Rafael Fiziev will look to establish himself as a bona fide UFC title contender when he takes on former champion Rafael dos Anjos in a lightweight headliner at UFC Vegas 58 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Middleweight prospects collide in the co-main event at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas as Caio Borralho battles Armen Petrosyan, while highly-touted bantamweight Said Nurmagomedov faces his sternest test to date in veteran Douglas Silva de Andrade.
Plus, heavyweight finishers Jared Vanderaa and Chase Sherman square off in what’s a must-win fight for both men and lightweight mainstay Michael Johnson meets Jamie Mullarkey in what’s sure to be a thrilling main card opener.
MAIN CARD (from 3 AM Sunday SA time):
Rafael dos Anjos (2.75) v Rafael Fiziev (1.44) (Lightweight)
The main event showdown is a classic case of old lion versus young lion. Dos Anjos (30-13) has been there and done it all, including capturing the lightweight championship with a dominant win over Anthony Pettis back in 2015.
He’s capable on the feet (five knockouts), a top-class wrestler and an excellent grappler, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt having secured 10 wins by submission.
At 37, he’s nine years older than his surging opponent and past his prime, as his record reflects. He’s won one of his last three and two of his last six. It also doesn’t help that he last fought in November 2020 when he eked out a split decision win over Paul Felder. Still seventh in the rankings, a loss here would relegate him to the unwanted gatekeeper status.
Tenth-ranked Fiziev, meanwhile, is a star on the rise. Succumbing to Magomed Mustafaev in his UFC debut in 2019 is the only blemish on his record. He’s rattled off five victories since, bringing his tally up to 11 with seven knockouts and one submission victory.
The Kazakhstan crusher’s latest triumph was a prime example of what makes him such a problem for the rest of the 155-pound division as he lit up Brad Riddell before finishing him with a highlight-reel spinning wheel kick knockout.
Fiziev boasts a tapestry of striking techniques that make him as unpredictable as they come. Furthermore, he has exceptional hand speed, good footwork and extraordinary head movement, which will give him a distinct advantage on the feet.
The aggressive “Ataman” is more active as well; he throws considerably more volume than Dos Anjos. The latter’s best path to pulling off the upset is thus to make it a grappling match. If he can get Fiziev to the ground, he might discover a potential chink in the armour.
The problem is Fiziev has a rock-solid base and brilliant balance. His 95% takedown defence is unheard of and will likely lead to a stand-up affair. I doubt the ultra-driven Fiziev will be content with simply beating the former lightweight king. I sense he’ll be out to make an emphatic statement in the process.
Dos Anjos’ hunger’s still there and the wily veteran shouldn’t be counted out. However, Fiziev is younger, faster, stronger and the superior striker. I see him eventually overwhelming RDA with his usual relentless and controlled aggression.
Caio Borralho (1.43) v Armen Petrosyan (2.80) (Middleweight)
On the surface, the co-headliner looks like a striker versus grappler battle. Petrosyan (7-1) is a tall power puncher who’s claimed all but one of his wins by knockout, while Borralho (11-1) has a strong and skilled ground game (three submissions). However, the latter has solid striking as well (four knockouts) and his ability to fuse it all together gives him the advantage.
At 6’3″, Petrosyan’s five inches taller than Borralho, but it’s the shorter Brazilian who’ll have a four-inch reach advantage. The Russian’s a live dog, not only due to his heavy hands but also the high volume at which he throws. “Superman” lands a staggering 7.56 significant strikes per minute, more than double that of southpaw Borralho (3.66).
With his broader skillset, though, Borralho – who hasn’t lost since dropping his professional debut in 2015 – should be the one who dictates where the fight takes place. He looks set to ground and control Petrosyan en route to a decision victory.
Douglas Silva de Andrade (3.20) v Said Nurmagomedov (1.34) (Bantamweight)
Silva de Andrade (28-4-1NC) serves as a seasoned and dangerous test of where hot prospect Nurmagomedov (15-2) is in his development. The cousin of former lightweight king and newly-inducted member of the UFC Hall of Fame Khabib, he tore through Cody Stamann in January, submitting him in under a minute to take his record to 5-1 inside the Octagon.
Silva de Andrade’s two-fight win streak has bumped his UFC record up to a winning one at 6-4. To be fair, he’s faced some of the very best at bantamweight and featherweight, including former champions Renan Barao and Petr Yan. The veteran is a brawler with 20 knockouts to his name.
Nurmagomedov is much more measured in his approach and very well-rounded (four knockouts, four submissions and seven decisions). At 30, he’s seven years younger than “D’Silva” and only beginning to enter his prime. He’ll be too strong and fast for Silva de Andrade, whose toughness will likely see the fight go the full three rounds.
Jared Vanderaa (1.47) v Chase Sherman (2.65) (Heavyweight)
What we have here is a loser leaves town tilt. Vanderaa (12-8) has lost three in a row, while Sherman’s losing streak is at four.
Both men stand 6’4″ and are similar stylistically, preferring to stand and trade on the feet. Vanderaa has the versatility to mix things up when he wants or needs to, though, and has three submission wins among his 10 finishes.
Sherman (15-10), on the other hand, has a 93% knockout rate, so opponents know exactly what to expect from him and with the line as it is, many will sprinkle a bit on the heavy-handed predator.
Vanderaa has a two-inch reach advantage, which will be big, more than anything because it means “The Vanilla Gorilla” will have to close the distance. That will give Vanderaa opportunities to go to his grappling, where Sherman’s been found wanting and was forced to tap out in his last two trips to the Octagon.
A submission win for “The Mountain” is very much in play and will pay out big, but I see this being a rare case where these two finishers go the distance, with Vanderaa coming out victorious thanks to a wrestling-based approach.
Michael Johnson (2.95) v Jamie Mullarkey (1.39) (Lightweight)
Fireworks are forthcoming in the main card opener. Johnson (21-17) is coming off his best performance in years, which saw him score a TKO win over Allan Patrick in March to snap a four-fight skid and prove there’s life in the 36-year-old vet yet.
Mullarkey (14-5), meanwhile, was stopped by Jalin Turner in May following back-to-back TKO wins and is now 2-3 in the UFC. Big things were expected from the Australian prospect when he joined the world’s leading MMA promotion in 2019 and while it’s still early days – he’s only 27 – he can ill afford another loss. As the younger man, he’s fancied to bounce back and if he is to do so, it’ll likely be by finish as he produced stoppages in 13 of his 14 wins (including 10 knockouts).
I like Johnson’s chances, though, and as a juicy underdog, my money’s on “The Menace.” Even though he’s not the same fighter he was when he beat former interim champions and 155-pound greats Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier (one of his nine knockout victims), he looked fantastic last time out.
His remarkable hand speed, specifically, is why I’m backing Johnson to pull off the upset and do it in style.