29-year-old lightweight contender Rafael Fiziev headlines his first UFC event this Saturday, which is a huge milestone on a long fighting career that started with Muay Thai in Kyrgyzstan.
“(I was) 12,” Fiziev told The MMA Hour about his first ever fight. “My first fight opponent was like around 18 or 19 years old. It was Muay Thai, 48 kg. I won.”
Interestingly enough, a future UFC champion from Kyrgyzstan was refereeing that very fight, with Fiziev sharing a funny story involving Valentina Shevchenko.
“Valentina refereed this fight,” Fiziev said. “Yeah, she was the referee in my first fight. She’s a good referee, she put her fingers in my mouth when she tried to separate us.
“I don’t know why. Because we fight like dogs maybe,” Fiziev said with a laugh. “I remember her finger in my mouth and she put it like (a fishhook). She had gloves.”
Shevchenko is not that much older than Fiziev, and would’ve been around 17-years-old at the time. The pair of future UFC stars used to compete and train in the same circles when they were younger, with Fiziev saying she used to beat him up in the gym.
“I started training in the same federation. Like we have one federation and when I go to a world championship, we go together. From 13-years-old I train with her,” Fiziev said in a 2021 interview with James Lynch. “I stay partners with her, and she kicked my ass when I was 13-years-old.
“All my she life, she example for me,” he said. “Now she’s superstar, and a long time ago, already she’s superstar. Every time I see her in the fight — before UFC too — I think like ‘oh, she walk in a big road.’”
Both fighters made waves in MMA years later, with Shevchenko becoming a dominant UFC champion, and Fiziev now stepping into the biggest fight of his career after winning his fifth straight UFC bout.
Fiziev will headline UFC Vegas 58 this Saturday against Rafael dos Anjos.