Islam Makhachev knows he should be next in line for a title shot so he’s just going to bide his time while awaiting the upcoming fight between reigning lightweight champion Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje.
After wrapping up his 10th consecutive win with a first-round drubbing over Bobby Green at UFC Vegas 49, the Dagestani contender laid claim to his opportunity to compete for gold, although he’s not really interested in serving as a potential replacement on short notice.
With Oliveira vs. Gaethje scheduled for UFC 274 on May 7, Makhachev prefers to remain an outside observer for that fight with plans to then challenge the winner later this year.
“For stepping in [as a potential replacement] we have some guys like [Rafael] dos Anjos or Michael Chandler but I am deserving [of a title shot],” Makhachev said at the UFC Vegas 49 post-fight press conference. “I have a 10-fight win streak. I deserve it. The last 11 months, I’m training so hard. Like next week, I’m ready for fight on the next pay-per-view show but I deserve [a little bit of time].
“I want to fight in Abu Dhabi. Because just now, I have many of my friends who stay outside because they cannot come to the [UFC] Apex. I want to fight in Abu Dhabi when all my fans can come and support me inside.”
While he will gladly face whoever walks away with the title, Makhachev offered a prediction on Saturday night and he actually sees the fight ending in emphatic fashion.
“I think it’s going to be a good fight because both guys are high level,” Makhachev said. “Now Charles improved his striking game very well. He has more than Justin in the ground game.
“I think they’re going to strike a little bit and Charles is going to take him down, take his back and finish him there, like, third round or second round. I think this my opinion.”
If Oliveira is successful and retains his title for the second consecutive time after already dispatching Dustin Poirier this past December, Makhachev is very excited for that potential matchup.
Best known for his suffocating wrestling and dominant grappling game, Makhachev welcomes Oliveira to test him on the ground but no matter where the fight goes, he expects to leave the cage as champion.
“I think it’s going to be a good match,” Makhachev said. “Because this guy is good in striking, wrestling and grappling but I’m going to make him tired, pressure him and make him give up. Because I know this guy, he don’t like when somebody go with him for like three or four rounds, give him hard punch, a hard time and when he tries to finish someone, like give them some choke, but when he cannot do this he gives up all the time.
“I have grappling skills more than him because I’m grappling with all high level grapplers around the world. A lot of grapplers come to [American Kickboxing Academy] and I like grappling. This guy, he’s going to try to finish me on the ground but it’s going to be so hard for him.”
All signs are pointing towards Makhachev getting the next title shot after Oliveira vs. Gaethje in May but the only potential curve ball that could get thrown at him is the return of former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor.
The Irish superstar is recovering from a broken leg suffered in his last outing but on Friday he advised Oliveira to just wait “another month or two” and he’d be back to challenge for the title.
It might seem ludicrous for McGregor to jump into a title fight with a 1-3 record in his past four fights but stranger things have happened when the biggest draw in combat sports gets involved.
For his part, Makhachev isn’t losing any sleep over McGregor taking his spot, although he welcomes the chance to vanquish “The Notorious” himself after he becomes champion.
“Honestly, I don’t remember when this guy beat someone,” Makhachev said about McGregor. “He has to come back, beat someone and let’s go. Why not?
“I’m going to smash him. Easy night. Bobby Green is going to be harder for me more than him.”