The battle between elite strikers Rafael Fiziev and Brad Riddell has the entire MMA community enthralled.

Rising lightweight contenders Fiziev (10-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) and Riddell (10-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) will square off at UFC on ESPN 31 on Dec. 4 and considering the pair’s history, many are surprised to see them matched up.

Both men trained together at the famed Tiger Muay Thai gym in Phuket, Thailand, but as fate has it, two of the best standup fighters in the division will throw down. Striking coach Steven Lukatsky, who’s both trained and cornered Fiziev on multiple occasions before, has given his perspective of the fight and why he thinks Fiziev has the edge.


“In my opinion, it’s a 50-50 fight,” Lukatsky told MMA Junkie. “I think both these guys bring fireworks to the table. I think both guys are unbelievable – they’re great strikers. No one is going to be going for a takedown, that’s for sure. In my opinion personally, Rafael is a bit more explosive, and I think his cage IQ is slightly more than Brad Riddell.

“Many people may tell me otherwise, but I worked with him for the last four, four and a half years. He’s had other coaches and different people, but his style is so dynamic of being able to switch stances – and that’s funny how that came about because he’s an orthodox fighter and every time he had some kind of little injury or something, he would work on different stuff. So his striking style keeps developing and it’s so new.”

Lukatsky thinks while both men are very evenly matched, Fiziev’s power will ultimately make the difference.

“Brad is unbelievable, but I feel like he’s a little bit more predictable,” Lukatsky said. “Like, you know he will come – he’s an orthodox fighter, he’s explosive, he throws bombs. But in this fight, I think counter-striking will be the big thing for Rafael because I think Brad will make certain little mistakes and Rafael will counter that, and I think that he will be landing the bigger shots.”

It’s unlikely that either man will look to grapple considering their striking prowess, but Lukatsky thinks Riddell’s aggressive style will play right into Fiziev’s favor.

“If anyone is going to be going for the grappling, it’ll be Brad,” Lukatsky said. “Rafael will be a bit hard to deal with in the standup. Bobby Green was a bit of a difficult fight for Rafael. He put a very big pace in the first couple of rounds, and it’s difficult to pick up and keep that kind of pace for three full rounds – especially (because) Green is a very tough guy. He moves a lot. He moves his head. He’s good at boxing.

“But I think Brad will come in a little more reckless and be more stationary. He won’t move his head as much, so I think Rafael will be tagging him up a little bit more, and I don’t think Brad is going to like that. I think he’s the one that’s going to go for the grappling. But also, don’t underestimate Rafael’s grappling because he’s working on it every day and he’s unbelievable in that, as well. He just didn’t get to show that yet.”

Lukatsky, who currently trains fighters at the newly founded team Falcons MMA in Dubai, has worked with the likes of Fizev, Brendan Loughnane, Arman Tsarukyan, Gokhan Saki, UAE Warriors champion Tarek Suleiman and BRAVE CF middleweight champ Mohammad Fakhreddine. He recently spent some time at Sanford MMA and continues to blossom as a striking coach, working with some of the top athletes across different organizations.


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