UFC Vegas 58’s Main Event (thankfully, the last at the Apex for a while!) saw the long anticipated “Battle of to be the Best Rafael”, as we saw MMA pioneer and UFC legend Rafael Dos Anjos facing off against Rafael Fiziev, who became the first fighter to represent his ancestral homeland of Azerbaijan in the Octagon. Fiziev grew up in Kazakhstan before moving to Kyrgyzstan, but is splitting his time between Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand and Sanford MMA when he is in the US.
Long Time Coming
It seems like an eternity ago that Fiziev called out RDA to determine the best Rafael in the UFC while lounging in a beachside resort. Fiziev was fresh off his wheel kick flash-KO win over Brad Riddel back in Decemeber, putting “Ataman” on a five fight win streak against some absolute killers, including Renato Moicano and Bobby Green. The fight has been a long time coming, having originally been booked to headline the Apex in February, the bout was cancelled due to visa issues, and rescheduled to Co-Main UFC 272. However, the week of the card, Fiziev tested positive for COVID-19, and Renato Moicano stepped up to the plate, after Islam Makhachev blue balled the entire MMA community by accepting on the Monday night, before pulling out the following morning. The bout remained a five-rounder, but was moved to 160lb catchweight. RDA dominated for the first four four rounds, until Moicano dug deep, almost finishing RDA multiple times in the final round, bringing the entire T-Mobile Arena to its feet.
The Battle to be the Best Rafael
Unsurprisingly, this bout fell in that beautiful midway point between supreme technicality and bloody brawl. Dos Anjos began the fight extremely well, neutralizing most of Fiziev’s offense by forcing him against the cage after landing a big counter, and seemingly targeting the left knee of Fiziev, and landing a big elbow on the break.
However, Fiziev showed incredible growth in his grappling, especially his hand-fighting, and would begin to pull ahead in the second and third rounds, denying take-down after take-down, allowing RDA only 2/16 attempts, while consistently landing to both the body and head. RDA seemed to gain a second wind in R4, rocking Fiziev with a flying knee followed two power-jabs, and a HUGE slam take-down with around a minute left, but proved unable to capitalize.
Nik Lentz would make arguably the best read of the entire night, calling for Fiziev to aim lower, and sure enough, “Ataman” would fake a flying knee, partially land a right hook, and connect flush with the left that followed, sending RDA’s head spinning, and after just one follow up shot on the ground, Referee Mark Smith had seen enough.
The Best Rafael in the UFC
Following his victory, and now content with his title of “Best Rafael in the UFC”, Fiziev continued his trend of calling out non-fighters by calling out Rafael Nadal to prove that he is the “Best Rafael in Sport”, offering to beat him in either MMA or Tennis, before asking Sean Shelby for a Top-5 opponent.
However, at the Post-Fight Press Conference, Fiziev clarified that he would like to be looking across the Octagon at Justin Gaethje in his next bout. However, taking a closer look at the Top-5, and following the unspoken rule of winners-fight-winners and losers-fight-losers, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje should be running back their 2018 barn-burner. Beneil Dariush has not been heard from since his injury that forced him out of his Main Event against Makhachev, meaning he has not fought in over a year, giving a good argument for him to be moved out of the Top-5 for inactivity. That leaves Islam Makhachev and Michael Chandler to choose from for Fiziev, and it has been clear for a while that Makhachev is most likely to be next against Charles Oliveira for the “Vacant” Lightweight Title, while Chandler has been begging for a fight.
On the other side of the Main-Event, what is next for RDA? Such a dominant loss should see the one-time Champion dropping out of the Lightweight Top 10 for the first time in years, but the closest he has been to Conor McGregor in a long time. Will we finally see Dos Anjos vs. McGregor after all these years? Unfortunately, probably not, as all signs are pointing to McGregor’s return being both next year, as he STILL has not been tested by USADA in 2022, and against all logic, against someone in the Top-5 at either Light- or Welterweight, with Jorge Masvidal offering to put his (previously retired) BMF Belt on the line against the Irishman.
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