a solid group of opponents – on his winning streak.
He went into Saturday’s fight 10th in the division but the division is full of killers and it could be difficult for Fiziev to move up much. Dos Anjos was seventh, Mateusz Gamrot eighth and Tony Ferguson ninth ahead of Fiziev who went into the fight.
Gamrot has come off an impressive win over Arman Tsarukyan and UFC President Dana White told Yahoo Sports that he is interested in playing Gamrot with No. 6 Beneil Dariush.
Fiziev requested a top five opponent but that will be difficult given the line-up there: Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, Gaethje, Islam Makhachev and Michael Chandler.
Oliveira is dying to fight No. 12 Conor McGregor, although the UFC are keen to see him face Makhachev for the vacant title. Poirier and Chandler appear set for a showdown, especially after their confrontation at UFC 276 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
So Fiziev has to settle for either a fight with Ferguson or a match with Tsarukyan, both of which would be very entertaining. He’ll need to keep winning given the charged nature of the division – and winning impressively.
But he did just that. He has now completed three of his last four fights with only his fight against Green going into the cards. He was brilliant at that and overtook Green in a big way.
Gamrot also called Gaethje, but with White’s intent to pair him with Dariush, it could give Fiziev the fight he wants. And he knows it would be fun.
“I think maybe he would make my face look like that [worse]said Fiziev, who said he broke his nose early in the fight. “He is dangerous. It’s also a big challenge for me. He has a chance to take me out, but I would have a chance to take him out. It’s a good fight I think, and for the fans too.”