Islam Makhachev has targeted a bout with mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov’s long-time rival Tony Ferguson, after the fast-rising lightweight contender continued to serve notice to the division with another impressive win on Sunday.
With Nurmagomedov once more in his corner, Makhachev defeated Brazil’s Thiago Moises via a fourth-round submission in the headline clash at UFC on ESPN 56 at the Apex in Las Vegas.
The victory extended the dangerous Dagestani’s win streak to eight, while at the same time lifting his professional mixed martial arts record to 20-1 (9-1 UFC).
Makhachev’s latest success moves him ever closer to a shot at the title, with the 29-year-old calling out fellow lightweights Michael Chandler and Rafael Dos Anjos immediately after his win.
However, Makhachev said he would prefer a clash with Nurmagomedov’s old foe Ferguson.
“If they were to give me a choice, let’s do it with Tony because we have good history with him,” he told reporters at the post-fight press conference. “Khabib was supposed to fight with him like five, six times. Let’s finish this. I’m going to finish this.
“I’m going to show Tony’s not Khabib level. People don’t understand how Khabib pressures. I can’t explain to you guys, but I think you know everything.”
Ferguson, a former lightweight interim champion, was scheduled to face Nurmagomedov many times in the past, but the bout always fell apart because of injuries or other unforeseen circumstances. Nurmagomedov, 32, retired undefeated as the lightweight champion in October following his successful title defence against Justin Gaejthe in Abu Dhabi. His record stood at 29-0.
The former belt-holder has since switched his focus to coaching, and this year has overseen four victories for his teammates. He was also in Makhachev’s corner for his submission win against Drew Dober in March.
Given their close relationship, many view Makhachev as the heir to Nurmagomedov’s lightweight throne.
“If somebody says I’m almost the same as Khabib, I agree with this,” Makhachev said. “I want to be like Khabib. He’s a great man, he’s a champion, he has a lot of money and he has everything, but he’s still a humble guy.
“He’s coming to the US without his family. He stays here one, two months to help us. He doesn’t take money, nothing. He just comes and does the whole thing. We came to US and he rented a big house for the team and a lot of cars and nobody pays. He pays for everything. I cannot explain Khabib. He does a lot of stuff, but not everyone knows this.”