Islam Makhachev: What’s Next For Khabib’s Protegé?
As I mentioned in my prediction article for his last fight, Islam Makhachev has drawn a lot of comparisons to Khabib Nurmagomedov. The lightweight grappling ace has drawn these comparisons due to his grappling ability, nationality, and direct association with Khabib. I would imagine Makhachev will begin drawing those comparisons for different reasons in the near future. The Dagestani’s wrestling, strength, and technically oppressive top pressure shined through in his submission victory over Drew Dober. The pedigreed young lightweight has been hailed as the heir apparent to the lightweight division by many in recent history and it is worth noting that the rest of the lightweight division has been silent following this fight. Makhachev’s dominant display of all phases of grappling last weekend strongly implies the arrival of the UFC’s next Dagestani nightmare. The logical question for Makhachev now becomes, what’s next?
What’s Next for Islam Makhachev?
Makhachev showed a lot last weekend. After facing elite grapplers in his last two fights, he was able to show off the details that make him so dominant on the mat against Dober. After the conclusion of this fight, it became clear to many observers that Makhachev has the strength and technical grappling that could make a champion. The logical next step would be getting the man an opponent that would prove him a worthy contender. Islam expressed his interest in facing Tony Ferguson at the press conference after his victory. He also expressed interest in fighting Rafael Dos Anjos on Twitter. Fans would likely appreciate both matchups, and a victory over either would validate Islam’s claim to be a legitimate contender. A fight with Beneil Dariush would also make sense. As would a storyline fight with Conor McGregor.
Makhachev called out Tony at the press conference that took place post-UFC 259. He said he would like to retire Ferguson and I think most fans would like to see this one. There is a pre-existing storyline here, as Khabib and Tony were scheduled to meet inside the octagon many times. This is the closest thing fans are going to get to the cursed Tony vs. Khabib fight and I for one would love to see it. This fight would be a tough one for both guys and prove a lot for the winner. If Tony were to take and win this fight he proves he’s still an elite lightweight and worthy title contender. If Makhachev is to win the hypothetical matchup, he legitimizes himself as a top contender at 155.
Rafael Dos Anjos
Islam Makhachev had some words for Rafael Dos Anjos on Twitter and suggested the pair fight in July. RDA is a former opponent of Khabib Nurmagomedov and has expressed distaste for the amount of hype Makhachev is getting. Dos Anjos has fought the best of the best throughout his career and is the former lightweight champion. After losing to Nurmagomedov, Dos Anjos blew through the lightweight division and would take the title from Anthony Pettis. The Brazilian would then lose his title to Eddie Alvarez and has been in pursuit of UFC gold ever since.
RDA has recently returned to lightweight after a nine-fight stay at welterweight and a win over Makhachev would bring the former champ one step closer to the title he once held. For Makhachev, a win over the former champ would prove him to be worthy of title contention at 155.
Beneil Dariush is the dark horse of all of the names I’ve mentioned as potential opponents for Makhachev. He is also the dark horse of the division. Dariush is a well-rounded fighter on a six-fight winning streak of quality opponents. As a Romulo Barral black belt, Dariush has seen it all on the ground which would go a long way to stop him from getting smashed by Makhachev.
In addition to being a highly credentialed grappler, Dariush is an aggressive striker with huge power in his left hand. This exciting hypothetical matchup would give both fighters a chance to jump into the top 5. It’s worth noting that Makhachev’s lone loss as a pro came by way of first-round knockout, so it would be interesting to see how he would be able to handle Dariush’s KO power.
The notoriously controversial Irishman would make an interesting matchup for Islam Makhachev, as the two already have some bad blood. Pre-2021, this fight would’ve seemed insane. Conor was the biggest draw in the sport looking to step right back into title contention and Makhachev was the hardest fight safely outside of the division’s top ten. Since then, Conor McGregor has been spectacularly KO’d by Dustin Poirer, Khabib has retired, and Makhachev has picked up an impressive win. While it is unlikely that this fight takes place next, it makes great sense. Conor is coming off of a career-altering loss and is looking to prove that he’s still a legitimate force in the division. A win over Makhachev would state that claim irrefutably and possibly coax Khabib out of retirement.
On the other hand, a win for Makhachev puts a bow on the McGregor vs team Khabib beef and would place the former Sambo world champion within striking distance of the UFC title. This one would draw a lot of eyes because it’s basically an extension of the Khabib-Conor beef.
Islam Makhachev picked up a statement win over Drew Dober at UFC 259. Makhachev’s statement to the rest of the lightweight division may as well have been a giant neon sign reading “don’t fuck with me”. This message seems to have been received by the rest of the lightweight division, as little has been said about the Dagestani fighter since. Fortunately for fans and unfortunately for the rest of the lightweights, someone will have to fight him. Makhachev has expressed his interest in fighting Tony Ferguson and RDA, but Conor McGregor and Beneil Dariush would also make sense on paper.
Since Makhachev is such a tough opponent for anyone, it’s tough to predict who will actually end up signing on the dotted line and agreeing to fight him. That being said, Tony Ferguson seems to be the favorite to agree from where I’m sitting.