Dagestan loves Islam Makhachev.
This past Saturday, Makhachev won the UFC lightweight championship when he submitted Charles Oliveira in the main event of UFC 280. Returning home this week, Makhachev received a hero’s welcome from his countrymen, who greeted him in droves to show their support (video courtesy of Red Corner MMA) as he arrived in Makhachkala.
Makhachev is the UFC’s second ever Dagestani champion, after his teammate and coach Khabib Nurmagomedov, who won the lightweight title in 2018 but vacated the belt two years later following the passing of his father — and Makhachev’s former coach — Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. After retiring from the sport, Khabib lobbied aggressively for Makhachev to get his own opportunity to fight for the title and even was the one to wrap the belt around his friend’s waist when he finally won the title.
Following his win, Makhachev laid the groundwork for his first title defense, a superfight against featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 284 in Perth, Australia in February, by having Volkanovski come into the cage at UFC 280 for a faceoff. Though the UFC has not officially signed off on that fight, all signs point to it being the next bout for the new champion, and speaking with media after his arrival in Dagestan, Makhachev confirmed his desire for that fight.
“For me personally and for MMA fans as well, Volkanovski looks more interesting as a challenge, because there will be two belts on the line,” Makhachev said. “It’s always big when two champions face each other. I think it’s always exciting for the fans. But I’m not downplaying [Beneil] Dariush’s accomplishments. He is on a great winning streak, he has beaten some solid opposition. He deserves the title shot too. But I’ve never picked opponents. I will fight whoever the UFC gives me.”
Makhachev went on to say he was going to take a week off to spend time with his family in Dagestan, before returning to the United States to support Usman Nurmagomedov as he prepares for his Bellator lightweight title against Patricky Pitbull in November..
He also pushed back against the winner of UFC 281’s bout between Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler getting the next shot.
“I don’t think either of them will get an immediate title shot,” Makhachev said. “How many times did Poirier fight for the belt? Chandler has fought just four times in the organization, and lost two of them, so I don’t think Chandler deserves a title shot even if he wins.”