Islam Makhachev targets Abu Dhabi title bout after statement victory at UFC 267

Highly talented lightweight earned emphatic victory against Dan Hooker at Etihad Arena on Saturday

Islam Makhachev on his way to victory over Dan Hooker at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Islam Makhachev said he would relish fighting for a UFC title in Abu Dhabi after sealing in the capital on Saturday night the most notable victory of his career thus far.

The fast-rising lightweight contender, 30, defeated Dan Hooker at UFC 267, dispatching the dangerous New Zealander in emphatic fashion in the first round at Etihad Arena.

Makhachev, one of the main attractions on a stacked card in the capital, submitted his rival via a kimura, when Hooker’s arm appeared severely compromised. The bout, which lasted only two minutes 23 seconds, stretched Makhachev’s win streak to nine.

Already much-vaunted, with the triumph the Dagestan native only solidified his credentials for a championship bout. Makhachev, now 21-1 in professional mixed martial arts, is currently ranked the lightweight division’s No 5 challenger, but should climb higher following a dazzling display.

Speaking afterwards, Makhachev said: “Abu Dhabi has big events every year. That’s why maybe next time here, why not for the title? It’s going to be a big show. And I promise all the arena is going to be full, and all the arena is going to be my people.”

A teammate and close friend of former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov — his compatriot was in his corner on Saturday — Makhachev conceded in the build-up to the Hooker clash that he needed a statement victory to underline that he should next contest the title. The current belt-holder, Charles Oliveira, defends his crown in December against No 1-ranked contender Dustin Poirier.

“I feel good because I show my level,” Makhachev, an expert wrestler, said. “I don’t know how many minutes, two or one? Now everybody is going to talk like Hooker is an easy opponent, that he doesn’t have grappling or wrestling. Hooker is tough. He beat a lot of wrestling, grappling guys too. He beat Gilbert Burns; many, many guys.”

Hooker, a late replacement for the injured Rafael Dos Anjos, came into the bout at Etihad Arena having bounced back from his defeat in the title eliminator against UFC debutant Michael Chandler in Abu Dhabi in January. In dominating Nasrat Haqparast in Las Vegas last month, he lifted his pro record to 21-10.

“I think I deserve [a shot at the belt] now,” Makhachev said. “When Chandler beat Hooker they give him title fight. Why not? I am ready, too. I’m not here to beat 15 people and fight. I have nine fights now. That’s why I think I deserve.”

Makhachev said the only pressure he felt coming into the fight was from watching from his hotel as teammates Tagir Ulanbekov and Zubaira Tukhugov competed earlier on the card. Both won also, swelling the retired Nurmagomedov’s record as a coach in the UFC to 7-0.

Makhachev appeared at the post-fight media briefing in shirt and jeans, claiming he did not even need to take a shower, such was his swift work. He has struggled sometimes during the past couple of years to book elite opponents given the obvious threat he carries, but said on Saturday: “Now I’m going to be like No 4, No 3 [in the division]. I’m ready to fight for the title. But if they give me some other step, I’m ready for anyone.

“Next fight would have to be for the title or a contender fight. Because I have nine-fight win streak. Who in my division has this? Just the champion.

“And I feel my division is a little bit asleep now. I have to wake up my division. I have to change some things. All guys in top 5, they already fight for the title. Chandler, [Justin] Gaethje. That’s why we have to change something.

“And I told [UFC president] Dana [White] too, ‘Let’s change something in this division’. He said, ‘I’ll have to go back and we will see’.

“These guys already fight for the title. That’s why I think it’s my time. It’s the right time. They have to give me a chance; Dana has to give me a chance.

On the UFC 269 headliner on December 11, Makhachev said: “I think Poirier is going to beat Oliveira. Many things are going to change in next couple months. That’s why I’m going to wait.”

Updated: October 31, 2021, 12:35 PM