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Islam Makhachev: ‘I’m not just champion, I’m the best fighter in the world’ after beating Alexander Volkanovski

Islam Makhachev believes he’s left no doubt who is MMA’s pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter.

The UFC lightweight champion successfully defended his title against featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski in Saturday’s UFC 284 main event, earning a unanimous decision in a back-and-forth battle. With the win, Makhachev handed Volkanovski his first UFC loss, snapped the Australian star’s 22-fight winning streak and extended his own UFC-best win streak to 12.

He also emerged as the winner of a matchup that was billed by the promotion as the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the world colliding. At the evening’s post-fight press conference, Makhachev told the media that beating Volkanovski makes him the clear-cut best in the world.

“It doesn’t matter how I won today, now I’m not just champion, I’m the best fighter in the world,” Makhachev said. “I am very happy. Now people are going to call me not just champ, but ‘best fighter in the world.’ This is my dream, and it doesn’t matter how I won, I’m very happy.”

The gauntlet was laid down by Makhachev after he claimed the UFC lightweight title with a dominant submission win over Charles Oliveira this past October at UFC 280. Rather than take on a challenger in the deep 155-pound division, he immediately called for a bout with Volkanovski and welcomed the chance to compete in Volkanovski’s home country of Australia.

While there are still plenty of challenges awaiting him in his division, he saw proving himself against Volkanovski as the most compelling next step in his reign.

“It was a hard fight with Volkanovski because of many things,” Makhachev said. “I come from another country, more than 13,000 kilometers from my country, I come with my team, and the time is changed, and we come to the arena early morning, many things. But I don’t prepare myself for easy fights.

“We fight not for the belt, but for who is going to be the best fighter in the world. That’s why it was a hard fight.”

The scorecards were unanimous in Makhachev’s favor, though the majority of the bout was closely contested, and two of the judges had it 48-47, giving two rounds to the challenger. Unlike in many of his previous fights, Makhachev was unable to initiate much significant offense with his grappling, which meant he had to out-strike the dangerous Volkanovski.

Volkanovski said during his post-fight press conference appearance that he’d heard Makhachev expressed doubt at the outcome as he returned to his corner following the final bell, but Makhachev shot down that rumor.

“I didn’t say that,” he said. “I know in my mind, when the fight was finished, I know minimum I won three rounds. I didn’t say I lost nothing.”

Unsurprisingly, given how competitive the fight was, not everyone agreed with the decision including former UFC star Nate Diaz, who tweeted, “Islam got his ass whooped.”

Makhachev chuckled as he responded to Diaz’s assessment.

“Honestly, I don’t want to talk about this guy,” Makhachev said. “I don’t know what he’s saying. Maybe he smoked something and watched the fight.”

When the official UFC rankings are updated later this week, it’s almost certain that Makhachev will be recognized by the promotion as the No. 1 fighter on its pound-for-pound list. How long his name remains in that spot is anyone’s guess, especially with former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones returning next month to fight Ciryl Gane for a vacant heavyweight title at UFC 285.

Before his recent hiatus, Jones was widely recognized as the undisputed pound-for-pound king, a status that Makhachev doesn’t plan to relinquish to him anytime soon.

“Jon Jones is a great fighter,” Makhachev said. “He is the best, but last time he won a split decision, he always has a hard fight. I don’t know, I don’t think after this fight he’s going to be the best, because why am I the best right now? Because I beat the best fighter in the world. That’s why I think I deserve this more and if somebody wants to be the best, I am ready. Come in.”

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