Rafael Fiziev is playing for keeps on this weekend.
This Saturday, Fiziev faces Justin Gaethje in the co-main event of UFC 286. It’s a pivotal matchup as Gaethje looks to rebound from losing to then-champion Charles Oliveira, while Fiziev hopes to move into the lightweight top five and make a run at the title himself, and as such, “Ataman” is bringing a “take no prisoners” attitude with him to the cage.
“I’m waiting [for] the best Gaethje in front of me,” Fiziev said at the UFC 286 Media Day. “I’m waiting for best in shape, I’m waiting for hard fight from him. I’m waiting for blood…”
“It doesn’t matter what [happened] with Charles. I go in and make my job. Touch him with first punch, with second, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to take his heart.”
Gaethje is a former UFC interim lightweight champion, however, “The Highlight” is better known for the incredibly exciting performances he delivers every time he fights. At his own Media Day scrum declared himself the most exciting fighter in history, a claim which is backed up by the fact that since joining the UFC in 2017, Gaethje has won Fight of the Year honors three separate times. For Fiziev, a man who has earned Performance or Fight of the Night bonuses in his previous five fights, that makes this matchup undeniably appealing.
“I can’t say it’s just another fight,” Fiziev said. “Of course I’m excited. This opponent is very famous and everybody knows him. ‘Highlight’ is his nickname. But also, it’s just the next fight for me. It’s both.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I do in this fight, and show him real highlight.”
Another appealing aspect of the fight is the prospect of a title shot afterwards. Currently on a six-fight winning streak, a win over the former interim champion would give Fiziev a strong case to become the next lightweight contender; however, with Beneil Dariush taking on former champion Charles Oliveira at UFC 288, Fiziev recognizes he may not get that opportunity. And if not, “Ataman” is okay with that.
“I think if I win, I deserve that title shot,” Fiziev said. “But the UFC also makes it how they want. If they give a title shot to the winner of Oliveira and Dariush, okay. Dariush, I think he deserves it more than anyone in this division. If they give me after this fight, I’m also happy.”
But should Dariush lose, or the UFC opt to give him the next lightweight title shot instead, Fiziev plans to do the same thing to Islam Makhachev that he intends to do to Gaethje this weekend.
“If it happens like that, I’m just doing the same that I do always,” Fiziev said. “I just have to stop takedowns and do what I love to do: go forward and punch.”