The Film Room: Islam Makhachev

By Kevin Wilson Apr 17, 2019
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Former combat sambo world champion Islam Makhachev will step inside the Octagon for the seventh time on Saturday, when he meets Ultimate Fighting Championship newcomer and rising prospect Arman Tsarukyan in the UFC Fight Night 149 co-main event in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Having compiled a 5-1 record since joining the UFC roster in 2015, Makhachev serves as the focus of this installment of The Film Room.

Makhachev was childhood friends with Khabib Nurmagomedov and has been training under the reigning lightweight champion’s father for most of his life. Makhachev has trained alongside Nurmagomedov for the entirety of their careers, and it shows in his grappling. Makhachev is basically a less polished version of Nurmagomedov, but at only 27, he has many years to round out his game and become just as dangerous as the champion. Something interesting about his takedowns is how he rarely shoots for the hips. Instead, he likes to initiate the clinch and drive the opponent to the cage while looking for trips and throws, mainly a Harai-Goshi throw with an overhook.

Once the fight hits the ground, there are major differences between Makhachev and Nurmagomedov. While the latter is relentless with his ground-and-pound, Makhachev is frustratingly patient and often seems more concerned with improving and keeping position than finishing the fight. Makhachev dominated Chris Wade and Nik Lentz on the ground for 15 minutes but only landed a combined 55 significant strikes against them. It remains a mystery as to why he is so passive, but if he can learn how to keep the position while slowly picking apart opponents with ground-and-pound, he could start finding finishes rather easily.

On the feet, Makhachev is nothing to write home about, as most of his striking serves to set up takedowns and ground exchanges. What makes Makhachev so frustrating on the feet is that he shows flashes of brilliant striking but then immediately goes back to swinging wild left hands while crossing his feet and dropping his hands. Makhachev has a nice 1-2 down the middle, but generally, he is pressuring forward with wild lead hooks and overhand lefts. This helps him back opponents to the cage and look for takedowns, but this tactic will get exposed when he fights someone with proficient footwork and the ability to get off the cage.

Something to admire about Makhachev’s striking is the number of kicks he throws. It may seem contradictive, but in MMA, kicks are a grappler’s best friend. They allow you to keep opponents at a safe distance since they are your longest strikes, and you can throw them with impunity since you are not afraid of being taken down. If you happen to throw a sloppy kick that gets caught, the opponent’s immediate reaction is to take you down; in that case, the fight winds up right where the grappler wants it. Nurmagomedov could benefit from this approach, but it is nice to see that Makhachev understands the effectiveness of kicks for a grappling-centric fighter.

Makhachev is by no means an elite counterstriker, but he does have an effective counter overhand left in the rare moments where he is not the aggressor. He earned his first knockout win in the UFC over Gleison Tibau with a counter left off of a low kick from the Brazilian, and it would be nice to see him mix in moments of being the aggressor and moments of sitting back looking to counter. Working on the counter would also allow him to wait for the opponent to overextend, at which point he could duck under and shoot for the hips. Advertisement


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