If it were up to the fighters involved, one of Saturday’s most anticipated matchups wouldn’t be going down, at least not at this stage of their careers.
Brad Riddell fights Rafael Fiziev in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 44, a bout that pits the No. 12 and No. 13 lightweights in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings against one another. Both men are known for their exciting striking battles, so the bout is already a frontrunner for Fight of the Night, but Riddell said on The MMA Hour that Fiziev was not his first option — and the feeling was mutual.
The two previously trained together in Thailand and they remain amicable. Prior to signing on for their upcoming fight, they actually discussed whether it was the right move, and according to Riddell, they realized it was the best choice for both of them.
“I asked if there was someone else,” Riddell said. “I asked if we can fight later when we’re a bit higher ranked, but the UFC said there was nobody above me willing to fight, they were waiting, so I either fought somebody unranked or waited until next year, and I wasn’t really keen for either of those.
“So I called ‘Rafa,’ because they sent me his name and said he’s the only one available. So before I signed it, I just gave him a call and we just had a chat about it, and we both — he didn’t want to fight either. He wanted to wait, but when we finally came to grips that there was no other option, we were just like, alright, let’s get it done.”
"We knew we'd have to do this at some point. It just came a little earlier than we thought it was going to."@bradquakeriddel spoke to @arielhelwani about fighting former training partner Rafael Fiziev at #UFCVegas44— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) December 1, 2021
▶️ https://t.co/OAWYuaYfHc pic.twitter.com/IMRg8vacJ1
If it’s true that opponents have been avoiding Riddell and Fiziev, there’s good reason for it. Riddell has won seven straight fights, including a 4-0 start to his UFC career, while Fiziev has won four straight after losing his UFC debut. Both sport identical 10-1 records.
Riddell said that it’s been at least five years since he’s trained with Fiziev and that they’re “two very different men” now. He doesn’t expect there to be any animosity heading into — or out of — fight night, despite any past hesitance.
“It’s made to be a big deal,” Riddell said. “It’s not really too big a deal now that everything’s signed and done. We knew we were gonna have to do this at some point, it just came a little bit earlier than we thought it was going to. It’s healthy competition at the end of the day.”
As for what Fiziev thinks about the situation, Riddell can’t say for sure, but he knows that his former training partner has been having just as much trouble locking in an opponent as he has.
“We were in agreement that it was gonna happen inevitably, so we’d just do it now to make some money,” Riddell said. “I didn’t have to convince him or anything, I just said to him what the UFC said to me and he was like, ‘Oh yeah,’ he understood.
“Probably the same deal for him to be honest, probably nobody [ranked ahead of him wanted to fight him] either.”
It’s difficult to imagine either fighter’s stock taking too much of a hit on Saturday, but barring a draw, one man will see his win streak continue while the other will remain closer to the middle of the pack at 155 pounds.
The prestige that will come with a win over Fiziev is one aspect of the fight that Riddell has no issue with.
“I think it makes me one of the elite in that top 15,” Riddell said. “It takes me away from being a prospect, that’s for sure. In my opinion, he’s one of the best in there. One of the most dangerous guys to fight in the top 15. So beating a guy of his caliber is a huge advantage to me. It’ll make a lot of people a little bit jittery, that’s for sure.”