Islam Makhachev’s blazing run through the lightweight ranks has drawn comparisons to arguably the greatest ever to compete in the division.
It’s a comparison that Makhachev isn’t shying away from.
With eight straight wins heading into his matchup with Dan Hooker this Saturday at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi, Makhachev — the No. 6 lightweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — appears destined to challenge for the UFC title that his close friend and teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov once held. At UFC 267 media day, Makhachev was asked if he feels any pressure being compared to “The Eagle.”
“I want to be like Khabib,” Makhachev said. “I’m training with him all the time. He gives me very big support. This is not pressure for me. I’m just happy because I have some guy like him on my back.”
Like Nurmagomedov, Makhachev is known for his relentless wrestling and ground game, as well as the ease with which he dominates his opponents. He has won eight straight fights, finishing his past two opponents Thiago Moises and Drew Dober, and overall holds a 20-1 record as a pro.
Makhachev credits much of his recent success to his team at American Kickboxing Academy, which includes Nurmagomedov and head coach Javier Mendez.
“You know how you have big experience?” Makhachev said when asked what role Nurmagomedov played in his preparation for Hooker. “Him and Javier Mendez, they’re my head coaches. He helps me a lot. He gives me a game plan, he helps me a lot in the training camp. Not just like some sparring partner, he can give more because he has big experience in this game.”
Nine straight victories would tie Makhachev for the longest current UFC win streak at 155 pounds with champion Charles Oliveira. Oliveira is set for his first title defense against Dustin Poirier at UFC 269. A month prior to that, Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler — who Oliveira beat to capture a vacant belt — meet in a battle of top contenders at UFC 268.
Makhachev isn’t assuming he’s next in line for a title shot if he beats Hooker, but he foresees a scenario that would strengthen his case to be the No. 1 contender.
“Oliveira fight versus Poirier and Chandler fight versus Gaethje,” Makhachev said. “After, when I beat Hooker, I don’t know. If Chandler and Oliveira win, who’s gonna fight for the title? I’m gonna be ready because I don’t think a rematch for Chandler and Oliveira is a good idea. They don’t need to ask me, I’m just ready.”