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Islam Makhachev embracing role as ‘the next Khabib’ ahead of UFC 259 — ‘I like that’

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UFC Fight Night: Alvarez v Poirier 2 Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight up-and-comer Islam Makhachev will make his Octagon return against longtime 155-pound veteran Drew Dober as part of the UFC 259 pay-per-view (PPV) event this Sat. night (March 6) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

And even though UFC 259 features three championship title fights, Makhachev will be getting extra special attention when he faces the streaking Nebraskan, in part because the combat sports community has dubbed him “the next Khabib.”

As in undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

“I like that,” Makhachev said during the UFC 259 media day (transcribed by MMA Fighting). “Because Khabib is a very good guy, a champion, that’s why I don’t care about this. That’s why I’m good with it. You know this is motivation for me. Because now people talk about me. A lot of people tell me ‘you’re going to be next, you’re going to be champion,’ that’s why I have to train more. Just training. That’s it.”

Makhachev (18-1) jumped out to a perfect 12-0 record, which includes his UFC debut against Leo Kuntz. Then came an upset loss to Adriano Martins at UFC 192, a temporary setback that motivated the Dagestani bruiser to win his next six fights.

And with Nurmagomedov retired, the 155-pound field is wide open.

“I’m very excited when I will fight with these guys because I just want to check my skills,” Makhachev said about facing the upper echelon of the division. “All my life, I’m training with the champion. That’s why I don’t think they’re going to give me a problem, these guys.”

He’ll first need to get through Dober (23-9), winner of three straight.