This weekend’s UFC main event fight is a battle between two highly-regarded lightweight fighters.
Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev will go head-to-head at UFC Vegas 58 this Saturday night at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a five-round bout that will significantly impact the lightweight rankings considering that dos Anjos is essentially defending his #7 spot in rankings against the #10 ranked Fiziev.
Order UFC 281
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira is tonight! Watch every UFC 281 fight here.
- Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
- Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
- Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Dos Anjos, a former UFC lightweight champion, returned to lightweight in November 2020 after an eight-fight stint at welterweight. Dos Anjos scored a win against Paul Felder in a bout that earned ‘Fight of the Night’ honors and most recently defeated Renato Moicano by unanimous decision in March this year.
Fiziev steps into this fight after five consecutive wins and four bonuses, including two ‘Fight of the Night’ awards and two ‘Performance of the Night’ awards. He’s now 5-1 in the UFC with recent victories against Brad Riddell, Bobby Green, and Renato Moicano.
Read on for our dos Anjos vs. Fiziev staff predictions, picks, betting odds, and analysis before the UFC Vegas 58 main event bout.
Rafael Fiziev will enter as a sizable betting favorite against the former champion this weekend.
Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Rafael Fiziev is a great clash of styles and an interesting fight between a former champion back on the hunt in his old division and one of the most devastating prospects the division has seen in a while.
First, looking at Dos Anjos – he is a southpaw fighter who typically sticks to the basics in a compact style with a tight guard and heavy strikes. The most dangerous part of his game, other than his tremendous pressure jiu-jitsu, is his explosive leg kicks and his left body kick. Fiziev is usually an orthodox fighter but often switches stance throughout his fights; doing so will make it difficult for Dos Anjos to set up his power strikes but if he can, catching Fiziev on the switch is even better for him. Dos Anjos also has a great left straight, which he throws as he commits his center of balance over his front leg, allowing him to follow through into the cage clinch or immediately sit back to the rear leg to get out of range of the counter. This only really works, however, if his opponent is moving backward because shifting his weight back works in conjunction with his opponent moving away to create the space; it doesn’t allow him to push off the front leg and explode a great distance back. In general, Dos Anjos’ best techniques, his shifting left straight, his body and low kicks, as well as his takedowns, work best when he is pressing forward, especially past the center octagon with his opponent to the cage. This means his style takes detriment if he’s the one getting pushed backward.
Fiziev is far more experienced in pure striking but far less in terms of mixed martial arts. He also strikes best moving forward but also enjoys pressuring for the purpose of countering as opposed to Dos Anjos needing to lead. He has a bit of a tap and return style, as evident from his expertise in Muay Thai, where he looks to take a shot on the arms and immediately return a combination or kick. Although he keeps his guard high, he often leans back and drops the front hand in almost a half shoulder roll and then returns with a counter right hook. He has also become famous for his ability to read the head kick and completely lean out of its arc, returning with his own counter right low kick; however, this takes confidence and can be exploited if Dos Anjos can feint and get the lean back reaction before attacking the body or leg. If Fiziev is leaning back, all his weight is pushed onto the back leg, making him susceptible to takedowns as well, although as educated a striker as he is, his reactions and ability to adapt to feints are great.
The championship rounds may be most important in this fight, as this is the rare case of a fight that wasn’t initially scheduled for five rounds. Statistics do not always tell the intricacies of fighting, but Fiziev in all his decision wins has shown dominance over two and had questionable third rounds where his performance dips. This is a combination of things, first as with anyone, he fades to a certain level, but also a common story told by Fiziev’s training partners and opponents is he has a particularly unusual rhyme to his striking, which is why timing him early on is difficult. However, it seems, usually by round three, when he is already ahead on the scorecards his opponents finally figure him out a tad too late, but in this case Dos Anjos will be working with two additional rounds. Fiziev is yet to fight a high level wrestling specialist in his career, but shown to be adept in grappling to a certain extent. He has a heavy base on top but finds difficulty landing effective ground and pound and maintaining control at the same time. He has great clinch work so taking him down when he has already established a frame on the arms and shoulders is difficult. Dos Anjos is great at shooting the double on the fence, but again he needs to pressure Fiziev to that line. From there, it’s a battle of clasping his hands but when he does he almost always completes the attempt. On top, most often, he likes to get into his opponent’s deep half guard so that he can land elbows and work towards pinning their arm to their head in order to get to the arm triangle.
I can absolutely see Fiziev edging out the early rounds but finding it difficult to land the cleanest shots consistently on the tight defense of Dos Anjos. Dos Anjos will also find difficulty putting Fiziev onto the cage early on as well, but after a competitive first couple of rounds, Dos Anjos’ experience in rounds 4 and 5, as well as getting used to the timing of Fiziev, will lead to more consistent takedown attempts and forward pressure, which in turn open up more opportunities on the feet and Dos Anjos will win late or via the last three round scores.
Pick: Rafael Dos Anjos to win (+180 odds at MyBookie)
Rafael dos Anjos silenced many doubters, myself included, in his most recent fight, a mauling of Renato Moicano. RDA is 37 but does not seem to be slowing down in the least, despite his age and number of fights. Dos Anjos is a talented and relentless wrestler and grappler who has the high-level experience necessary to intelligently hunt takedowns and land them successfully. RDA averages nearly 2 takedowns per 15 minutes with a 37% success rate. His typical style is to box at range, then use combinations to close distance and engage a clinch against the cage. Once here, RDA will dirty box for a while to force his opponent into a vulnerable position, then, suddenly, drop levels for a single or double-leg takedown. If the fight hits the mat, more often than not, the fight ends with RDA finding a submission or vicious ground and pound. Prior to his last fight, the doubters of RDA questioned his speed and effectiveness on the feet. He proved to all that his boxing is still dangerous. He is able to keep a high guard, land with power, and push a high-volume pace. The issue he often faces on the feet is against athletic and varied kickboxers who can attack his body and head in the same combination. Since RDA keeps such a high and tight guard, his body is exposed and he does not have the speed or footwork to avoid varied striking.
Fiziev might have the best and most complete kickboxing game in the entire division. He tends to stand in a tall Muay Thai stance, constantly and predatorily moving forward. He boxes with tight combinations and power. Fiziev’s kicks, though, are the reason he is so dangerous. His kicking game is so unbelievably fast that I’m running out of analogies. I’ve compared him to having hinges for hips and invisible rubber bands snapping his legs forward. But, the simplest way to describe Fiziev’s kicking game is to blatantly say his kicks harder, faster, and with more variety than anyone in the division. He can land thudding body shots and head kicks with zero telegraph or tell as to which is coming. Defensively, Fiziev has gone viral with his matrix style head movement. He is able to bend and twist effectively to not only avoid power shots from his opponents but also create openings and angles for his own counter shots. The question Fiziev will need to address in this fight is if his defensive grappling, specifically his takedown defense, can hold up to an elite level wrestler. Thus far, Fiziev’s forward pressure, strong base, and natural strength have allowed him to keep most fights standing. Those who have landed a takedown have struggled to hold Fiziev down, he will immediately scramble as soon as he hits the mat. He’ll need to be on his game for this fight against such a high-level grappler in RDA.
I see this fight as being one-way traffic one way or the other, either Fiziev won’t be able to stuff RDA’s takedowns and RDA will maul him for the entire fight or Fiziev will be able to keep the fight standing and outclass RDA on the feet. I’m betting on the ladder. Fiziev is too fast and RDA is too hittable. I like Fiziev to rock RDA early and find the finish in round 2 or 3, before RDA can even commit to a series of relentless takedown attempts.
Pick: Rafael Fiziev to win by KO (+225 odds at MyBookie)
“You want fight, you fight with me!” (Fiziev). That quote became trending quite quickly, as Fiziev jokingly volunteered to give the social media mega-star, Hasbulla, a fight. Although this quote is hyperbolic in nature, the core foundation illustrates who Rafael Fiziev is, and most importantly, who he is as a fighter.
Fiziev is a confident striker who has a great affinity for fighting. The latter half of enjoyment for fighting seems like it should be present for nearly all professional fighters, but even if it is the case, many fighters elect to use tactics and alternate paths to victory contrary than standing toe-to-toe with their opponent and simply fight them. Fiziev, on the other hand, would happily agree to a 5 x 5 octagon where striking is the only option, and if this mock scenario came to fruition, there are perhaps only a handful of lightweight contenders who could match the skills of Fiziev because his striking is truly at an elite level.
Specifically, Fiziev uses elite Muay Thai to land impressive knees, elbows, and most impactfully, kicks against his opponent. I have said this in prior articles, but I still believe Fiziev has one of, if not the best kicking games in the UFC when you analyze his speed, power, and precision combination. The precision of his kicks are so effective because he understands how to use his hands and alternate strikes to set up these kicks, and his footwork and general body dexterity allow him to land kicks to all levels without any telegraph whatsoever.
The focus of Fiziev’s positive attributes is indicative of the question he must answer in this fight, as the grappling of Fiziev is not a focus from an offensive perspective, so he must display he can negate takedowns from a strong wrestling opponent. To date, Fiziev’s flexibility and continual focus on self-improvement have allowed him to have a jaw-dropping 95% takedown success rate, so, he must show that the elite defensive game will translate against a near-elite wrestler.
RDA is the aforementioned near-elite wrestler. This statement may fuel some fight fans with hubbub, as the grappling of RDA is truly elite, but when it comes to strict wrestling, RDA is just shy of the elite status by my estimation – a career 37% takedown success rate is a quantitative illustration to justify my belief. Regardless of the wrestling acumen debate, the totality of grappling from RDA is next level, as evident by him finishing ~1/3 of his fights by submission – 10 of 31 wins. Interestingly, he has just 1 win by submission since 2017, but this minimal figure is not too much of a concern given the elite competition he has faced coupled with the shift in the mentality of fight style.
The latter reason is important to analyze when forecasting the future bout success of RDA. Luckily, the shift in style is rather easy to see, as he, being a true veteran of the sport, understands patience and control will supersede aggression over the long haul of fighting. He showcases patience by using striking – technical southpaw boxing with mild kicks – to set up takedowns rather than blinding shooting in, which is a massive positive from a defensive striking lens coupled with having success in taking his opponent to the mat. Moreover, he uses patience on the mat, as he favors control over “going for the finish”, and this control allows him to be extremely heavy on top position, inflict ground and pound, and ultimately win the round. In total, I see RDA as very similar to that of fellow future HOF fighter, Jose Aldo, in the sense that both have settled into their new division and are perhaps fighting better than they ever have before.
As cliché as it is to say, this fight is truly striker vs grappler. If it stays standing, Fiziev’s Muay Thai will greatly hurt RDA’s southpaw boxing. If it hits the mat, RDA’s heavy control, similar to that of Glover Teixeira, will allow him to rack up points and damage to win rounds. So, throwing all that aside, the question is who has the better alternate game relative to their opponent. The fact that Fiziev has shown to have elite takedown defense coupled with having electrifying athleticism to make takedown shots difficult lends me believing his defensive grappling is greater than that of RDA’s striking. Because of this, I believe Fiziev will be able to keep the fight standing, and once there, he will inflict significant damage.
Pick: Rafael Fiziev to win by KO (+225 odds at MyBookie)
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.