This past weekend, Islam Makhachev headlined UFC 280 opposite former titleholder Charles Oliveira. The pair collided for the vacant belt, which the Brazilian was stripped of following a weight miss earlier this year.
With mentor and coach Khabib in his corner once again, the Dagestani 30-year-old completed what he long branded his “destiny,” securing his place on the 155-pound throne courtesy of a second-round submission victory in Abu Dhabi.
Before running into Makhachev, Oliveira was at the peak of a once-unlikely career resurgence. Having gone 10-8-1 across his first 19 UFC bouts, “Do Bronx” fought his way to the top by building a memorable 11-fight win streak.
Prior to collecting the vacant gold in May 2021, many were even branding the Brazilian the greatest possible challenge to Khabib’s unblemished professional record. With that in mind, Oliveira’s threat was passed over to discussions involving the retired Russian’s protégé.
But despite Oliveira’s form, talent, and recent reign, Khabib is concerned that a familiar switch-up may rear its head again when it comes to the consensus surrounding the former champion’s credentials.
During a post-event interview with ESPN MMA’s Brett Okamoto in Abu Dhabi, Khabib was asked whether he believes that Makhachev has already overcome his greatest danger in the division by defeating Oliveira.
In response, “The Eagle” appeared to suggest that the answer to that question should be a no-brainer given how the media hyped up Oliveira ahead of UFC 280.
The Dagestani then harked back to his 2020 victory over Justin Gaethje, recalling that many branded “The Highlight” as his toughest test before dismissing the challenge he presented once Khabib had comfortably submitted him.
Khabib believes that the same narrative change could now appear in regard to Makhachev’s dominant display at UFC 280, with many looking to devalue the result by downplaying Oliveira’s skill set.
“Brother, come on, a couple hours ago you guys was talking about, ‘Charles gonna finish this guy.’ Now, when Islam finish him, now you guys talk about, ‘Do you think it was his toughest challenge?’ Of course. It was Charles Oliveira’s time. The whole world was talking about him. Now, Islam make it easy, now you guys are gonna forget about Charles Oliveira.
“Same thing with Justin Gaethje. When I fight with him, he was interim champion, he just beat and finished Tony Ferguson‘s win streak. And when I (beat) him easy, everyone says, ‘Oh, Justin was not good, not good enough.’ Same thing always. Right now with him (Makhachev), same thing. This guy finished (Oliveira’s) 11-win streak.”
Khabib closed out his answer with a reminder of the unprecedented pairing that the UFC 280 headliner featured. And having come out on the right side of it, “The Eagle” demanded that his man continues to receive the respect he deserves.
“UFC before, never made (a fight) like this. 10-win streak versus 11-win streak. This is first time history of UFC. He finished him in second round, first round he mauled him. Please, give him some respect.”
Having left no doubt about where he stands in the 155-pound division, Makhachev will be looking to make his way to the top of another ladder next time out as pursues the pound-for-pound top spot.
The man currently occupying that throne, UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski, has long called for an opportunity to add a second piece of gold to his mantle. And after going face-to-face with the lightweight king this past weekend, he may well have that opportunity in front of a home crowd early next year.
Do you agree with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s take?
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