Does Islam Makhachev Deserve a Title shot?

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It was announced during the UFC on ABC 3 broadcast that Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev will compete for the vacant lightweight title in Abu Dhabi at UFC 280 on October 22nd. There is little doubt that the lightweight division is one of the most competitive in the entire UFC, with multiple interesting fights between multiple different fighters. Although Oliveira is the uncrowned champion (having missed weight last time out), there was no clear next challenger for the Brazillian. Makhachev has been chosen by Dana White and we take a look at his record to see if he actually deserved the shot.

Strength of Schedule

For Makhachev, it’s a hard sell that he’s had the toughest strength of schedule. There’s no denying that he’s certainly in the question for a title shot. The Dagestan native is riding a ten-fight-winning run, of which he’s finished six fights, including his most recent four bouts. Only one has come over top 10 opposition, Dan Hooker in October of last year. He was scheduled to face Rafael dos Anjos and Beneil Dariush at multiple points throughout the past, however, none of these fights have ever come to fruition, meaning he is still yet to beat anyone at the top of the division.

Makhachev was first scheduled to face dos Anjos in October 2020, but the Brazillian withdrew. It was re-booked for November, but this time it was Makhachev who pulled out. It was rescheduled for a year later at UFC 267, however, dos Anjos withdrew with an injury and was replaced by Hooker for Makhachev’s biggest win to date. The two are yet to be matched again since.

Makhachev was then scheduled for a bout against Dariush this past March, however, following a broken leg for Dariush, Makhachev was matched with Bobby Green. Green, competed just two weeks prior to his main event slot with Makhachev. His highest rank per fight matrix was #12, but that was back in 2014. Predictably, Makhachev won the fight via a first-round finish.

Notable Performances

It’s worth noting that Makhachev has had a number of notable performances during his time in the UFC. A big win for him came against Arman Tsarukyan. With that being said, it’s a win that has aged well, rather than an outstanding win at the time. Tsarukyan was making his UFC debut and the fight was far more competitive than it should have been on paper.

Thiago Moises was also a good win for Makhachev. In his first main event slot, Makhachev won every minute of the fight, outlanding his opponent 148-18 and finished the bout in the fourth round.

The Journey to the Title for Others

The two fighters who stand out and have had a tough run to the title are Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje.

Before getting a shot at the undisputed belt, Dustin Poirier had to endure a six-fight unbeaten run, including an interim title fight against then featherweight champion, Max Holloway. This first run included fights against Justin Gaethje, former title holder, Eddie Alvarez and former champion, Anthony Pettis. He got his shot but lost via submission. Before his second run at the belt, he twice had to defeat the former champion, Conor McGregor and had to get through a brutal war against Dan Hooker. He again got the shot but unfortunately for the American, again came up short.

#3 ranked Justin Gaethje had to win four straight fights, all of which came via knockout before realising a title shot. Each of these four fights were all main event slots, including a phenomenal performance for the interim belt. At UFC 249, he snapped Tony Ferguson‘s 12-fight-winning run, finishing him in the fifth round after a beating. He then needed just one fight (after losing his original title opportunity) to get another, however, came up short again.

It’s also worth noting that Leon Edwards has had to endure a 10-fight winning run before getting a title shot at welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman. The UFC decided to give Usman multiple rematches instead of a fresher match-up against Edwards (the two previously met in 2015).

The Conclusion

Ultimately, due to the strength of the lightweight division, there’s an argument for plenty of people to challenge Charles Oliveira for the vacant belt.

Aside from both Poirier and Gaethje, who are both coming off of losses to Oliveira, Makhachev is arguably the standout. His winning streak, the manner in which he’s been finishing fights in recent times as well as calling for the shot itself are all big factors in him getting the opportunity. Also, it’s hard to deny, that having his coach, teammate and former undefeated champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov constantly calling for Makhachev to get the shot has gone a long way. In a May article, ESPN’s Brett Okamoto revealed that: ‘Khabib Nurmagomedov says he recently texted Dana White to argue in favor of a lightweight title shot for his longtime friend and teammate Islam Makhachev’. How much of an impact did Nurmagomedov have on Makhachev getting a title shot? Only Dana White will know…

With that being said, Michael Chandler is coming off a huge knockout victory over Ferguson, which could possibly be a shortcut to a title shot. Rafael Fiziev is coming off a huge victory last weekend against dos Anjos, extending his winning run to six. This has included five post-fight bonuses, proving just how exciting his fights are.

We can’t mention the lightweight title without mentioning Conor McGregor. Oliveira seemed to entertain a potential McGregor fight, however, realistically it couldn’t happen. McGregor hasn’t won at lightweight since 2016 and is 1-3 in his last four. With that being said, it is Conor McGregor.

The last potential opponent for Oliveira was Alexander Volkanovski. The featherweight champion has stated his desire to move up in weight and look for double champ status. He’s out with an injury, however, so there’s a potential that he may challenge for the lightweight title later on in the year against the winner of Oliveira and Makhachev.

Let us know if you believe that Islam Makhachev deserves a title shot and if not, who does?

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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