Fiziev Looks to Spoil Gaethje’s Return in Pivotal Lightweight Bout

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 17: (LR) Kazakh opponents Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev face off during the UFC 286 ceremonial weigh-in at the O2 Arena on March 17, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Light heavyweights Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev will have fireworks in London at UFC 286 and take on major title fights online .

With just a few months left until his sixth anniversary in the UFC, Justin Gaethje finds himself in a unique position. Gaethje has been a staple of the featherweight elite since arriving in 2017, where he went by his nickname “The Bright Spot,” and has fought for championship gold three times, earning several Fight Show of the Year along the way. He’s competed against the best, sharing a room with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier, among others. His résumé also sees career victories as he snapped Tony Ferguson’s 12-game winning streak and beat Michael Chandler ( Michael Chandler).

But Saturday will be a little different. It’s been nearly a year since he last played, and in a title fight he basically won early on before Oliveira took advantage of the error and rallied to finish. Since then, Gaethje has been standing on the sidelines to handle necessary medical procedures and find suitable opportunities for himself to play. The exciting contender still has a loyal following and the former interim champion is looking for the right matchup at 34 as he looks to contend for a title while remaining at the top of his sport. But with more and more young upstarts breaking through the ranks, the pressure is greater than ever to return to form if he hopes to remain in contention for the title.

For Rafael Fiziev, Saturday marks a huge chance to beat one of the division’s established stars at a time when they may look vulnerable. One of the most dynamic forwards around, the 155-pound “Ataman” has left the first round only once, with six straight stoppage wins earning him a chance at the UFC roster in 2019. His debut at the Octagon ended up being his only loss, as the returning Magomed Mustafaev stunned the undefeated Fiziev with a first-round TKO.

Regardless, Fiziev’s extensive background in muay thai translated well to the Octagon, and he was quick to put defeat in the rearview mirror as he battled the likes of Renato Moicano, Marc Diakiese, Bobby Green and former champions. A quick win came in a thrilling performance by Rafael dos Anjos. The latter would be Fiziev’s first UFC headliner, which he used to great effect in an intense fight against the veteran, which he eventually won in the final round. Heading into his most high-profile bout to date, Fiziev enters a potential new face in the title picture, as the division has a relatively new king sitting on Islam Makhachev’s throne.

The lightweight landscape is expected to be in limbo for the next few months as the title picture sorts itself out. Depending on who wins Saturday’s game and who wins in the upcoming bout between Charles Oliveira and Bernier Dalish, multiple matchup combinations could be played out. If Fiziev and Oliveira win their respective matches, they are expected to meet in the championship knockout later this year. If Dariush wins, this Saturday’s title match against Dustin Poirier will make sense for all involved as they attempt to secure the title.

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