Islam Makhachev continued his seemingly inexorable march towards the lightweight title at UFC Vegas 31, the only question is who does he have to fight to get there?
In his first main event, Makhachev defeated Thiago Moises by fourth-round submission to win his eighth straight fight and confirm what many already believe: That he’s destined to follow in the footsteps of friend and teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov and become champion. Makhachev’s in-cage interview saw him name Rafael dos Anjos as a possible opponent, but he’s also expressed interest in fighting Michael Chandler or Tony Ferguson.
At the evening’s post-fight press conference, he stated he would prefer Ferguson if it were up to him.
“If they’re gonna give me a choice, let’s go with Tony because we have a good history with him,” Makhachev said. “Khabib was supposed to fight with him five or six times, let’s finish this. I’m gonna finish this. And I’m gonna show people around the world that Tony is not Khabib-level.”
Ferguson and Nurmagomedov were famously booked to fight one another on multiple occasions but never actually faced off inside the octagon as maladies on both sides repeatedly led to their matchup being cancelled. The two were mainstays in the top-5 of the lightweight rankings for years, with Ferguson racking up a 12-fight win streak and Nurmagomedov becoming arguably the best ever to compete at 155 pounds. It sounds like Makhachev is willing to serve as a proxy for Nurmagomedov should Ferguson be interested.
Makhachev’s eight-fight win streak is now one behind lightweight champion Charles Oliveira (9) and one ahead of fellow contender Beneil Dariush (7). Asked if he would consider fighting Dariush, he was complimentary of his fellow Dominance MMA-managed fighter.
“Beneil is a really good fighter,” Makhachev said. “If they give me Beneil, it’s going to be a good fight. He’s a nice guy, I know him a little bit, but he’s No. 3. He’s a big step for me too. He’s tough, more than all three guys that I called [out].”
When Gaethje (another Dominance MMA client) and Chandler were suggested to Makhachev as options, he pointed to their style differences and explained why he’d be more than a match for either man.
“You know why these guys are striking all the time?” Makhachev said. “Because they don’t have wrestling skills, they don’t have grappling. That’s why. But I have striking, I have wrestling more than everybody in this division. I have grappling more than anybody in this division, that’s why they’re gonna run.”
Should a lightweight contender step up to the plate and run towards the Makhachev matchup, he expects that he’ll be ready for them sometime within the next five months. Makhachev wants to make up for lost time after three bookings fell through in 2020, and he’s already scored two submission victories in 2021.
One more finish and Makhachev believes he’ll deserve some shine come awards season.
“Let’s do, end of this year, one more fight,” Makhachev said. “I’m gonna finish one more fight and I’m gonna be Fighter of the Year.”