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Islam Makhachev calls for UFC title shot: ‘I have to wake up my division’

After his ninth straight win, UFC lightweight Islam Makhachev is no longer biting his tongue about a title shot.

A first-round submission of Dan Hooker at UFC 267 was Makhachev’s strongest argument to date, and the 30-year-old Dagestani hopes the promotion will think of him first when the next pieces on the 155-pound chess board move.

“Next fight, it has to be for the title, or a contender fight, because I have a nine-fight winning streak,” Makhachev said at the post-fight press conference for Saturday’s event in Abu Dhabi. “Who in my division have this? Just the champion.

“And I feel my division is a little bit asleep right now. I have to wake up my division, because we have to change some things. The old guys from the top-five, they’ve already fought for the title – [Michael] Chandler, [Justin] Gaethje. That’s why we have to change something.”

Chandler and Gaethje are the first two of those pieces to move; on Saturday at UFC 268, the one-time title challengers face off in a fight many believe will carry title implications for the winner. Then there’s a lightweight title headliner at UFC 269 between champ Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier. And also looming is Beneil Dariush, whose seven-fight winning streak has him on the short list.

The way Makhachev sees it, he’s part of a new, younger wave of lightweights who deserve their chance at the title, and that’s why he should take priority.

“They have to give me a chance,” he said. “[UFC President] Dana [White] has to give me a chance.”

By name value alone, Saturday’s fight was a high point for Makhachev, whose winning streak is mostly comprised of unranked fighters. The promotion turned that into a selling point for the UFC 267 bout with Hooker, who was hyped as the man who would do what no other lightweights wanted to do in facing the longtime training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov.

From the reaction at Etihad Arena, you wouldn’t know Makhachev was the forgotten man. On friendly soil in the Middle East, he was cheered on by the crowd and felt more pressure watching his teammates Zubaira Tukhugov and Tagir Ulanbekov compete at UFC 267 than stepping into the cage against Hooker.

“They make me a little bit nervous,” Makhachev said of his teammates. “Both fights were both crazy. I was sweating too much; I watched both fights in the hotel. But in the arena, I’m not an amateur guy. I have big experience in MMA, that’s why I use this support, because all of the arena came to support me, and I know I have to show my best.”

Once inside the cage, Makhachev reverted to the skills that helped him build his current streak, quickly taking down Hooker before securing a kimura for the tap.

“I told you before, I can strike with him, but I know the easy way,” he said. “That’s why I choose this way. I know his ground game is not so good.”

On Monday, the lightweight rankings will shake up once again, and Makhachev on paper will present a more attractive target. In reality, it’s anyone’s guess how the next 12 months unfolds in the division, but Makhachev is used to adapting.

“Now, I’m going to be like, No. 3 or No. 4, so I don’t know [if it’s going to be easier to get fights],” he said. “I’m ready to fight for the title. But it they give me some other step, I’m ready for anyone.”

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