Khabib Nurmagomedov knew Islam Makhachev would have his hands full with Alexander Volkanovski, according to the former champ’s longtime coach.
After retiring from MMA in 2020, Nurmagomedov anointed Makhachev as his successor in the lightweight division, and last year, Makhachev was able to fulfill that promise, claiming the 155-pound title by beating Charles Oliveira at UFC 280. Afterward, Makhachev, with some help from Nurmagomedov, called for the his first title defense to come against Volkanovski in Australia.
But despite helping make the fight happen, Nurmagomedov did not have his usual role as coach and training partner in preparation, instead withdrawing from MMA entirely to focus on his family. But though he wasn’t part of the daily preparation nor was he in Makhachev’s corner for the fight, Nurmagomedov was still focused on his longtime friend and teammate’s success, according to coach Javier Mendez.
Nurmagomedov was apparently quite worried about the outcome.
“Khabib would call me up and would say, ‘Coach, I’m really worried about this fight,” Mendez said on Jibber with Jabar (h/t MMA Mania). “‘Volkanovski is really tough, I’m concerned for Islam a little bit on this one.’ I was like, ‘I’m not, we’re going to win this fight. I don’t know how easy or how hard, but we’re going to win this fight. So, I know you’re worried Khabib, but I’m not worried.’
“And he goes, ‘I know, I know, coach, but we know this is a tough fight, we have to prepare for a tough fight. I go, ‘Yeah, that’s true, but I still feel like we’re going to win.’ Fast forward to the fight, it was everything Khabib Nurmagomedov said that would happen in the fight, and it was a super tough fight.”
Nurmagomedov’s words did indeed prove to be prescient as Volkanovski proved to be one of the most difficult challenges Makhachev has faced in his MMA career. The two champions faced off at UFC 284, with Makhachev earning a unanimous decision in a back-and-forth battle that some still believe Volkanovski should have won. And because of that, Mendez says that Makhachev and his team are absolutely interested in a rematch in the future.
“Was it a tough fight? Hell yeah,” Mendez said. “Was it tougher than I thought? Hell yeah. Did they gain my full respects? Hell yeah, he got my respect. But am I looking forward to the rematch if they have one? Hell yeah. I want that rematch and I know Islam wants it too. So we’re not dodging nothing.
“If the UFC puts that match together, it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen willingly on both parties. They’re [Volkanovski’s team] going to want it, we’re going to want it and I would hope they [the UFC] would make it a huge event because that fight delivered. It was everything that was expected.”
For the time being though, all talks of a rematch are premature, as first Volkanovski has to settle business in his own weight class. The featherweight champion is set to unify his title against interim champion Yair Rodriguez in the main event of UFC 290 on July 8.