This weekend’s UFC Fight Night event saw surging lightweight prospect Rafael Fiziev pick up the biggest win of his octagon career thus far, as he stopped former champion Rafael dos Anjos via TKO in the fifth round.
Fiziev’s big win over dos Anjos should move him up the ladder in the UFC’s lightweight division, but who should he face off against next?
Based on last night’s performance, ‘Ataman’ is certainly a title contender, so his next foe should ideally be either a big name or someone ranked above him.
Here are five potential opponents for Rafael Fiziev following his latest victory.
#5. Rafael Fiziev vs. Paddy Pimblett
One big name in the UFC’s lightweight division that is not yet ranked is Paddy Pimblett. ‘The Baddy’ has gone 2-0 in the octagon thus far, stopping Luigi Vendramini and 'Kazula' Vargas, and his next fight is scheduled to take place in just two weeks against Jordan Leavitt.
If Pimblett can get past Leavitt, his record will increase to a mightily impressive 19-3, and it’ll be hard not to view the native of Liverpool as a genuine contender in one of the UFC’s deepest divisions.
With that in mind, why not look to push ‘The Baddy’ into the upper echelon by matching him with one of the division’s most surging fighters in Rafael Fiziev?
Sure, even with a win over Leavitt, Pimblett would still be ranked below 'Ataman', but he’s already got a big name with casual fans, making this bout one that’d be well worth Fiziev pursuing, as a big win could help break him into the conscience of the fanbase.
Would it be risky for Pimblett? Of course, as he’d be facing one of the sharper strikers in the division in what would be his toughest test to date. However, at some point every prospect needs to sink or swim, and this would be his opportunity to do so.
There is a chance that this is the kind of fight that is more likely to happen at some point down the line, but stranger things have definitely happened in the UFC.
#4. Rafael Fiziev vs. Tony Ferguson
While it’s probably fair to say that Tony Ferguson has been on a slide equally dramatic to the rise of Rafael Fiziev – in fact, ‘Ataman’ will probably be ranked above ‘El Cucuy’ next week – it’d also be unfair to claim that a win over the TUF 13 winner no longer means a lot.
After all, Ferguson’s recent losses have come against top-level opposition in the form of Justin Gaethje, Charles Oliveira, Beneil Dariush, and Michael Chandler, and he’s still one of the most recognizable and respected lightweights of the modern era.
With that in mind, a clash with ‘El Cucuy’ could definitely be one worth pursuing for Fiziev. Ferguson would probably be considered a beatable opponent for him at this point, but he’s also the kind of big scalp that would likely propel ‘Ataman’ right into title contention.
Would Ferguson go for this fight? It’s hard to say, as Fiziev doesn’t have the kind of name-value that the likes of Chandler and Gaethje do, but then ‘El Cucuy’ has never seemed to care about that kind of thing, and a win over the Azerbaijani would certainly get him back on track.
Add in the fact that this bout would be tons of fun, featuring some truly wild striking exchanges, and it’s one that could be well worth the UFC looking at.
#3. Rafael Fiziev vs. Gregor Gillespie
Rafael Fiziev is currently riding one of the best winning runs in the UFC lightweight division, having reeled off six victories in a row, including three by KO. However, there’s something noticeably missing from his ledger, and that’s a win over a top grappler.
Sure, Rafael dos Anjos, who Fiziev dispatched last night, is an excellent submission artist in his own right, but he isn’t a top-drawer wrestler. Therefore, we still don’t quite know how well Fiziev’s takedown defense would hold up against that kind of non-stop pressure.
Assuming he’s ready to return at some point in the near future, one potential opponent who would definitely test the resolve of ‘Ataman’ in that area is Gregor Gillespie.
‘The Gift’ is one of the most highly credentialed wrestlers in the UFC, with an NCAA Division I National Championship to his name, and prior to his self-imposed hiatus from the octagon, he was also ranked in the top ten, holding seven UFC wins. His only loss came to Kevin Lee in November 2019.
A win over Fiziev would move Gillespie right back into title contention. However, if ‘Ataman’ could stem the tide of his takedowns and find a way to win, it’d be hard to question him in any area of the game.
Overall this wouldn’t be the biggest name fight for Fiziev, but it’d definitely be an intriguing one from a stylistic point of view.
#2. Rafael Fiziev vs. Beneil Dariush
Right now, the UFC lightweight division’s forgotten man appears to be Beneil Dariush. The Iranian-origin grappler is currently riding a winning streak of seven fights, with his most recent win coming over Tony Ferguson, and he’s ranked at No.6.
However, he also hasn’t fought since that win over Ferguson in May 2021, and that – coupled with his less-than-vocal personality – has meant that prospects have tended to avoid challenging him.
Despite that, Dariush is still a very genuine title contender right now, and a win over him would be hugely valuable to an up-and-comer like Rafael Fiziev. If anything, it could mean more than a victory over Tony Ferguson.
More importantly, based on Fiziev's win last night over Rafael dos Anjos, Dariush – especially if he’s rusty coming off his layoff – could be a good stylistic opponent for 'Ataman'. He’s an excellent striker and a very dangerous grappler, but the Azerbaijani has brilliant takedown defense and is a hugely explosive knockout artist.
Overall, this could be the fight that could give Fiziev the biggest boost up the rankings, and it could also suit him from a stylistic standpoint, too – making it one worth pursuing.
#1. Rafael Fiziev vs. Justin Gaethje
If the UFC really wants to see whether Rafael Fiziev is ready for the next level or not, then they could do much worse than match him with the ever-dangerous Justin Gaethje. 'The Highlight' is coming off a loss to Charles Oliveira in their recent lightweight title bout, but he's already stated his intentions to climb back up the ladder by winning two or three fights.
Given that Fiziev called Gaethje out in the press conference that followed last night's event, it's clear that 'Ataman' is willing to set his sights high, but what might happen in a fight between these two?
Well, there's no denying that such a clash would likely produce a wild and explosive fight. Neither Fiziev nor Gaethje likes to back down from a war on the feet, and while 'The Highlight' is more proven against the elite-level competition, it's arguable that they possess the same kind of fight-ending power as one another.
Is this a bout that Gaethje, the bigger name of the two, would be willing to take? That's debatable. To be fair, though, the former interim lightweight champ has never shied away from facing anyone in the octagon, and following his win over Rafael dos Anjos, Fiziev is likely to be part of the division's top ten anyway.
Sure, 'Ataman' would clearly have more to gain from this clash if he could find a way to win, but it'd also represent a perfect bounce-back fight for Gaethje, and the UFC could easily headline one of their Fight Night shows with it.
If both men are down, the promotion could look to ink this one for the latter stages of 2022.