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Fiziev aims for title push in London showdown

Fiziev aims for title push in London showdown

MMA: Longtime Phuket resident Rafael Fiziev (12-1) is knocking on the door of a potential UFC lightweight title shot this weekend when he takes on former title challenger Justin Gaethje (23-4) in the co-main event of UFC 286 in London’s O2 Arena.

By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Thursday 16 March 2023, 02:00PM

The highly-anticipated clash takes place Saturday evening UK time (4am Phuket time) and provides a massive opportunity for the Kyrgyzstan native, who trains out of Chalong’s Tiger Muay Thai & MMA Training Camp.

The 30-year-old fights in what is arguably considered the toughest division in all of MMA, lightweight (70kg), and has been on a tear since he made his debut in the sport in 2015.

With only one loss on his entire record, Fiziev - who is currently ranked number 6 in the division - is in a prime spot to make a push for a run at the title. Standing in his way will be Gaethje, an American MMA fighter known as one of the toughest in the division, and who unsuccessfully fought for the belt twice.

The matchup has fight fans salivating, given the fact that Fiziev is on a 6-fight winning streak, three of which were knockout victories. Fiziev is a natural kickboxer with enormous power, and with Gaethje’s style of throwing caution to the wind, makes this bout a potential ‘Fight of the Year’ contender.

“If I beat him, I deserve that title shot,” Fiziev said in the lead-up to UFC 286. “But UFC also make it how they want. I can say if they give title shot for winner of Oliveira and Dariush, OK. Dariush – I think he deserves it more than everyone in this division. If they give it to me, also I’m happy.”

The UFC has a scheduled fight between former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira and streaking contender Beneil Dariush set up for UFC 288 in May, which is likely to hand the winner a shot at champion Islam Makhachev.

Given Fiziev’s winning streak, Gaethje’s number 2 ranking and status as a title shot gatekeeper, it would not be surprising to see the UFC hand Fiziev the next title shot should he get past ‘The Highlight Reel” via knockout or submission this weekend. Either way, if Fiziev does beat Gaethje, he would be firmly entrenched in the conversation as a potential next contender for Islam Makhachev.

“I want to play with him,” Fiziev told reporters during the UFC’s media day this week. “I want to play with him. I want to show him. I want to do a masterclass. This is what I want to show. I want to show him a masterclass. What is the real highlight? I want to show him.”

Either way, the fight is the biggest in Fiziev’s career and with his penchant for creating exciting fights, many believe he will have the opportunity to at least continue his streak of five straight Performance or Fight the Night bonuses.

“If it happens like that, I’m just doing the same that I do always,” Fiziev said. “I just have to stop takedowns and do what I love to do: go forward and punch.”

The UFC 286 card is headlined by a welterweight title fight rematch (75kg) between champion Leon Edwards and former champion Kamaru Usman.

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