Standout Muay Thai striker, Rafael Fiziev, will throw down with former KSW kingpin, Mateusz Gamrot, this Saturday (Sept. 23, 2023) at UFC Vegas 79 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Disastrous debut loss aside, it didn’t take long for Fiziev to prove his potential. He outclassed opponents like Marc Diakiese and Alex White, but then the knockouts started coming. Renato Moicano, Brad Riddell, and Rafael dos Anjos all fell to his wildly powerful strikes, leading him to a huge showcase fight against Justin Gaethje. It’s easy to forget due to Fiziev’s bloody visage and Gaethje’s recent crowning as BMF king, but their fight was insanely close! There are arguments for Fiziev winning, and a draw was a valid scorecard as well. Ultimately, he’s still right in the title mix, a couple wins at most away from his first opportunity at gold.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Fiziev has a wealth of professional Muay Thai experience and has spent a ton of time training and teaching at Tiger Muay Thai, as well as working with Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA. He’s one of the best strikers at Lightweight, as well as the division’s purest Muay Thai representative.
True to form, Fiziev doesn’t jab terribly often. His kicks are his jab! Fiziev has a tremendous quickness and great kicking form, which means he’s able to put his shin to target in the blink of an eye. As with most great strikers, Fiziev is able to switch up his delivery too. Early in fights, he’s often just poking his opponent with a quick touch to the inner thigh or toe stab to the belly, but he’ll start BLASTING opponents with his shin once he feels confident in an opening.
Fiziev’s quite ambidextrous with his legs, too. Historically, his lead leg is his more active weapon, as his lightning-fast switch kick can really push the inner thigh and body, as well as cap off combinations. Against a Southpaw in Rafael dos Anjos, however, Fiziev was able to establish range and build combinations just as well off his right round and front kick. He’ll also switch Southpaw to occasional fire a big left kick or overhand.
Breaking an opponent’s body and legs down with power kicks is a valuable strategy, but Fiziev builds upon his kicking game extremely well. Finishing a punching combination with a hard kick is textbook striking — and certainly something Fiziev does well — but Fiziev does the opposite extraordinarily well, kicking hard then exploding into a combination.
A few examples: Fiziev likes to use his switch kick to set up counter shots. As his opponent attempts to return fire after eating a hard kick, Fiziev is already back in his stance and firing his left hook. Against dos Anjos, Fiziev hit the Southpaw several times by blasting a right round kick then firing his right hand as his foot returned to place, a powerful shot that relies on the snap of the hips. In fact, his finish of dos Anjos occured when Fiziev stepped forward with a knee then fired his right hand and left hook (GIF).
Fiziev’s boxing is an interesting case. On one hand, he has great comfort in the pocket, good defensive movement, and can explode into powerful combinations. Conversely, he seems consistently surprised every time his opponents stick him with a jab, and Fiziev’s punching form occasionally goes out the window.
Take, for example, Fiziev’s left hook. It’s responsible for two of his best knockouts over dos Anjos and Renato Moicano. In both cases, Fiziev committed to his right hand hard and then fully turned over his hook in textbook examples of rotating one’s hips into power shots. Other times, Fiziev just slaps at his opponent with an arm punch of a left hook or commits so hard that he spins himself around.
Since Fiziev tends to explode into combination rather than methodically work into range, his shot selection is key. Fortunately, Fiziev does great work at building head and body combinations, and he mixes it up well. He can close forward with a fast right hand lead, rip the body, then head. Or, he can start to the body, possibly with two shots, then take a huge rip upstairs (GIF). One interesting element of Fiziev’s boxing is his right uppercut. Starting combinations with the rear uppercut isn’t easy, but Fiziev is fast enough to make it work, and he muddies the waters by firing to both the body and head.
Fiziev’s defense makes headlines for his ability to lean far back at the waist and avoid high kicks (GIF). His Matrix moves are a great way to stay in range and counter, but it should be noted that dos Anjos punished the habit by repeatedly ripping left body kicks of his own, which the lean back does little to avoid.
Fiziev has proven himself an excellent defensive wrestler. Even when he’s caught throwing with his hips squared, Fiziev is usually able to pop back up with exceptional quickness.
There are two elements of Fiziev’s game that really make him difficult to drag to the canvas. Firstly, he’s a tremendous athlete. Raw strength and explosive hips are great for denying a double leg in the center, as well as limp legging out of single leg grips. If and when the wrestling does move along the fence, strength is still helpful, but it really becomes a battle of posture.
Fiziev’s experience in Muay Thai in Thailand is helpful when the fight hits the clinch. He does well to create frames and get his head involved, which really helps deny takedowns. In addition, he does well to get his back off the fence. Often, he does this from the over-under by releasing an overhook, briefly grabbing the head, and yanking as he side-steps around towards the underhook side. In one particularly strong moment of takedown defense, Fiziev denied a well-timed and deep double leg from “RDA” by cranking on the overhook and nearly throwing him to the floor instead.
Since Fiziev’s takedown defense is excellent, and he has little interesting in taking his opponents down, we know next to nothing about his grappling. Perhaps this bout versus Gamrot will be revealing?
Fiziev is an excellent and dangerous striker in the prime of his career, and he looks like a threat to just about anyone at 155 pounds. If he returns to the win column here, he’s once again in shooting range of scoring his first shot at UFC gold.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 79 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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