5 Defining Moments: Islam Makhachev

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It has been commonly observed throughout history that a true warrior fights not for personal glory. Instead, they fight for a legacy that lasts for generations and a purpose that extends beyond mere personal milestones. Such is the case of Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight king Islam Makhachev, whose path was illuminated by the success of longtime mentor and training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the wisdom passed down by the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. Born in Dagestan, Makhachev’s dominance springs from years of dedication and unyielding mental resilience.

At UFC 280, Makhachev, the custodian of the grand “father’s plan,” was a man on a mission, determined to take the championship home. He had his sights set on the lightweight throne after “The Eagle” announced his retirement and relinquished his belt following his victory over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254. However, even during his crowning moment in Abu Dhabi, his humility shined through, articulating his profound reverence for Khabib and his father. As he stands on the cusp of a fresh challenge to his reign against Dustin Poirier at UFC 302, Makhachev looks to fortify his supremacy on June 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Ahead of the clash, let’s take a look at some of the defining moments of his career that have shaped him into the champion he is today:

1. An Unchallenged Upbringing

Makhachev turned professional in August 2010, taking on Magomed Bekbolatov under the Tsumada Fighting Championship banner. He won the fight by unanimous decision. He secured ten more victories over formidable names like Mansour Barnaoui and Yuri Ivlev. During that run, he amassed seven finishes fighting predominantly in Russia and Ukraine.

2. After the Flames

The Dagestani signed a four-fight contract with the UFC in October 2014. His debut appearance went according to plan, securing a second-round submission over Leo Kuntz at UFC 187. However, his sophomore appearance for the Las Vegas-based promotion would culminate in the lone blemish on his record. During his UFC 192 appearance against Adriano Martins, Makhachev’s early aggression proved costly against the patient Brazilian. Makhachev’s overhand left found empty air, and Martins countered with a well-placed right hook that stripped the legs out from beneath the Russian. The first-round knockout loss remains the first and only defeat on the Dagestani’s record. Since then, he has rattled off 13 straight victories, occupying the third spot in the organization’s history for longest win streaks alongside all-time greats Georges St. Pierre, Demetrious Johnson and Nurmagomedov.

3. Knocking on Contention

Makhachev’s road to the title picture was a long and arduous journey. For much of his career, he chose to operate from the shadows of Khabib Nurmagomedov, not by design but by choice. It was always destined for him to take over the mantle from “The Eagle,” but the Dagestani had to endure fellow peers disputing his status and the organization casting doubt over his legitimacy as a contender. However, at UFC 267, in front of his second home of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Makhachev wrangled ranked contender Dan Hooker with a kimura in the first round. He doubled down on that campaign for gold with a TKO victory over Bobby Green at UFC Fight Night 202, guaranteeing he could not be refused the title shot.

4. One Crowning Moment

More than seven years and 12 fights later, where he compiled an 11-1 record, Makhachev was granted the title shot at UFC 280 against Charles Oliveira. The Russian dominated the former champion, who surrendered the title to the scale at UFC 274 by missing weight. Makhachev dominated through the first frame and dropped the Brazilian with a left hand in the second. He followed Oliveira to the canvas, bold and defiant against his rival’s expertise on the ground, and secured an arm-triangle choke at the 3:16 mark. It was a dynamic effort from the freshly minted champion and the culmination of a dream years in the making.

5. Ascending to Supremacy

Following the thrashing of Oliveira, Makhachev challenged featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski to a fight for the pound-for-pound No. 1 spot in the organization. The Dagestani wanted to test the mettle of the then pound-for-pound No. 1 Australian on the latter’s home turf, and the promotion obliged. At UFC 284, the pair engaged in a back-and-forth clash of high-level MMA at its finest. Makhachev held the advantage in the grappling sequences and showcased his skills on the feet for long stretches in the first three rounds. Volkanovski had success of his own and managed to stay away from danger whenever the fight hit the canvas. However, the Aussie clawed back to reclaim control in the fifth round, hurting Makhachev with a right hand late, and tried his hardest to rally and pull off a finish. Reaching the final bell, Makhachev came out on top via unanimous decision. Despite the triumph, the victory wasn’t enough for him to grab the top spot on some pound-for-pound analyses.

Their second clash at UFC 294 saw Volkanovski slotting in as a replacement for an injured Oliveira, who faltered the chance to recapture the throne. Makhachev was perturbed by the suggestion that Volkanovski won the first encounter and wanted to squash any lingering doubts about his claim as the champion. The bout proved to be a massive statement effort from Makhachev, making sure he was the better man by demolishing “The Great” with a head kick and follow-up punches in the first round. By putting away Volkanovski in such a fashion, it could no longer be denied that the 32-year-old was the sport's current pound-for-pound king.

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