Arman Tsarukyan explains why he passed on UFC 302 title fight with Islam Makhachev

Arman Tsarukyan is waiting for the right time to step into the cage with Islam Makhachev again.

Tsarukyan scored the biggest win of his career this past Saturday at UFC 300, earning a split nod over former lightweight champ Charles Oliveira to potentially set up a fight with Makhachev, the current champion. A bout between Tsarukyan and Makhachev would mark the second time they’ve shared the octagon, with Makhachev owning an April 2019 win over the then-debuting Tsarukyan.

On The MMA Hour, Tsarukyan confirmed that he was asked if he would be willing to fight Makhachev at UFC 302 on June 1, but he declined.

“It’s true,” Tsarukyan said. “When I left the octagon, right away [UFC COO Hunter Campell] came and said, ‘June 1. Islam.’ I said I’ve got to think. It was, like, seven weeks [away], and I can’t jump too fast, so I’ve got to rest a little bit and have a camp. If it was the end of June, I would take that fight because I’d have at least 10 weeks — two weeks rest and eight weeks for preparation.

“Why I’ve got to take the same risk like I did for the first fight? It’s the same thing, short notice. I want to be ready and I want to have a full training camp. Why, if I’m the No. 1 contender, why I’ve got to take the risk? Of course, if I’m [only] in the top 10 and someone said, ‘Seven weeks, can you fight on June 1?’ Of course, I’m going to take it. But I just beat the former champion, a Hall of Fame fighter, and it doesn’t make sense.”

It was instead announced Saturday that Makhachev will fight Dustin Poirier in the UFC 302 main event. “The Diamond” has alternated wins and losses over his past five fights, but he holds recent wins over Conor McGregor, Michael Chandler, and Benoit Saint Denis.

Tsarukyan has been one of the lightweight division’s hottest fighters since his loss to Makhachev, going 9-1 with his only setback being a narrow split decision loss to Mateusz Gamrot. When the UFC came around to reward him for his efforts, it pained him to decline the title fight offer.

“It was hard to say no,” Tsarukyan said. “It was hard to say no, but I know I’m going to fight next for the title with the winner of that [Makhachev vs. Poirier] fight.”

Tsarukyan added that it’s understanding that the matchmakers want him to face the UFC 302 main event winner.

Currently, Tsarukyan trains at American Top Team in Florida with Poirier, but he would have no issue facing his teammate if it meant fighting for the title, though he’s not sure if Poirier feels the same way. He’s more confident that there would be no issue getting Makhachev to sign on the dotted line.

If Tsarukyan has to choose his next opponent, it’s Makhachev all the way.

“It’s a difficult question because Poirier, he’s my teammate, and Islam, that guy I want to beat so much you can’t even imagine,” Tsarukyan said. “First, he has the title, and second, it’s the rematch. That fight, for me, makes sense. Definitely, I want to see the winner is Islam Makhachev.

“But I’m not going to support anybody there, I’m just going to be out and watch the good fight. Poirier is good. He has a good condition, he can knock out people very easy. If Islam is going to do small mistakes, Poirier is going to knock him out. He has a very powerful punch.”

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