In the battle of Rafaels, one lightweight contender will look to ascend to the upper-echelon of the division while a former champion continues his pursuit of one day reclaiming gold at UFC Vegas 58.
— UFC (@ufc) November 11, 2020
One day, the resume of Rafael dos Anjos will be reflected upon as arguably the most difficult in MMA history. He’s faced his share of current and former champions, winning several bouts and being singled out by UFC President Dana White as one of the men who sets the bar for rising contenders to prove themselves against if they want to reach the elite level. In his own career, he’s gone from a 24 year-old grappling specialist to a well-rounded former champion who continues to be a threat to any fighter on any given night.
Ask dos Anjos, and he will be honest that he’s aware of his position in the division. He is not the current frontrunner to challenge for the title but that hasn’t changed his pursuit of one day fighting for UFC gold once again. After several cancelled bouts with Islam Makhachev and riding a two fight win-streak, his ability to book the necessary fights to get back to the top of the division remains very feasible. At 37 years-old, his window to make his run may not be as wide as it once was, but he continues to show that it is certainly still open.
As dynamic a striker as LW has seen 👊
— UFC (@ufc) July 5, 2022
Rafael Fiziev is the latest international star to breakthrough the UFC’s ranks. Born in Azerbaijan and calling Kyrgyzstan home, the former Muay Thai fighter first transitioned to MMA in 2015 but really began focus on the sport in 2017 as he stopped competing in Muay Thai. He opened his career with a perfect 6-0 record, with all of his fights ending by finish, to eventually earn a call to the UFC. He would come up short in his promotional debut in 2019, losing to Muhammad Mustafaev by first round knockout. While it was an unceremonious start to his UFC career, it was actually the start of a fantastic run for the striking specialist.
Following the loss, “Ataman” responded with a 5-0 run that has seen him become one of the UFC’s top prospects. After defeating Alex White and Marc Diakiese by decision, Fiziev delivered a spectacular first round knockout of Renato Moicano to announce himself to the rest of the division. Last year, he prevailed in an exciting bout with Bobby Green and closed the year with a wheel kick finish of Brad Riddell to step up a pivotal 2022. Unfortunately, his bout with dos Anjos has now twice been rescheduled and kept him out of the cage this year. That said, when surveying the division, the bout may now finally be coming at the perfect time for him to make his move up the ranks.
Stylistically, the well-rounded arsenal of dos Anjos will need to be on full display against the vaunted striking of Fiziev. The former champion has become a proficient, technical striker in his own right but a five round contest that does not see him test the grappling of Fiziev is not expected to go his way. As such, setting up takedowns behind jabs and feints will be crucial as well as exercising disciplined shot-selection. For Fiziev, being the aggressor and maintaining a high volume across five rounds should be his strategy as it will allow him to keep dos Anjos from settling into takedowns and force the former champion to take more risks on the feet.
The winner will not be without options, but it is certain that the entire weight class is waiting to see the next moves for both Charles Oliveira and Conor McGregor. One the uncrowned king and the other the sport’s biggest draw, most of the UFC’s top lightweights have yet to be booked due to the possibility of stepping into a bout with either man. The winner of dos Anjos and Fiziev will likely seek a bout with the likes of Michael Chandler, Islam Makhachev, or Beneil Dariush depending on who is available in the latter half of the year.