It is no secret that Islam Makhachev has been tabbed as the heir apparent to Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC’s lightweight division.
Makhachev lived up to that billing yet again on Saturday, as he cruised to fourth-round submission victory against Thiago Moises in the UFC on ESPN 26 main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The Dagestani has won eight consecutive fights at 155 pounds, one of just six fighters in the division’s history to do so. One of those men, Nurmagomedov, was in Makhachev’s corner.
“When you have by your side a champion, he knows everything everywhere, what I have to do, what I have to say, how I have to move… When Khabib is in my corner, I feel more powerful,” Makhachev said.
Comparisons to Nurmagomedov as a fighter are lofty enough, but for Makhachev, his teammate and coach also casts a large shadow because of the person he is.
“If somebody says I’m almost the same as Khabib, I agree with this,” Makhachev said. “I want to be like Khabib, you know. He’s a great man, he’s champion, he has a lot of money and he has everything, but he’s still a humble guy.
“He’s coming to U.S. 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 U.S. and he rent big house for team and a lot of cars for team and nobody pay. He pay for everything. I cannot explain Khabib. He does a lot of stuff, but nobody knows this.”
As far his next step, Makhachev would prefer to handle some of Nurmagomedov’s unfinished business. For years, Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson was the fight everyone wanted to see in the lightweight division, but it was also the most cursed fight in the sport. On five different occasions the bout was booked and for various reasons, it was canceled each time.
Now, Makhachev would like to add some closure to the rivalry on behalf of Nurmagomedov.
“If they were to give me a choice, let’s do it with Tony because we have good history with him,” Makhachev said. “Khabib was supposed to fight with him like five, six times. Let’s finish this, you know. I’m going to finish this. I’m going to show Tony not Khabib level. People don’t understand how Khabib pressures. I can’t explain to you guys, but I think you know everything.”