Islam Makhachev achieves pound-for-pound 'dream' after thrilling win at UFC 284

Lightweight champion claims points win over featherweight holder Volkanovski in Perth

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Islam Makhachev said he realised his dream to become the best fighter in the world after he successfully defended his lightweight title against the UFC’s No 1 pound-for-pound male Alexander Volkanovski in Australia on Sunday.

The Dagestan native, who went into the clash against the featherweight champion at No 2 in the overall rankings, prevailed by unanimous decision in the headline event at UFC 284, taking the contest 48-47, 48-47, 49-46.

The bout, one of the mostly keen contested in recent memory, was deservedly awarded Fight of the Night at the RAC Arena in Perth.

The victory increased Makhachev’s win streak to 12 – the longest active winning run in the UFC – while also inflicting Volkanovski’s first defeat in 23 professional bouts. It marked the Australian’s second pro loss overall (25-2) while Makhachev's CV now sits at 24-1.

“Doesn’t matter how I won today,” Makhachev told reporters afterwards. “Now I’m not just champion; I’m the best fighter in the world. Now people are going to call me not just champ, but the best fighter in the world. This is my dream. I’m very happy.”

Makhachev and Volkanovski traded blow for blow for the majority of a gripping battle, with the latter cheered on by a partisan crowd in his home country.

Known as arguably the most dominant wrestler in the UFC at present, Makhachev said in the build-up that he planned to knock out Volkanovski. The explosive featherweight, 34, was attempting to become only the fifth fighter in the promotion’s history to hold two belts simultaneously.

“I told all media that I’m going to try to knock him out,” Makhachev said. “I landed many good punches, good knees, but this guy is so strong. How is he strong? Because he was the best fighter in the world. Not now, before.

“I give him big cut [above his left eye]. But this guy is a real champion.”

Makhachev, 31, said he would learn significantly from going the distance for the first time in his UFC career.

“This is my first five rounds,” he said. “It was a crazy and big experience for me. And I’m very happy because fighters need some hard fights. From the easy fights, like one or two rounds, you don’t improve a lot. But from the five rounds I’m sure I improved a lot.”

On whether he was worried the judges would award the win to Volkanovski, who concluded the fight on top of Makhachev, the lightweight champion said: “Honestly, last round he landed a good punch. I don’t know, I just go down and in my mind I thought I won four, three rounds and just I don’t want to do some mistake. That’s why I played a little bit there.

“When fight was over, I thought I won minimum three rounds.”

Asked about the possibility of a rematch with Volkanovski, Makhachev said: “I never choose the opponent. When [UFC president] Dana [White] call me, I will be ready. I’m waiting for the call. I’m a champion, best fighter in the world. Give me a real contender.

“Now I am the best fighter, champion. Dana I’m waiting. Call me.”

Fighting for the first time in five UFC bouts without long-time teammate and coach Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner, Makhachev took a call from the former champion immediately after the triumph.

“He so nervous and he say, ‘Why you don’t do this and this?’” said Makhachev, who won the belt last October in Abu Dhabi. “I said, ‘If you were in my corner I can do this, but you didn’t come’.”

Meanwhile, Volkanovski congratulated Makhachev on the win, saying he would next return to 145 lbs to defend his featherweight crown against Yair Rodriguez. The Mexican, the division's No 2-ranked contender, defeated Josh Emmett in the card’s penultimate bout by second-round submission to claim the interim title.

“Let’s just get it over and done with,” Volkanovski said. “I said I was going to stay active. I’ll be back in the lightweight division, but for now let me go settle this featherweight division. Congrats to Yair.

“Just because I pulled up short tonight doesn't change a thing. Obviously a lot of people are going to be happy with that because they never gave me a chance. I knew I prepared properly, it was a fun fight. Congrats to Islam.”

Updated: March 01, 2023, 1:34 PM