Islam Makhachev has checked off his championship goal. Now, he wants to be recognized as one of the best ever.
In the main event of UFC 280 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, Makhachev captured a vacant lightweight title and upped his winning streak to 11 with a second-round submission of Charles Oliveira. The Russian fighter is now the man to beat in what has historically been one of MMA’s deepest divisions, and what he wants next is to fight featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski for the No. 1 spot in the pound-for-pound rankings.
“I have a new target,” Makhachev said at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “I have to be No. 1 pound-for-pound champion. That’s why I have to go to Australia and beat this guy.”
Makhachev and mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov made that demand public following the win over Oliveira; Volkanovski sat cageside after weighing in as a backup for the main event. Some may have been surprised that Makhachev’s team proposed going to Australia, Volkanovski’s home country, for a potential superfight at UFC 284 on Feb. 12, but Makhachev explained that they are always prepared to head into enemy territory.
“I have a big team,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, it’s good for us. We can travel to Australia, it’s a good country. We can make some camp there, training there.
“Before they announced the fight with Charles, Khabib told me many times if they’re going to give us a title fight in Brazil, we’re going to go to Brazil [one month before that fight.] I messaged him when we were talking about this and he said to Dana, ‘Let’s go to Brazil.’ Some people don’t believe, but we can show people the message, what Khabib said to Dana.”
Having trained extensively at the American Kickboxing Academy, Makhachev has a long way to go to match the accomplishments of his AKA peers, a list that includes the undefeated Nurmagomedov and two-division UFC champion champion Daniel Cormier, two fighters who retired with unimpeachable resumes.
Makhachev isn’t looking that far ahead, though, as he’s only concerned with racking up as many lightweight title defenses as possible.
“I don’t think about retirement right now,” Makhachev said. “I have to be No. 1 pound-for-pound champion. After that moment, we’ll see. We’re going to think about this, but right now I have to defend this belt many times.”
And should the opportunity come up to move up to 170 pounds and earn a title there?
“I have to defend this belt in my division, then we’ll see,” Makhachev said. “For my legacy, it’s a good idea to move to the other weight division.”