LAS VEGAS — The list of contenders in the lightweight division keeps growing. The latest to establish himself as a bonafide contender is Rafael Fiziev, who knocked out ex-champ Rafael dos Anjos 18 seconds into the final round on Saturday at Apex in the main event of UFC Vegas 58.
The next step for him, Fiziev said, is to figure out who the best Rafael is. So, of course, when asked in the Octagon who he wanted next, he called tennis superstar Rafael Nadal.
If Nadal saw his fight with dos Anjos, it would be wise to stay as far away from Fiziev as possible. Fiziev is a decorated Muay Thai kickboxer, but he showed the full match on Saturday.
Dos Anjos attempted a surprisingly high 16 eliminations across the four-plus rounds, completing two. When a guy who hits as well as Fiziev can also defend takedowns and keep the fight going, that’s a problem.
And yes, Fiziev is a problem for the rest of the lightweights.
He has fast hands, precise shots and, as he showed at the end of the fight, a lot of power in both hands. He caught dos Anjos with a crushing left that for all intents and purposes ended the fight.
Fiziev chased him to the ground and landed a few low shots, forcing referee Mark Smith to step in to stop him.
“I was so tired in the fight, but I finished in the fifth round,” said Fiziev, who called out No. 3-ranked Justin Gaethje. “That means something. [It proves] I can fight five rounds.
Fiziev largely neutralized Anjos’ back attack throughout the fight. Dos Anjos tried to slow the fight down, snagging with Fiziev on the cage and attempting takedowns. But Fiziev’s takedown defense was brilliant and he frustrated dos Anjos on several occasions.
When they were in space, Fiziev’s shot was on point and he separated dos Anjos with clean, crisp shots.
Fiziev never allowed dos Anjos to gain momentum and was racking up points with his shot.
Fiziev noted that it was important to be patient as dos Anjos was fighting for eliminations and not to try to get ahead of himself.
“My head, my brain is sometimes stupid and I start fighting like a drunk,” Fiziev said of the need to remain patient. “I thought a lot and fought intelligently. I didn’t try too hard to go crazy.
The victory was Fiziev’s 12th in 13 professional fights and his sixth in a row in the UFC after a first-round loss by TKO in his 2019 promotional debut to Magomed Mustafaev in St. Petersburg, Russia.
But he has now beaten dos Anjos, Brad Riddell, Bobby Green, Renato Moicano, Marc Diakiese and Alex White – a strong group of opponents – in his winning streak.
He entered Saturday’s fight ranked 10th in the division, but the division is filled with killers and it may be difficult for Fiziev to progress much. Dos Anjos was seventh, Mateusz Gamrot was eighth and Tony Ferguson was ninth ahead of Fiziev early in the fight.
Gamrot is coming off an impressive victory over Arman Tsarukyan and UFC President Dana White has told Yahoo Sports that he is interested in pitting Gamrot against No. 6 Beneil Dariush.
Fiziev called a top-five opponent, but it’s going to be tough considering the roster there: Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, Gaethje, Islam Makhachev and Michael Chandler.
Oliveira is targeting a fight with No. 12 Conor McGregor, although the UFC is interested in pitting him against Makhachev for the vacant title. Poirier and Chandler appear to be headed for a showdown, especially after their showdown at UFC 276 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Fiziev may therefore have to settle for a fight with Ferguson or a match with Tsarukyan, which would be very entertaining. He’s going to have to keep winning – and winning impressively – given the busy nature of the division.
But that’s exactly what he did. He has now finished three of his last four fights, with only his fight against Green going to the cards. He was brilliant in that one, taking out Green in a big way.
Gamrot also called out Gaethje, but with White’s intention of pairing him with Dariush, it could give Fiziev the fight he wants. And he knows it would be fun.
“I think he would make my face look like that, maybe [worse]said Fiziev, who said he broke his nose early in the fight. ” He is dangerous. It is also a big challenge for me. He has a chance to knock me out, but I would have a chance to knock him out. It’s a good fight, I think, and for the fans too.