A new crop of lightweight contenders are forcing their way into the conversation. Rafael Fiziev and Mateusz Gamrot are two of the newer additions to the division's elite and hoping to continue the push to the top when they meet in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Fiziev (12-2) and Gamrot (22-2, 1 NC) do not taste defeat often, but valuable lessons were learned in high-profile losses to Justin Gaethje and Beneil Dariush, respectively. Fiziev's defeat came at the hands of a perennial title challenger, who may get a third crack at the divisional crown. But Fiziev says that he did not fight smart enough to get the job done in his biggest fight to date, a mistake he doesn't plan on making again.
"I was 100% sure that was my fight. I could do anything I wanted to... That's why I didn't control my emotions. The fire inside controlled me," Fiziev told CBS Sports. "Not my brain."
Fiziev faces a completely different challenge against Gamrot than he did against Gaethje. Whereas Fiziev knew his battle with Gaethje would be a striking battle, it's likely that Gamrot, a high-level grappler, will try to make this an uglier affair on the ground. Fiziev can't promise he'll stop every takedown but he certainly won't concede position.
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"Staying with me in the stand-up when I'm trying to stay calm and take control of my emotions and fight start, I don't think it's easy for anyone in this division. This is MMA. If he takes me down, I stand up," Fiziev said. "I'm ready for this. If he takes me down 200 times, I'm ready to stand back up 201."
Check out the full interview with Rafael Fiziev below.
Gamrot started to repair his image following the Dariush loss by defeating Jalin Turner via split decision. It's a step in the right direction, but not a performance that inspires confidence in a world title run. A win over Fiziev puts Gamrot within reach of the title sphere. There is a healthy amount of respect between Saturday's headliners with similar impressions of their strengths and weaknesses.
"Fiziev went to make war, but Justin Gaethje wanted to win the fight and made a technical fight..." Gamrot told CBS Sports. "Fiziev's conditioning was bad in [Round 3] and maybe that's why he lost. It was a super technical, high-level striking fight."
Check out the full interview with Mateusz Gamrot below.
Saturday's co-main event is an intriguing featherweight presentation. Talented submission specialist Bryce Mitchell looks to bounce back from his first career loss to Ilia Topuria. Opposing him is 145-pound stalwart Dan Ige, who again finds himself on the cusp of the elite in need of a signature win.
"I've matured a lot since my last fight," Mitchell said in an interview with UFC.com. "I've learned so much I can't even put it all into words. It would take me like two hours to tell you all the stuff that I've learned. It was one of the best things that's ever happened to me.
"I respect the man to the end. He's a more than worthy opponent. He's a dangerous opponent. He's a hungry opponent. And so am I. That's good for y'all because you get to just see a great show."
Elsewhere on the card, Marina Rodriguez and Michelle Waterson run back a previous meeting a women's strawweight. Rodriguez scored a unanimous decision over Waterson in 2021. Plus, Bryan Battle is set to face AJ Fletcher at welterweight. And opening the main card are a pair of action fighters at 145 pounds when Charles Jourdain takes on Ricardo Ramos.
Below is the rest of the fight card for Saturday with the latest odds before we get to a prediction and pick on the main event.
UFC Fight Night card, odds
|Rafael Fiziev -155||Mateusz Gamrot +130||Lightweight|
|Bryce Mitchell -205||Dan Ige +170||Featherweight|
|Marina Rodriguez -320||Michelle Waterson +250||Women's strawweight|
|Bryan Battle -190||AJ Fletcher +160||Welterweight|
|Charles Jourdain -140||Ricardo Ramos +120||Featherweight|
UFC Fight Night viewing information
Date: Sept. 23 | Start time: 7 p.m. ET (main card)
Location: UFC Apex -- Las Vegas
TV channel: ESPN+
Rafael Fiziev vs. Mateusz Gamrot: The odds tend to be close between two fighters with such distinct advantages. Will Fiziev impose his will striking or could Gamrot smother his foe? People will point to Fiziev's 90% takedown defense inside the Octagon. It's an impressive figure but you can't ignore how Fiziev was taken down by his last three opponents. Gaethje, Rafael dos Anjos and Brad Riddell are very talented, but Gamrot is a better wrestler than all of them. Furthermore, Gamrot landed four takedowns on Dariush and six on Arman Tsarukyan, both of whom are better grapplers than Fiziev. What inspires confidence in Fiziev is his focus on getting up off the floor instead of stopping every takedown. Too many fighters fall into the trap of overtraining their takedown defense for a particular opponent but relenting once the fight hits the mat.
It would not be advisable for Gamrot to stand and trade on Saturday. Gamrot was knocked down by his last three opponents: Turner, Dariush and Tsarukyan. Credit to Gamrot for overcoming adversity and winning two of those fights, but Fiziev packs power that you can't recover from. It's imperative that both men have peak endurance. The fight will be most interesting in the later rounds as stamina wanes. If Gamrot can weather early storms and pick up the pace, he might be able to ground Fiziev and steal the late rounds. Even then, Fiziev's power carries late and he's scored UFC stoppages as late as Round 5. Ultimately, I'll lean towards Fiziev. He has the right mental approach, a desire to wash away the taste of defeat and late-carrying power against an opponent that can be hurt. Fiziev via KO3
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