Islam Makhachev never shies away from the relationship he shares with his mentor and close friend Khabib Nurmagomedov, especially considering they grew up together under the watchful eye of Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov in Dagestan.
That said, Makhachev rarely escapes comparisons to Nurmagomedov, with both fighters having reigned at the top of the UFC lightweight division in similarly dominant fashion. On Saturday at UFC 294, Makhachev took another step forward, defining himself as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport after he knocked out featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski in devastating fashion in the first round.
The win actually serves as Makhachev’s second consecutive title defense and he only needs one more to tie Nurmagomedov for the most in UFC history. But despite the recognition they may soon share, UFC CEO Dana White disputes that Makhachev really needs to do anything to separate himself and his legacy from the one built by Nurmagomedov.
“I don’t know if he really lives in Khabib’s shadow,” White said at the UFC 294 post-fight press conference. “Tonight was a big step in the right direction. The guy’s been dominant and then he goes in, all the controversy that came off the last fight, and he finishes this fight the way that he did. There’s no excuses. It’s not like, ‘Oh, it went into the third round, Volkanovski didn’t have time to train.’ He went in there and viciously, impressively finished this fight with a [Mirko] Cro Cop-esque kick to the head.
“It doesn’t get any better than that, against a very tough, durable guy who has a great chin. And you don’t ever see anybody do that to Volkanovski.”
While Makhachev may not care much about surpassing Nurmagomedov in the record books, White acknowledges that the résumé he’s putting together may soon be unmatched by anybody to ever compete in the UFC’s lightweight division.
“He keeps doing what he’s doing, you’ve just got to keep grinding, knocking them down one by one and it will eventually happen,” White said.
“The truth is when you look at Khabib — and nothing against Khabib, Khabib came in and won the title and defended it — but this kid could go on a defense run that absolutely blows everybody away that ever held the belt in that division.”
Makhachev could also add to his career accolades if he eventually follows through on his promise to move up to welterweight to pursue a second UFC title.
“I guess he’s talented enough [to win at welterweight],” White said. “I don’t see that happening any time soon.
“He’s still got some guys to fight. Listen, if he held the belt, defends the belt for another year and wanted to move up, why not?”