Big Night Ahead For Islam Makhachev
By Jack Maher
This Saturday the UFC will make their sophomore trip to Russia when the octagon touches down in St Petersburg, and the event may prove to a big night for co-main event fighter Islam Makhachev.
The 27-year-old Dagestani lightweight faces UFC newcomer Arman Tsarukyan, and if Makhachev wants to get his desired step up in competition he can’t afford a slip-up against the Armenian.
Makhachev has a skill set that in my opinion puts him with the very best in the lightweight division. He is a longtime friend and training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and is also trained by Khabib’s father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, so it will come as no surprise that Makhachev is a brilliant grappler with serious Sambo credentials.
He also has major knockout power in his hands, shown when he knocked out the veteran Gleison Tibau in their fight of January last year. Despite his skill set, finishing ability and 4 fight win streak, Makhachev is yet to secure a big name opponent in the octagon.
The lightweight division is a shark tank, and houses some of the best fighters in the world inside and outside of the official top 15 rankings. Getting a spot in the rankings is hard, and Makhachev’s impressive run has not been enough to earn him a ranked opponent as of yet. Earlier this year Makhachev was booked to fight top 15 ranked Francisco Trinaldo at UFC 233, before being inexplicably replaced by Alexander Hernandez, until that bout also collapsed due to the event being cancelled.
A bout between Makhachev and Kevin Lee was verbally agreed upon by the two for UFC 236 but Lee was instead booked for a move up to welterweight to face Rafael Dos Anjos.
If Makhachev can’t get the job done on Saturday he can likely say goodbye to any chance of reaching the upper echelons of the division anytime soon due to the competitive nature of the weight class, and if he does win he’ll likely have to do it in impressive style to ensure he can get out in the octagon again quickly and not have to sit and wait months just to get drawn against another lacklustre opponent.
If Makhachev can extend his current 2 fight finish streak, which includes a first round armbar victory over Kajan Johnson, as well as the aforementioned knockout of Tibau, as well as possibly make an impact on the mic, then Makhachev will likely ensure he keeps his momentum rolling and doesn’t let his opportunity to impress pass him by.
Makhachev’s opponent Tsarukyan is on an impressive win streak himself, winning all of his last 12. Those wins however have been against opposition that are nowhere near the level of Makhachev, and I would not be surprised if the 2016 combat sambo gold medalist uses his expert grappling to overwhelm the relatively inexperienced Tsarukyan.
Of course nothing is ever straightforward in MMA, but if everything we have been led to believe about Makhachev is true, he should leave the octagon on a 5 fight win streak.