Islam Makhachev will be looking to follow in the footsteps of his training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov by dominating the UFC’s lightweight division, but can he do it?
It won’t be easy, as the UFC’s lightweight division is one of the most stacked weight classes in the world. But surprisingly enough, it’s definitely possible.
So with that in mind, here are three reasons Islam Makhachev can become just as dominant as Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC lightweight division.
#3 Islam Makhachev is arguably a better striker than Khabib Nurmagomedov was
For all of his dominance during his unbeaten run in the UFC, Khabib Nurmagomedov was always seen to have one slight weakness – his stand-up ability.
‘The Eagle’ did show flashes of excellent striking – his knockdown of Conor McGregor during their fight at UFC 229, for instance. But while he racked up an impressive 13 victories in the UFC, only one came via a standing knockout - against Thiago Tavares in 2013.
And in his fights with Michael Johnson and Dustin Poirier, Khabib definitely took his fair share of strikes and seemed to be struggling with their hand speed before he was able to take them down and dominate them.
Islam Makhachev, on the other hand, has already shown himself to be a more than capable striker inside the octagon.
Makhachev has reeled off eight UFC wins thus far, and like Khabib, only one of them – his violent 2018 knockout of Gleison Tibau – came via standing TKO.
However, when he was faced with a highly dangerous and credentialed grappler in the form of Davi Ramos at UFC 242, Islam Makhachev decided to use his wrestling in reverse and kept the fight standing.
And for the most part, he displayed some tremendous striking, hurting the Brazilian more than once and demonstrating a surprisingly excellent jab for a grappling-based fighter.
Essentially, Islam Makhachev looks like he’s got slightly better striking than Khabib from a technical standpoint, and he clearly possesses nasty power, too.
So while he probably isn’t quite on the same level in grappling, the fact that he’s excellent on his feet gives him a good chance of dominating foes just as his teammate once did.
#2 The UFC’s best lightweight fighters are beginning to age
Khabib Nurmagomedov debuted in the UFC in 2012, and due to a mix of injuries and awkward bookings from the UFC, it took him until 2018 to claim the UFC lightweight title.
Along the way, Khabib defeated some great fighters such as Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje. But while it remains one of the UFC’s most stacked weight classes, it’s probably arguable that the 155lbs division isn’t quite as strong now as it was a few years ago.
Sure, UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira is at the top of his game right now, and as a spectacular offensive fighter, it’ll be hard for anyone to dethrone him.
But underneath ‘Do Bronx,’ it’s probably safe to say that the top contenders in the division aren’t getting any younger.
Conor McGregor no longer looks close to the fighter who was once feared throughout the division, and while Dustin Poirier is on a great run, he’s also been through a lot of wars in recent years – something that could catch up with him suddenly.
The same can be said for Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler, who have both taken crazy amounts of damage over the years, while Tony Ferguson and Rafael dos Anjos already look past their primes.
Surprisingly enough, Islam Makhachev, currently ranked #9 in the division, is probably the only genuine elite-level prospect that the UFC possesses right now at 155lbs.
So, based on the likely downward trajectory of every fighter currently ranked above him – with the exception of Oliveira – there’s definitely a chance that the Russian could cut a swath through his opposition just as Khabib did.
#1 Islam Makhachev possesses a similar wrestling game to Khabib Nurmagomedov
Ever since the days of Mark Coleman, Dan Severn and Randy Couture, high-level wrestlers have traditionally dominated in the UFC.
We’ve seen the likes of Cain Velasquez, Georges St. Pierre and, of course, Khabib Nurmagomedov use their wrestling to thoroughly whitewash some of the most formidable opponents imaginable. And right now, Kamaru Usman is doing precisely the same thing in the UFC’s welterweight division.
Strangely enough, though, the UFC’s lightweight division isn’t really filled with traditional dominant wrestlers. Sure, Michael Chandler and Justin Gaethje have excellent wrestling backgrounds, but both men are better known for their striking these days.
The last truly dominant wrestler in the division was Khabib, and unsurprisingly, nobody in the division came close to handling his grappling.
Interestingly though, despite being able to dominate the likes of Gaethje and Dustin Poirier on the ground, Khabib’s takedown accuracy wasn’t that high. He averaged 5.32 takedowns per fight – but only landed them at 48% accuracy.
So how does Islam Makhachev compare to that? Well, he averages less takedowns per fight than Khabib – 3.46 to be exact – but he has thus far landed them with a 68% accuracy. That suggests that he might be a superior takedown artist to ‘The Eagle.’
Islam Makhachev hasn’t faced the level of opposition that Khabib did during his UFC career, but if the top fighters in the division couldn’t handle Khabib’s grappling, then it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to handle Islam Makhachev’s either, especially as the two Russians have a very similar, suffocating style.
So can Islam Makhachev grapple his way to the top of the UFC lightweight division and dominate as his training partner once did? Only time will tell, but the early signs definitely look good.