Islam Makhachev is clearly one of the best Lightweights that the UFC has to offer now, so who should he face off with next? With Lightweight being one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC, there is no shortage of options in terms of potential opponents for the Dagestani.
On that note, here are five potential opponents for Islam Makhachev to face next.
#1 Rafael Dos Anjos (Last fight: Defeated Paul Felder at UFC Vegas 14)
Former UFC Lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos may well be the most logical option for Islam Makhachev to fight next.
That’s because the two men were already booked to face each other once, back in October 2020. The fight was cancelled due to Makhachev testing positive for COVID-19, and Dos Anjos defeated late replacement Paul Felder instead.
The win over Felder was Dos Anjos’ first at Lightweight since his 2015 UFC title defence against Donald Cerrone. But while his run at Welterweight didn’t go quite to plan, it was clear from the Felder fight that the Brazilian still has plenty to offer at 155 lbs.
Dos Anjos isn’t quite in title contention right now. But with strong, striking skills and a battle-tested grappling game, he’d almost certainly prove to be the toughest opponent Makhachev has faced in the UFC to date.
More importantly, Makhachev himself seems to want the fight, recently tweeting a call-out of the former UFC Lightweight kingpin.
Overall, this fight would definitely make sense for one of the UFC’s summer shows.
#2 Tony Ferguson (Last fight: Lost to Charles Oliveira at UFC 256)
The UFC doesn’t often book fights between one fighter coming off a win and another coming off a loss, but in this case, they could make an exception.
Former interim UFC Lightweight champion Tony Ferguson has definitely fallen on hard times of late. He lost back-to-back fights with Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira in 2020, where he was dominated by both fighters.
However, ‘El Cucuy’ is still one of the most dangerous fighters in the UFC’s Lightweight division, with knockout power in his hands and a venomous grappling game too.
And more to the point, he’d be a huge step up in competition for a prospect like Islam Makhachev, as we’re not that far removed from him being on a 12-fight win streak.
But Makhachev is evidently a very confident fighter – and that’s why he’s already mentioned a potential fight with ‘El Cucuy, calling him out after UFC 259 and promising to retire him.
Add in the fact that Makhachev’s close relationship with Khabib Nurmagomedov means this could be the closest we get to Ferguson ever fighting the undefeated UFC legend, and this one sounds like a no-brainer.
#3 Justin Gaethje (Last fight: Lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254)
Many UFC fans and observers have crowned Islam Makhachev the heir to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s throne, particularly after his dominating win over Drew Dober.
It makes sense, too, as both men employ a fighting style based around heavy pressure and a phenomenal grappling game, particularly from the top position.
So if the UFC really wanted to test Makhachev at the elite level, they couldn't do much worse than simply book him with the last man to face Khabib – Justin Gaethje. There’s no doubt that this would be a hugely dangerous fight for Makhachev.
‘The Highlight’ is arguably the UFC Lightweight division’s heaviest hitter, something that should worry Makhachev given his only UFC loss came by KO. And Gaethje is also incredibly difficult to take down, thanks to his successful run as an NCAA Division I wrestler.
But at UFC 254, Khabib was able to stifle his striking game, take him down and finally submit him. So if Makhachev is as good as Khabib and his teammates suggest, then you’d have to give him a shot at pulling off the same result against Gaethje.
Could this be a step too far for Islam Makhachev? Perhaps. But the UFC have never made a habit of protecting any fighter, and this would definitely be an intriguing clash.
#4 Kevin Lee (Last fight: Lost to Charles Oliveira at UFC Fight Night 170)
Arguably the forgotten man in the UFC’s Lightweight division, Kevin Lee hasn’t fought in the octagon since his March 2020 defeat at the hands of Charles Oliveira.
However, considering ‘Do Bronx’ is arguably the best 155 lber in the UFC right now, there’s no shame in being submitted by him. Lee hasn’t been on the greatest run recently, but it’s worth noting that since 2016, he’s only lost twice at 155 lbs – with his other two losses coming at Welterweight.
‘The Motown Phenom’ has wins over the likes of Gregor Gillespie, Edson Barboza and Francisco Trinaldo – all highly ranked fighters. And with a remarkably powerful grappling game, he’d definitely provide a stiff test for Islam Makhachev.
If Lee could fend off the takedowns of the Dagestani, he’d probably be favoured in a striking contest between the two. And given that his takedown defence in the UFC stands at an impressive 75%, there’s every chance he’d actually be able to pull it off.
Currently ranked #13 in the UFC Lightweight division, Kevin Lee isn’t quite in title contention right now, but a win over this former title challenger would still carry a lot of sway.
And given it’d make for an interesting clash of styles, it’s a fight the UFC should definitely consider booking.
#5 Michael Chandler (Last fight: Defeated Dan Hooker at UFC 257)
Former Bellator MMA Lightweight champion Michael Chandler made one of the most impressive UFC debuts of all time in January at UFC 257.
He knocked out highly ranked contender Dan Hooker in the first round of their fight, marking himself out as one of the world’s best Lightweights. Already, Michael Chandler is ranked #4 in the UFC’s Lightweight rankings.
Despite this, the former Bellator man isn’t quite in UFC title contention just yet. For the most part, the feeling around Chandler is that he needs to prove himself a little more in the UFC before being handed a title shot. So why not match him with the fastest rising star in the division in the form of Islam Makhachev?
That would be a pretty awesome fight to make. Islam Makhachev’s game relies on his phenomenal wrestling and grappling, but Chandler is a former NCAA Division I All-American with fabulous takedown defence.
And judging by his Bellator career and his win over Hooker, he also hits like a truck. If the UFC were to match Michael Chandler with Islam Makhachev, then the winner would almost certainly be next in line for a shot at the UFC Lightweight title.