Prepare for fireworks.
That’s the message from UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski when he assesses the showdown between his two former Tiger Muai Thai mentors, Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev, in Las Vegas this weekend.
There is perhaps no one better to run the rule over the lightweight showdown than Volkanovski, given he spent time training alongside both fighters in the early part of his career in Thailand and he still retains Riddell as part of his coaching team today.
“I was there on a tryout and I ended up getting one of the scholarships and Brad ended up coming up while I was there, and for a while he was the striking coach there,” Volkanovski told ESPN.
“He was my striking coach in Thailand and has been ever since … and then, also, Rafa was at Tiger Muai Thai as well and he was a striking coach of mine, too.
“So that’s pretty crazy and now they’re going to go to work this weekend. It’s wild.”
Riddell is no stranger to explosive contests, with all four of his fights in the UFC to date going the distance with plenty of blood spilt in between.
And the same goes for Fiziev, whose own UFC career extends to five bouts, setting the stage for a fight where both men will likely be keen to stand and bang.
“They’re both elite strikers,” Volkanovski said. “Very similar, in a way, when it comes to combos and fighting what’s in front of them, they’re incredible.
“I just feel that Rafa, he’s so good, he just mixed all his combos together and he just fights whatever’s in front of him. I think Brad, he’s sort of the same, but at the same time he’ll use more strategy and there will be things that he will try and capitalise on, certain movements and things like that.
“But they’re both the type of guy that can make adjustments on the fly, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how this goes down because there is probably no one who puts combos together like these two. When you talk about combinations, kicks and punches put together, there is probably no one better in the world than these two fighters.”
Volkanovski had originally hoped to be in Riddell’s corner this weekend, but the featherweight champ has instead opted to play it safe and remain at home with his family in Australia.
Asked what he would have told Riddell before the opening bell, however, Volkanovski said it would be about not getting caught up in free-for-all, no matter how difficult that might prove.
“I wouldn’t want to overstep, so it would probably be, as hard as it might be, I would probably just remind Brad that ‘this is going to be a fun fight, I think we’re all going to enjoy it, but don’t get caught up in it, let’s stick to that strategy.’
“No matter what, there’s still going to be fireworks, that’s just their styles. I just think there’s going to be some way to capitalise on some things when they go out and absolutely bang. I cannot wait to watch this one, I’m very interested to see how this goes. As the rounds go on, there is definitely going to be some big moments on both sides and let’s see who capitalises on the day.
“Brad’s in with a good chance. I like both guys but Brad’s my boy, and I just think when it goes to this type of fight that little bit of game plan or strategy will play a factor. People will probably get dropped and they’ll be getting wobbled, but they are both smart enough fighters for them to do the right thing at the right time when they are really hurting.
“So I feel like it’s going to be a decision win for Brad, but prepare for absolute fireworks, you’re going to be on the edge of your seat the whole time.”
Meanwhile, Volkanovski also confirmed that a trilogy fight with Max Holloway was still the No. 1 plan for his third title defence next year.
He is also desperate to bring a title fight to Australia in 2022, which hasn’t hosted a UFC event since October 2019.
“We haven’t heard too much but we are going to be in conversations [with Max] very soon,” Volkanovski told ESPN. “Obviously Max is saying his things, but that is what the UFC wants and that’s what’s gonna happen. He’s just talking. So we haven’t heard too much more but they are looking around March.
“Let’s defend this belt here in Australia. It’s always been a dream of mine and I had the Perth card that was robbed from me; that would have been me defending the belt in Australia. But hopefully next year we can get that done because the Australian fans deserve it. Let’s get some events back here.”
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