LAS VEGAS – After competing in his first UFC main event, lightweight contender Rafael Fiziev appears primed to take on the division's elite after scoring a fifth-round knockout win over former champion Rafael dos Anjos.
The bout served as the main event of Saturday's UFC on ESPN 39 event, which aired on ESPN and streamed live on ESPN+ from the UFC Apex.
The two were active on the feet to start the contest, with each showing plenty of movement and firing off powerful punches, including an early dos Anjos left that drew some blood near Fiziev's right eye. Dos Anjos shot forward for a takedown shortly after, but Fiziev defended well against the cage and was eventually able to slip back to the center, where he delivered a few acrobatic knees as the two continued to engage in striking exchanges. In the final seconds, Fiziev showed impressive hand speed in connecting with several powerful hooks before the bell.
Both fighters landed powerful kicks to the body to open the second frame before a Fiziev eyepoke forced a brief pause in the action. With Fiziev gaining steam on the feet, dos Anjos shot forward and was able to get to the clinch, but his opponent defended well once again and pulled away to the center of the cage. Fiziev seemed to gain confidence as time wore on, defending another pair of takedown attempts before the bell and reeling off quick punching combinations along the way.
With blood trickling out of his right forearm from a cut sustained in the second round, dos Anjos went quick to the takedown to start the third, though Fiziev was again up to the task and stayed upright before scampering back to the center. There, dos Anjos traded just briefly before again rushing forward for a takedown that he couldn't convert. Dos Anjos would continue to hunt the clinch, but Fiziev dealt well with each attempt.
Clearly down on the cards heading into the fourth, dos Anjos did his best to create opportunities for offense when possible, though Fiziev's pace also remained high on the feet, and his takedown defense was sound. Dos Anjos did eventually lift Fiziev in the air and dump him on the canvas with a little more than a minute remaining, but "Ataman" worked quickly to a seated position against the fence, where he didn't take much damage, though he did cede the frame on all three judges' cards.
With dos Anjos pushing for a final rally in the fifth, Fiziev clipped him with a beautiful left hook that sent him toppling to the canvas. With dos Anjos on his back, Fiziev rushed forward and landed a few more punches on the floor, forcing Mark Smith to call a halt to the bout just 18 seconds into the final frame.
"Now we know who is the best Rafael," Fiziev joked after the win.
The 29-year-old Azerbaijani fighter entered the contest at No. 10 in the UFC's official lightweight rankings, and by scoring a win over dos Anjos, who was No. 7, should secure a top contender in his next appearance.
"Yeah, give me someone in the top 5," Fiziev said after the win. "I'm ready."
Fiziev (12-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) now boasts a six-fight winning streak, while dos Anjos (31-14 MMA, 20-12 UFC) sees a two-fight run snapped with the setback.
Complete UFC on ESPN 39 results include:
MAIN CARD (ESPN, ESPN+)
- Rafael Fiziev def. Rafael dos Anjos via knockout (punches) – Round 5, 0:18
- Caio Borralho def. Armen Petrosyan via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Said Nurmagomedov def. Douglas Silva de Andrade via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Chase Sherman def. Jared Vanderaa via knockout (punches) – Round 3, 3:10
- Aiemann Zahabi def. Ricky Turcios via unanimous decision (29-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Jamie Mullarkey def. Michael Johnson via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
PRELIMINARY CARD (ESPN, ESPN+)
- Cody Brundage def. Tresean Gore via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 3:50
- Antonina Shevchenko def. Cortney Casey via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- David Onama def. Garrett Armfield via technical submission (arm-triangle choke) Round 2, 3:13
- Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Karl Roberson TKO (punches, elbows) – Round 3, 2:19
- Saidyokub Kakhramonov def. Ronnie Lawrence via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)