Training relationships in MMA can get complicated. While unquestionably an individual sport, most fighters find themselves working under something much closer to a team dynamic day-to-day. More often than not, the necessities of training require athletes to band together, under many of the same coaches, sometimes to the point of even helping one another with direct fight preparation.
And while the combat sports world is big enough to largely keep training partners from having to face one another in competition, things get a whole lot tighter when it gets down to the UFC and their top ranked fighters.
That’s the problem that ranked UFC lightweights, and former sparring partners, Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev have found themselves in—as they prepare to face off against one another this coming Saturday, December 4th, at UFC Vegas 44: Font vs. Aldo.
What looks to be a surefire all-violence clash also seemed like a bout that might never get made, considering the camaraderie and history between the two men. But, in a recent interview with Sub Radio, Riddell revealed that both he and Fiziev felt that taking the bout wouldn’t get in the way of their friendship.
“I just texted him and just said that they sent me his name on a contract and I hadn’t signed it, and just let me know when you’re free for call,” Riddell revealed, speaking of the UFC’s offer to take on Fiziev. “And I was leaving a training session. He messaged me he was free, so I gave him a call and we just had a chat. And I just said that there wasn’t anybody available to fight other than him.
“Like, me and him it seemed like for some reason, me and him were the only two guys available in the top 15 available to fight this year. Otherwise we had to wait, or we had to fight somebody un-ranked. And you know, it’s a lot of work to get into the rankings, obviously. And I also don’t wanna wait, because I like money in my bank as well. I enjoy fighting, and so does he. So, we just did, like, I just said, man, friends before and after? And he goes, yeah, let’s make some money. And he said, don’t get injured in fight camp, which I haven’t, which is good. And yeah, that was it.”
And while the two men have absolutely squared off on the mats against one another before, it doesn’t sound like Riddell thinks their history will be a major factor inside the Octagon. Especially since it appears it’s been quite a while since they’ve actually seen one another in training.
“Not really. It was like four or five years ago,” Riddell responded, when asked if he thought their past sparring sessions would be a factor. “He’s changed a lot since then, and I’ve changed a lot. I barely did MMA back then, so a whole heap’s changed for me. But I definitely don’t think I’ll rely on those sparring sessions too much. You change in like six months, three months in this sport. Like, it evolves so quickly, you can’t rely on some shit from four years ago.”
“I feel like we’re very similar. Like, we’re very evenly matched sort of everywhere. I don’t think either of us stand out significantly above each other in any aspect of the sport. So, I think it’s gonna be a very even, interesting fight. It will be I guess who turns up on the night”
“From memory, obviously he’s hard to strike with. Even though he hasn’t wrestled much in the UFC, he’s a very good wrestler. He’s got some pretty good submissions up his sleeve and stuff like that. It’s hard to say, because I’m not gonna talk shit about my mate, but it’s gonna be a pretty epic fight. Like, I think as excited as everybody is, they have good reason to be.”
Eventually, while Riddell knows that fans expect a standup war (and even he expects the fight to end inside the distance) he’s prepared for the bout to go just about anywhere. After all, while high octane violence may be great for fans, the most important thing for him is to walk away with a victory inside the Octagon.
“I think everybody wants it to be like a stand-up bloodbath,” Riddell admitted. “Like, three rounds of just standing there having a good bang at each other. But I mean, it could go anywhere. Like, at the end of the day you have to win. Like, that’s the goal. You have to win, otherwise you don’t progress.
“I don’t really believe that if you lose and have a – like, for instance, Chandler’s fight. He was very happy with the way it went. But from my point of view, and in my mind, if I lose, even if the fight is that exciting, it’s just, it’s too detrimental on your career. Like, I’m in the sport to prove I’m the best, and losing doesn’t aid me in any way in my argument. So, I will win at whatever cost it takes. If I took him down and he couldn’t get up, I’ll keep taking them down.”
UFC Vegas 44 takes place this Saturday, at the Apex facility in Las Vegas, NV. The card is expected to be headlined by a bantamweight top contender’s bout between former featherweight champion Jose Aldo and Team Sityodtong talent Rob Font. Riddell vs. Fiziev is scheduled for the co-main event.