Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight up-and-comers Islam Makhachev and Arman Tsarukyan will throw down this Saturday (April 20, 2019) from Yubileyny Sports Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia. An impressive 5-1 inside the Octagon and currently riding a four-fight win streak, Makhachev was hoping this card would be his opportunity against a ranked foe. Despite repeatedly calling out big names — including Kevin Lee, who at one point agreed to the fight — Makhachev will instead face a newly debuting fighter. Tsarukyan, 22, is plenty talented himself, but he’s the furthest thing from the high-profile opponent Makhachev desired and demanded.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Gleison Tibau (UFC 220), Nik Lentz (UFC 208), Kajan Johnson (UFC on FOX 30)
Key Losses: Adriano Martins (UFC 192)
Keys to Victory: Makhachev is an incredibly credentialed athlete. An International Master of Sports and four-time national champ in combat Sambo, Makhachev’s shares a similarly dominant takedown and top control game to his teammate and current Lightweight kingpin, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Makhachev’s approach to combat is simple enough. He’s a strong Lightweight and incredible chain wrestler, so once his hands are clasped around his opponents, they tend to struggle to recreate distance. Tsarukyan is a wrestler as well, but Makhachev is proven against a much higher level of competition.
Wrestlers hate being put on their back perhaps more than anyone else, and Makhachev likely has the ability to trap Tsarukyan on his back. So long as he sticks to the script and plays to his strengths, Makhachev should extend his win streak and hopefully see a ranked opponent next time out.
Key Wins: Felipe Oliveira (S-70: Plotforma Cup), Junior Assuncao (MFP 220), Takenori Soto (MFP 214)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Tsarukyan may be in for a difficult debut, but the young Armenian is ready for the Octagon. With 10 finishes split evenly between submissions and knockouts, Tsarukyan is pretty comfortable wherever the fight goes, although he definitely prefers to level change and wrestle.
That’s a bad idea here though.
Tsarukyan’s best chance here is a sprawl-and-brawl approach. Makhachev can be a bit flat-footed, so lateral movement and long distance strikes should help Tsarukyan score some points. When Makhachev does inevitably close the distance, Tsarukyan’s goal should be to land some hard shots and disengage. It will be tempting for Tsarukyan to defend and take a shot of his own, but that would likely play into his opponent’s hands.
In addition, I’d like to see Tsarukyan push the pace as much as possible. Makhachev has never really shown weak conditioning, but Tsaurkyan does have the advantage of youth and possibly athleticism, two factors that grow in important as the pedal hits the floor.
Bottom Line: It’s a strange fight.
Makhachev doesn’t have any truly major wins on his record, but he also has not been given a chance to pick any up. Between his win streak and credentials, Makhachev deserved a step up in competition of some kind, particularly since he was given the co-main event slot in his home country. As it stands, this fight does not move forward Makhachev much, but it does risk a great deal of his progress.
Makhachev almost has to dominate; any other result will be a disappointment. That may not be fair considering Tsarukyan’s apparent talent and high-ceiling, but it’s the reality of the match up.
As for Tsarukyan, there cannot be more than a handful of fans who know his name outside of Eastern Europe. As such, it’s a massive opportunity for him. Makhachev may not be ranked yet, but it’s well-known that the Dagestani is a very capable fighter and likely to break into the rankings at any moment. Were Tsarukyan to appear from the regional scene and upset him in his debut, a lot more eyes would follow the Russian’s next steps.
At UFC Fight Night 149, Islam Makhachev and Arman Tsarukyan will throw down in the co-main event. Which man will have his hand raised?