Islam Makhachev is a hard guy to put a fight together for, with an endless list of lightweights reportedly refusing to face Khabib Nurmagomedov’s officially designated successor in the cage. And on Saturday at UFC Vegas 31, we learned why.
While Islam still hasn’t fully lived up to the Khabib hype (and let’s be honest, who could), he made one sided work of Thiago Moises in the main event of the UFC APEX card before finishing things with a rear naked choke in the fourth round (watch the highlights here).
After, an elated Makhachev called out a long list of potential opponents: Rafael dos Anjos, Michael Chandler, even Conor McGregor.
Team Makhachev taking post-fight victory photos in the back. Makhachev's manager tells me this fight -- Islam vs. Conor -- is now his "dream fight." Says it would finish all of the leftover business between the two teams. https://t.co/SeO7VJ6dLe— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) July 18, 2021
"Chandler, if you hear me, let's go, let's do this. You come from Bellator, I want to check your skills."@MAKHACHEVMMA calls out @MikeChandlerMMA, who's watching from the #UFCVegas31 post-show set pic.twitter.com/pAhZ7UOyTI— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) July 18, 2021
But when asked at the UFC Vegas 31 post-fight press conference, Islam shared his real number one pick for next fight: Tony Ferguson.
“If they gonna give me a choice, let’s do it with Tony,” Makhachev said. “Because we have good history with him. Khabib was supposed to fight with him five, six times? Let’s finish this, you know? I’m going to finish this. And I’m going to show people around the world Tony not Khabib level. People don’t understand how Khabib had pressure. I cannot explain to you guys but you know everything.”
“Let’s do end of this year. One more fight, I’m going to finish one more fight, and on the end I’m going to be Fighter of the Year.”
That’ll be a tough order considering the year Kamaru Usman is having, but a man can dream, right? Islam Makhachev is now 2-0 in 2021 with two submission finishes. Both were dominant wins, but again ... when your management team and coaches are holding you up to a measuring stick like Khabib, it just makes people see all the non-Khabib elements.
Makhachev may not get any of his picks, which is too bad because an RDA fight would be an absolute scrap. Instead, UFC president Dana White relayed to Yahoo Sports reporter Kevin Iole that #3 ranked lightweight Beneil Dariush was a frontrunner as next opponent.
“Dariush, Beniel really good fighter,” Makhachev said. “If they give me Beneil, he’s going to be a good fight. He’s a nice guy, I know him a little bit. He’s number three, a big step for me too. He’s tough more than these other guys I call.”