Dynamic Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight strikers Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev will collide this weekend (Sat., March 18, 2023) at UFC 286 inside The O2 in London, England.
It’s rare for a UFC pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event not to feature a second title fight nowadays, but fans are unlikely to complain about this one. Ever since Fiziev first called for “The Highlight,” this match up has been a tantalizing prospect, and it’s finally materializing at a high-profile event.
Gaethje enters this clash following a first round loss to Charles Oliveira, his second failed title bid. Fiziev, meanwhile, has won six straight, knocking out established Lightweights to prove himself one of the best up-and-coming talents in the division. The established contender must defend his position against the fresh face, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who’ll remain in the 155-pound title picture when the dust finally settles.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Tony Ferguson (UFC 249), Michael Chandler (UFC 268), Edson Barboza (UFC on ESPN 2), Donald Cerrone (UFC Fight Night 158), Michael Johnson (TUF 25 Finale), James Vick (UFC Fight Night 135)
Key Losses: Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC 254), Charles Oliveira (UFC 274), Dustin Poirier (UFC on FOX 29), Eddie Alvarez (UFC 218)
Keys to Victory: Gaethje has refined his approach to fighting over the years, but he still excels in the midst of chaos. Few are better at creating collisions and then immediately capitalizing, as Gaethje does great work of weaving forward with hooks and catching foes as they try to pull away.
He also has one of the best low kicks in the business.
Gaethje has executed his gameplan while pressuring and from his back foot (see the Cerrone and Ferguson fights). Against a more technical Muay Thai specialist, backing the kicker up seems like the better plan.
Calling on Gaethje to offensively wrestle seems like a delusional request at this point, but he can still take advantage of his close range comfort. I’d like to see Gaethje purposefully crashing into the clinch to deny Fiziev counter opportunities, then break with something violent. He could exit the clinch with a big swing, but that could also be his opportunity to land a heavy low kick.
Gaethje has to find his low kick opportunities and body shots. Fiziev is so naturally explosive that every exchange will be fraught with danger until Gaethje can start wearing him down. Then, Gaethje’s comfort in uncomfortable situations should really help him pull ahead.
Key Wins: Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Vegas 58), Brad Riddell (UFC Vegas 44), Bobby Green (UFC 265), Renato Moicano (UFC 256), Marc Diakiese (UFC Fight Island 2)
Key Losses: Magomed Mustafaev (UFC Fight Night 149)
Keys to Victory: Fiziev is so explosive. He’s got great form in his kicks and combinations, but it’s really the shocking level of speed and snap in his strikes that catches opponents off-guard and really makes his lands hurt. Case in point: Fiziev managing to blitz forward and stop Rafael dos Anjos in the fifth round was an incredible display of athleticism and power late in a grueling fight.
The gameplan is somewhat written on Gaethje. At the very least, there are proven ways to help mitigate his offensive assault, and the biggest seems to be body work. Gaethje keeps his guard high, and his ribs are exposed. For a man with a nasty switch body kick like Fiziev, that’s a really obvious target.
Taking away the low kick is the other clear priority, and in this case, Fiziev should be reviewing the Charles Oliveira fight. He shouldn’t necessarily be checking kicks and then stepping into the clinch quite like “Do Bronx,” but quickly folding his heel to his butt and then stepping into a powerful combination? That’s a surefire path to success, and it’s one Fiziev should be comfortable executing given his time spent in Thailand.
This is an awesome match up of top Lightweights.
Gaethje’s fan-friendly style has scored him a huge fan base and some massive wins. However, the time has come for “The Highlight” to prove he’s still at the top as a new generation rises up the 155-pound ranks. Turning away Fiziev is a major statement, proof that Gaethje still has it in him to challenge for the title.
He doesn’t earn such an opportunity with a win here, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
Conversely, victory here should set Fiziev up for a title eliminator, as it would extend his win streak to seven and break him into the Top Five. The current Lightweight picture isn’t exactly clear, but I could easily see victory scoring Fiziev a showdown with Dustin Poirier — who would argue with that fight?!?
At UFC 286, Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev will go to war in the co-main event. Which man earns the victory?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 286 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN2/ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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