Islam Makhachev believes his stunning victory against Alexander Volkanovski in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night proved he is the best mixed martial artist athlete in the world.
The lightweight champion, now 25-1 as a pro, successfully defended his title in the headline bout at Etihad Arena, knocking down Volkanovski with a brutal head kick in the first round before quickly sealing a TKO win.
Speaking to media following his victory, Makhachev said: “Some people underestimated my striking; in the first fight I showed people my striking.
“I think now, people will respect my striking. And I show I’m not just wrestler, grappler or striker. And I know I am best MMA fighter in the world.”
The win represented Makhachev’s second success against Volkanovski in eight months. In February, when the Australian was ranked the UFC's pound-for-pound No 1 and Makhachev its No 2, the Dagestani prevailed in Perth by unanimous decision.
Makhachev, whose win streak climbs to 13, said he had worked on the head kick throughout training for UFC 294, adding that he felt know that he had silenced those who doubted he defeated Volkanovski in the initial bout in February.
Volkanovski, the current featherweight champion, took the rematch on only 11 days’ notice following Charles Oliveira’s withdrawal through injury.
“Really happy to finish him first round, because if it happened in championship round people start to talk, ‘He took this fight short notice; he’s not ready for championship rounds’.
“But I’m really happy, because I finished all these things in the first round. Well done. All this story with Volkanovski is finished right now.”
On Saturday, UFC CEO Dana White said he thought Makhachev’s next bout should be a rescheduled encounter against Oliveira.
The pair were supposed to rematch at UFC 294 – Makhachev defeated the Brazilian in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago – but Oliveira pulled out earlier this month having sustained a serious cut above his eye in training.
“It’s not my job; Dana has to work on this,” Makhachev said. “I just will sign the contract. Just send me the name. But my opinion, I feel like I already have two opponents.
“Charles? OK, I will beat Charles, but who’s going to be next? [Justin] Gaethje? He will wait? I don’t think it’s a good idea, but it is what it is. If they say Charles, OK. If they say Gaethje, for me it’s OK. It doesn’t matter – I will be ready.”
At UFC 280 last October, Makhachev submitted Oliveira at the beginning of the second round, ending his rival’s 12-fight win streak and clinching the lightweight title for the first time.
Of a potential rematch, Makhachev said, “It’s not going to be different. I will show him, and he will feel a hard time. He will give up, and I will choke him or finish him.”
Meanwhile, middleweight contender Khamzat Chimaev suspected he suffered a broken right hand early in his majority-decision win against Kamaru Usman in the co-main event.
The unbeaten Chimaev had dominated the former long-standing welterweight champion on the ground for the majority of Round 1, but could not maintain that superiority thereafter.
Chimaev, now a Dubai resident competing under the UAE flag, took the decision 29-27, 29-27, 28-28. It lifted his pro record to 13-0.
Speaking to TNT Sports and other broadcasters, Chimaev said: “I dominated the guy first round,” Chimaev said: “In the first round, last minute, I think I broke my hand. It was hard to wrestle and keep him down, but I couldn’t use my right hand, so we’ll see what’s happening.
“Maybe it’s broken, maybe not, but you feel pain. I don’t know. I don’t care. I won. My hand was up.”
Elsewhere on the card, UAE history-maker Mohammed Yahya lost a unanimous decision to Trevor Peek, with the judges scoring the contest 29-28, 30-27, 30-27 in the American’s favour. Yahya, also Dubai-based, became the first Emirati to compete in the UFC.
There was some controversy on Saturday night, though, when the light-heavyweight bout between Magomed Ankalaev and Johnny Walker was declared a no contest after Ankalev landed an illegal knee three minutes into Round 1.
Walker, from Brazil, took the strike to his head while his knee was touching the canvas. Walker demanded to continue, but the cage-side physician ruled that he could not go on, much to both his annoyance, and the packed Etihad Arena.
Speaking to media after the event had concluded, UFC CEO Dana White said: “Listen, the [physician’s] inexperienced. He got up in there – I think there’s a lot of things that probably happened.
“I guess he asked [Walker], ‘Where are you right now?’ And his response was, ‘I’m in the desert.’ He’s not wrong. I think there’s a big language barrier in there between the two of them. And he’s inexperienced. It sucks.
“It’s one of those things that happens sometimes. We’ll make it right, and we’ll fix it.”