Last-minute change in opponent or not, Islam Makhachev has his path all planned out: defeat Bobby Green in Las Vegas this weekend and then capture the UFC lightweight crown in Abu Dhabi.
“I really believe that after this fight, when I finish Bobby Green, they are going to give me title fight in Abu Dhabi,” Makhachev told The National via Zoom from his hotel room late on Wednesday.
“I’m going to tell the UFC and [president] Dana [White] and everybody that, ‘Hey, this is my 10-fight win streak. I deserve the title fight’. I’m going to be in Abu Dhabi, waiting for the champion there.”
Makhachev, whose professional record reads 21-1, certainly seems the most obvious challenger for the belt once current champion Charles Oliveira takes on No 1-ranked contender Justin Gaethje. That bout is expected for UFC 274 in May.
The division’s No 4 challenger, Makhachev rides a nine-fight win streak, his most recent victory the first-round submission of Dan Hooker at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi last October. On Sunday morning UAE time, the Dagestan native faces Green in the headliner at UFC Fight Night at the promotion’s Apex.
Green fought only last week, dominating Nasrat Haqparast to record a second win on the bounce. The American, 29-12 in pro MMA, is a late replacement for Beneil Dariush, the No 3-ranked contender who suffered an injury in training last week. Green is known primarily for his striking; Dariush his ground game.
A supreme wrestler in his own right, Makhachev said the 11th-hour switch isn’t cause for concern.
“I’m always looking to finish my opponent,” he said. “That’s why it doesn’t matter who my opponent is. I don’t train one month, two months, for some opponent. All my life I’m training hard for any fighter. That’s why it doesn’t matter when they change opponent. Just give me fight, give me opponent, and that’s it.
“Bobby Green has very good boxing. And I’m going to check his wrestling and grappling skills.”
Makhachev, 30, said he was “very sad” that Dariush withdrew and that he anticipates they will fight in future – "maybe not this year, but very soon" – but he also credited Green for stepping up on short notice (as such, the bout takes place at a catchweight 160lbs).
Especially, Makhachev said, when several others would not.
“Of course,” he said. “I respect him a lot because he made this fight happen, he took this fight to make some money. I just want to help him make some money.
“First, I asked who all from the top 10 is free, I ask all these guys. I told my manager to call them. He called everybody, but nobody answered.
“I don’t want to say they were scared or something like this, because this is just 10 days before the fight. But always I have problem to fight with someone from top 10.”
Green, meanwhile, is not ranked.
“I know this guy’s not from the top of my division,” Makhachev said. “As I told you, he just wants to make some money. He fought only one week ago, he doesn’t have injuries or anything - that’s why he jumped to the fight.
“But other guys always run. Soon I’m going to take the belt and they’ll have to challenge me.”
Makhachev-Dariush was considered a title eliminator. However, with the latter pulling out, there have been suggestions that Conor McGregor could be next in line once he recovers from injury. The Irishman, a former two-division champion, broke his leg in last summer’s defeat to Dustin Poirier - his second successive loss to the American and third overall in his past four UFC appearances.
“You remember when McGregor won some fight?” Makhachev said, smiling. “If you remember, tell me. Because I don’t remember, too. I know I’m going to fight for the title. Because 10-fight win streak, this is key for title fight.”
Get past Green on Sunday, and Makhachev will be a particularly interested observer in Oliveira's title defence against Gaethje. The Brazilian rides a 10-fight win streak already.
“I think Charles is going to finish Justin,” Makhachev said. “They’re going to strike for a little bit, but I think he’s going to take him down, take his back and finish him.
“And 10-fight win streak versus 11-fight win streak is going to be a big fight, for the UFC and all my fans.”
Oliveira versus Makhachev at Etihad Arena – the latter has fought twice in Abu Dhabi, including UFC 242 in September 2019 – clearly whets the appetite.
“Of course,” Makhachev said. “I really want this. Because all the arena in Abu Dhabi, this is my people, and the arena will be full. This is a big support, when the whole arena is with you.
“This is perfect. [Abu Dhabi] is the best location for me. Because, for me, the hospitality in Abu Dhabi is No 1. I have everything there. They give me a very good gym, everything for the training camp.
“I can bring a lot of my sparring partners; all coaches and all my friends can come to Abu Dhabi. A lot of fans can come to support me.
“I just want to say thank you all my fans, all my brothers in Abu Dhabi, thank you for all the support. October or November we’re going to fight there. I know they have some event [planned]. See you there."