At UFC 259 on March 6, Drew Dober will have a tough test in front of him in the form of fellow rising lightweight Islam Makhachev, but it’s just the type of fight Dober feels he needs to continue his ascent up the 155-pound rankings.
“Everyone’s touting him [Makhachev] as the next Russian champion, he’s super talented, and he poses some really big threats,” Dober told MMAJunkie. “It’s a test for myself to prove that if I can get past Islam, I’m ready for top 10, top five guys, and he’s got a lot of following behind him, a lot of Russian fans. I think there’s many reasons why I like this fight.
“I want to fight the Michael Chandlers, the Dustin Poiriers, all those guys,” he added. “So a win over Islam is gonna propel me to that opportunity to fight those top five guys. I want to get on a title run, I want to have fantastic fights, and to fight the best in the world, you have to start somewhere. So a win over Islam is gonna open a ton of opportunities for me.”
Recently, both Dober and Makhachev have put together runs of success, which is why this fight is so interesting.
The 32-year-old Dober has won six of his last seven bouts and is riding a three-fight winning streak that includes consecutive finishes over Marco Polo Reyes, Nasrat Haqparast, and Alexander Hernandez. Makhachev, meanwhile, is riding a six-fight winning streak of his own, although he hasn’t competed since September 2019.
During his recent stretch of fights, Dober’s only setback came in a submission defeat to Beneil Dariush in 2019. However, that loss may have been a blessing in disguise as it forced Dober, known primarily as a striker, to work on his ground game.
“I think a lot of people can’t take me seriously unless I showcase a strong ground game or a strong ground defense,” Dober said. “I think I’ve evolved a lot since my last loss. Beneil has really taught me a lot with my game, and we spent a lot of time me and my coaches really fine-tuning and shaping things up to where I’m not just a striker, but I can wrestle and play jiu-jitsu as well.”
A strong ground game will certainly be needed against Makhachev, a high-level wrestler and a training partner of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Dober knows this is a fight, though, and that he must be prepared for all aspects of mixed martial arts competition and not just grappling.
And on March 6, he plans to be “ready for whatever” against Makhachev.
“With me preparing for Diego [Ferreira] and really working my ground game, Islam has not fought in a year and a half, so who knows what he’s been working on, what he’s gonna come with, and so I’d be dumb if I wanted to picture it as a striker vs. a grappler,” Dober said. “He could come in and try and kickbox with me and try and knock me out, so I have to prepare for the best Islam in every facet of the sport, so I’m ready for whatever.”
Long Island-based sports writer covering MMA, Boxing, and the New York Jets.