Makhachev sets sights on Volkanovski and pound-for-pound status after UFC 280 triumph

Dagestani dominated Charles Oliveira to become UFC lightweight champion in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night

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Islam Makhachev said he was delighted to become UFC lightweight champion in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night, as he set sights on becoming the sport’s No 1 pound-for-pound athlete by dethroning current incumbent Alexander Volkanovski in Australia early next year.

Makhachev, 31, claimed the vacant lightweight crown in the headline bout at UFC 280, when he submitted former champion Charles Oliveira by second-round arm triangle.

The Dagestani, a clear favourite with the partisan capital crowd, was contesting his first UFC championship fight. In defeating Oliveira, who had won his past 11 bouts, Makhachev lifted his own win streak to 11. He has lost once in 24 professional MMA fights – seven years ago.

Immediately after the win, Makhachev and childhood friend and teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov called for Volkanovski to come into the octagon – the featherweight champion was in Abu Dhabi this week serving as back-up to the main event – where they challenged the Australian to fight in the pound-for-pound king’s back yard. The UFC returns to Perth with UFC 284 on February 12.

Speaking to reporters after Volkanovski, unbeaten in 22 bouts, had publicly accepted the challenge, Makhachev said: “I have new target: I have to be No 1 pound-for-pound champion. That’s why I have to go to Australia and beat this guy.

“Volkanovski’s tough; he has good skills. But he’s small for this division. He wants to jump to 155 [lbs]? Let’s do this. But this weight class is not his level.”

Makhachev was dominant throughout the clash with the hugely respected Oliveira. Smothering the Brazilian – the UFC record holder for finishes and submissions – with his ground control, Makhachev ended the contest three minutes 17 seconds into the second round.

“I told all media all week I have a plan to stop him,” he said. “He’s not going to pressure me like all his opponents. Because he knows, with my wrestling, I can stop him whenever I want. I can take him down, that’s why. I just follow the plan of all my coaches.

“Honestly, when I take him down the first time, I feel he have good skills there. But I control every moment. He gave me a couple elbows, but nothing surprised me. I know my grappling skills. I told you before, I’m going to take him down, hold him there, and that’s what I did.”

On Oliveira, who was born into abject poverty in Sao Paulo, Makhachev said: “I respect him. Because this guy’s tough. He has heart; he came from a not-easy life.

"I respect all his team; we met them all week at the hotel and don’t have [any problems] between our team and his team. But I told the media all week: I’m going to take him down, hold him there, make him tired, and finish him.”

Makhachev dedicated the greatest victory on his career to Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, his former long-time coach and father to Khabib, who died in 2020 from complications arising from contracting Covid-19.

“This belt is for my coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov,” Makhachev said. “Many years ago he told me, ‘Just train hard and you’re going to be champion’. I want to give this belt to [Khabib]. He and his father made me [champion], I know.”

On what he wants his own legacy to be – Khabib Nurmagomedov is considered the greatest lightweight of all time – Makhachev said: “I don’t think about retirement right now. I have to be No 1 pound-for-pound champion. After that moment we’ll see. We’re going to think about this. But right now I have to defend this belt many times.

“Then we'll see. To move to another division [welterweight] and take the belt there, is good for my legacy.”

Asked about Abu Dhabi providing the setting for fulfilling his life-long dream, Makhachev said: “I’m very happy to take this belt in Abu Dhabi because you see how the arena support me and give me good energy. Thank you, Abu Dhabi, and thank you all the people who support me.

“I told you guys: one day I’m going to come here with my belt. Of course, I’m so happy. I’m training all my life for that moment.”

Updated: October 23, 2022, 10:09 AM