A tantalizing, hotly anticipated showdown between two fearsome strikers known for nasty kicks and heavy hands arrived at UFC 286 on Saturday, as Justin Gaethje squared off with Rafael Fiziev.
As always, Gaethje had his wrestling prowess in his back pocket, though he only ever seemed to use it defensively, preferring to break opponents on the feet.
Fiziev, as expected, fired off a kick early — but missed. Gaethje hit home with a leg kick, however, that nearly took Fiziev off his feet. Those leg kicks would be there for Justin Gaethje, but perhaps not as often as he’d hoped. Fiziev’s speed was giving him issues throughout the opening round; kicks came lightning fast, as did combos. Gaethje, meanwhile, ate a huge knee up the middle in the first half of the frame, but took it well.
Mixing things up in the second half, Gaethje finally broke out his wrestling, shooting a takedown, though he didn’t land it. Fiziev was hip to the threat, however, landing another knee with a crack in the final minute or so. Again Gaethje was undeterred, and he clipped Fiziev with a punch just ahead of the buzzer.
Fiziev fired a jumping knee in the opening minute of round two, but it wasn’t clean. Gaethje went on the offensive regardless, and Fiziev was starting to show damage by one eye. An eye poke by Gaethje then landed, giving Fiziev a bit of time to recover. Back underway, Gaethje landed a kick upstairs, which Fiziev blocked. At the midway point of the round, Gaethje landed a leg kick, and followed up with a combination that saw every punch land, as Fiziev retreated.
Later in the round, Fiziev had to contend with more low kicks from Gaethje, and the Azerbaijani was not loving them. He’d crash home a heavy kick to the body however.
Early in the third, Fiziev had Gaethje hurt, as Fiziev turned up the volume. Gaethje recovered, but Fiziev’s speed was still serving him well despite the damage to his legs. They came together in a clinch about 90 seconds in, Gaethje ripping the body, Fiziev landing knees, but it wouldn’t last. Gaethje then grabbed a single leg, but bailed on the attempt before long.
In the second half of the round, Justin Gaethje began to take over. His jab was on point, and Fiziev was bloodied more and more around the eye. Gaethje also began to find a home for his uppercut, and Fiziev appeared to be tiring. In the final minute, Gaethje landed the first takedown of the fight, firmly securing the best round of the fight for the ex-interim champ.
VICTORYYYYYYY #UFC286 pic.twitter.com/frGzG9Kmaw
— UFC (@ufc) March 18, 2023
Come the scorecards, two judges had it 29-28 for Gaethje, while a third ruled the fight a draw, giving “The Highlight” the majority decision win. He announced following the victory that he planned on making one more run at the title.
Good news for fight fans, as Justin Gaethje is not capable of putting on a boring fight.
Official Result: Justin Gaethje def. Rafael Fiziev by majority decision (29-28, 28-29, 28-28)