Longtime friend and training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Islam Makhachev is seen as his successor by the former UFC lightweight champion. Very close to his compatriot in style, the Dagestanese has the weapons to assume the prediction. But whoever faces Thiago Moises this weekend in Las Vegas (live from 4am on the night of Saturday to Sunday on RMC Sport 2) for his first “main event” at the UFC must now move up a gear.
They grew up together. They have been training together for as long as they can remember, in the country or at the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) when they are in the United States. And one day, maybe, no doubt, they will recount their memories of former UFC lightweight champions by the fireside. The parallel between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev is obvious. Multiple. When the Dagestanese legend retired last October after beating career-undefeated Justin Gaethje, Khabib didn’t have to think much about a successor: “Islam will soon be champion”.
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“Immediately after this fight, Khabib’s question was, ‘How does Islam become champion?’, then confirmed Daniel Cormier, former heavyweight and light-heavyweight champion who rubbed shoulders with both at AKA. It wasn’t about him, it was ‘Islam must be the champion’ and how he could help him to achieve this status. “Simple Coué-style encouragement to his compatriot and” brother of another mother “Oh no. Those who follow Makhachev’s career have long understood that the boy has all the weapons to conquer the crown.
Coming from sambo, like his great friend (both are former world champions in this discipline), Islam also displays a very high level struggle, suffocating for the opponent. If he takes you down, which he tries at the first possible opportunity, the end of the round is going to be very long for you, like what he did to Drew Dober in his last fight in March (victory in the third round on submission with a triangle) with a large technical panel which had allowed him to cancel the takedown defense yet recognized by the American. Going into details makes it clear that Nurmagomedov had an even greater ability to put pressure and intensity on an opponent on the ground. Better control quality in grappling.
Papa Nurmagomedov had a plan
But his striking (hand and foot) seems cleaner, more efficient. Not exactly the same fighters, then, but two very similar models. “He has almost the same skills and he is fantastic on his feet,” confirms Daniel Cormier. AKA coach Javier Mendez says Makhachev is one of the few to have won rounds against Khabib in sparring. “I improved a lot by working with him, especially in wrestling, Islam specified last March in an interview with Hindustan Times. I’m glad he’s retired because we’re sparing a lot less and more so hard. “
Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, father of Khabib and coach of the two before his tragic death in July 2020, even imagined a passing of the torch between the two. “Before his death, my father told me: ‘When you finish your career, Islam has to get to the top, it has to happen at the same time,” Khabib told ESPN. The two are almost exactly three years apart, born seven days apart in September. And Khabib won the UFC lightweight belt just over three years ago in his tenth fight in the US organization.
The logic signed Abdulmanap should therefore have seen Makhachev, who will climb for the … tenth time in the UFC octagon this Saturday, fight for the title in 2021. But he is for the moment only ninth in the classification of the category . Something to make smile the one who will be in his corner this Saturday evening for his fight against Thiago Moises (on a card which will also see the return of the former champion of the roosters Miesha Tate, opposed to Marion Reneau for her first fight since November 2016) as it has been several times in the past. “I said to Islam: ‘You are a little late my brother,’ Khabib says with a big smile. He should already be in the top 3 but he is late. (Laughs.) This Saturday he has to show the world who Islam Makhachev is. “
“He can finish Poirier and crush Oliveira”
If Khabib had taken a long time to have his chance for the title, for reasons beyond his control, Makhachev also has to face some speed bumps on the road: some higher ranked fighters refuse to face him, the risk-benefit balance leaning clearly towards the second, and he himself has already said no to fights because not enough warned in advance to prepare well (unlike Nurmagomedov who took them, as against Michael Johnson in November 2016). Not to mention a year and a half without a fight, from September 2019 to March 2021, with several fights canceled due to the pandemic or an injury. Makhachev is largely the level of a top 5 lightweight and should already face rivals of this caliber. But history has decided otherwise. Which doesn’t mean he can’t catch up with time.
Launched on a seven-game winning streak in the UFC, where he had suffered his only career loss in his second fight in the organization in October 2015 (knocked out in the first round by Adriano Martins), Makhachev must now step up. superior. That of a fighter in the prime of life who has everything to climb the mountain. “He will be 30 this year, Khabib recalls. This is the perfect time to show that he is the best. I was 29 when I became champion. At this age, your mind and your physique are at their best. . 31, 32 33 is the perfect age. Islam is there. Physically, mentally, in boxing, in grappling, I think he is a cut above all the guys. “
And “The Eagle” went on to quote current champion Charles Oliveira and his future challenger Dustin Poirier: “I really believe he can finish Dustin before the limit. He can also crush Charles. I don’t think Charles can handle him with all his jiu-jitsu guards. We just need time and no accidents. But he can beat all these guys. He has to fight for the title not because he’s my brother or my friend but because he is very good. ” For his first “main event” at the UFC, proof that Dana White and the organization’s leaders believe in him and in his future, Makhachev shouldn’t have too much trouble getting through it. obstacle Moises, fourteenth in the lightweight standings and who confessed to having spent time visualizing the fact that Khabib would be in the opposite corner so as not to be intimidated by his presence.
To accelerate his quest for the title, he will then have to try to titillate the members of the top 5 of the densest category of the UFC. We think of Beneil Dariush, Michael Chandler (who comes out of a lost fight against Oliveira for the title left vacant by Khabib) or Tony Ferguson, respectively third, fourth and fifth. The first is undoubtedly the one who has the most reasons to accept, especially to fill his notoriety deficit, but the last could also want to try to reverse his series of three defeats in a row by putting an end to the Makhachev hype. .
The MMA world will long regret missing a fight between Khabib and Ferguson at their best, with every attempt to organize it resulting in a call-off for different reasons, but they might get a sense of that clash with the Nurmagomedov’s “successor”. Who already does not hesitate to announce wanting to “help Tony Ferguson to retire”. Not used to challenging others at the microphone, Makhachev will undoubtedly have to force his nature to hang on to these big fights and climb to the title. To ascend the throne left by his “brother” Khabib will go through this.