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Rafael Fiziev vs. Brad Riddell – UFC Vegas 44 Preview

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Peak matchmaking produces one of the best fights of December as striking wizards Rafael Fiziev and Brad Riddell lock up this Saturday in Las Vegas. The incredibly even fight is the co-main event of UFC Fight Night: Font vs. Aldo. Keep reading to dig deep into Rafael Fiziev vs. Brad Riddell to see who has an advantage, though it will be slight.

In many ways, these two are almost complete mirror images of each other. Riddell is ranked at 12, while Fiziev is number 14 at lightweight. Both have 10-1 records and are on four-fight win streaks in the UFC. Each have fought Magomed Mustafaev, and while Fiziev lost by knockout in round one, Riddell won a split decision.

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Even more fascinating is their shared history as training partners at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand, prior to fighting in the UFC. Although still friends, Fiziev is now a kickboxing coach at Tiger Muay Thai, while Riddell has moved on to City Kickboxing in Auckland, New Zealand. Both fighters are standout strikers representing gyms famous for producing exactly that.

Rafael “Ataman” Fiziev

Kyrgyzstani Rafael Fiziev (10-1) has been a terror in the lightweight division. After falling to Mustafaev, he’s rattling off four consecutive wins, landing him among the top 15 in the largest division in the UFC. After rebounding against Alex White, he’s notched wins over Marc Diakese, Renato Moicano, and Bobby Green.

The Moicano win was especially startling, as Fiziev melted the Brazilian with a body shot-overhand right-left hook combination to drop Moicano. The victory was Fiziev’s sixth knockout in ten wins, highlighting the strength of his aggressive style. The Muay Thai influence of Fiziev’s training is evident in his stance, with a more compact stature and shorter gait. However, Fiziev has adapted Muay Thai fundamentals with more lateral movement and evasive head movement, rounding it out for MMA use.

Fiziev’s striking game is levels ahead of most of his lightweight counterparts. Rarely one to throw single strikes, “Ataman” strings together long combinations from a tight shell. Fiziev channels the whole weight of his body into every strike, producing thudding kicks and pounding left hooks. His combinations routinely fire, wait for the counterstrike, and then fire again with another series, increasing the likelihood that he gets the last word to make a lasting impact on the judges.

Where Fiziev falters is his energy management. His whipping combinations historically aren’t sustainable over the course of three rounds, causing him to fade later in the fight. Bobby Green took advantage of the dropping hands and waning output of Fiziev in Fiziev’s last fight, nearly coming back to take the fight from him. Fiziev will have to rein it in a bit early or increase his conditioning at his temporary home of Sanford MMA if he wants to remain consistent against Brad Riddell on Saturday.

His ground game is strong but largely unknown. He’s been able to score takedowns against Diakese and White but largely seemed as tools to score points rather than an offensive statement. In none of those attempts did he inflict much damage or even pass the guard, but that’s not to say he’s got the tools as he does hold a BJJ blue belt- we just haven’t seen enough of it to make a fair judgment.

Brad “Quake” Riddell

Riddell’s striking draws less from Muay Thai and more from a traditional kickboxing approach. His stance is wider, both in the distance of his feet and his hands from each other. He plays a longer game, throwing shorter combinations than Fiziev but with greater accuracy. His signature overhand right is a thing of beauty, throwing at distance with power, speed, and zero wind-up. The punch was a difference-maker that likely won the favor of the judges in his battle with Drew Dober in June.

Riddell got off to a slow start in that fight, getting tagged and hurt early by Dober. But as the commentators pointed out, Riddell has never been knocked out in MMA. He reacts well to damage, both closing distance well with takedowns and adapting as the fight goes on.

On the mat, Riddell holds a BJJ purple belt. His wrestling defense has been a bit suspect in the UFC, dropping takedowns in the majority of his UFC fights, despite offering little offence off his back. On top, Riddell has strong hips and patient top control. Since his preference is to strike, he doesn’t typically initiate grappling sequence unless either he’s hurt and trying to recover, or his opponent is hurt and he senses a finish.

The Breakdown

Despite all of the correlations between Fiziev and Riddell noted earlier, their two styles contrast somewhat and all but guarantee a roller coaster of a fight. While Fiziev starts strong and fades later, Riddell gains strength as the fight wears on. Riddell would be wise to clinch with Fiziev early and try to wear him out against the fence or try to take him to the ground. While Fiziev’s takedown defence is outstanding, the point is to make him work. As Fiziev tires later in rounds two and three, he can certainly score with the overhand right as Fiziev’s hands begin to drop.

Firefights are a bad idea against Fiziev, who prefers to fight at a closer range. If the fight is a striker’s battle, Riddell should keep it at range and make Fiziev miss, picking his shots to make Fiziev empty his tank on heavy shots early.

For Rafael Fiziev, his gameplan should nearly be the opposite: turn up the temperature and make it wild to start, flowing in spurts and withdrawals. Ideally, he’s worked out some kinks in his conditioning to be able to manage pace a bit better. If he imposes his game, it should work well against Riddell, as he’s the more explosive athlete and hits much harder. Investing in the leg kicks early will pay off later in the fight if Riddell is healthier than Fiziev, so he should use them to set up the jab and combinations off of that. If he throws longer than Riddell, he’ll land and wound him badly. But the question is, will Fiziev’s first half of the fight be stronger than Riddell’s second half?

The answer to that question lies in how well Sanford MMA have prepared Fiziev’s conditioning. If it’s any better than previous fights- and there’s a good chance of that- it should be enough for him to take two rounds of the fight and land more output and damage.

Prediction: Rafael Fiziev def. Brad Riddell via unanimous decision

How to Watch: Rafael Fiziev vs. Brad Riddell is the co-main event of UFC Fight Night: Font vs. Aldo / UFC Vegas 44, which airs on ESPN and ESPN+ in the US. The Main Card begins at 10pm EST / 7pm PST, with prelims beginning at 7pm EST / 4pm PST on ESPN+.

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Chris Presnell is a staff writer for MMASucka. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @mmaecosystem.

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