Islam Makhachev expects the UFC to book him against Rafael dos Anjos next
With Khabib Nurmagomedov officially retired and no longer the UFC lightweight champion, it seems as if now is the perfect time for his longtime friend and training partner Islam Makhachev to make a run at the 155-pound title.
The 29-year-old Makhachev has long been thought to be a future champion. However, after returning from a 19-month layoff to score a dominant submission victory over Drew Dober earlier this month at UFC 259, it’s clear that the Russian is ready for the next step.
Although he called out Tony Ferguson after his win over Dober, Makhachev has since turned his attention to former titleholder Rafael dos Anjos after Ferguson was booked against Beneil Dariush. Makhachev was previously scheduled to face dos Anjos, but the fight ultimately fell through.
The Brazilian seems to have shown less interest in the potential pairing, though, which is somewhat confusing to Makhachev.
“I don’t know why his opinion changed so quickly,” Makhachev told reporters after an Eagle Fighting Championship event (H/T RT Sport). “He won a fight and started acting differently. He was quiet when we had a fight scheduled. He got taken off the card, and I asked for a replacement, but the UFC said they’d give me a five-round main event then I quietly got on a plane to the U.S. without my team because I wanted that fight then I got sick, and he had a fight, and after that, he started talking differently.”
Originally, Makhachev and dos Anjos were scheduled to fight at UFC 254 last October, but dos Anjos was forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. The fight was then rescheduled for the next month, but this time, Islam Makhachev was forced to withdraw due to a staph infection.
With both men now coming off victories and the top names at 155 pounds mostly booked, Makhachev feels the UFC will again look to put him opposite dos Anjos.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the UFC matchmaking, but I think that’s what will end up happening,” Makhachev said. “Most of the top-10 fighters are busy, but I’m 90 percent sure they’ll give me a top-10 guy…
“We know that Felder doesn’t want to fight often. He has other things going on with the UFC and isn’t eager to fight anymore. As far as Hooker, I saw that he recently came home. He was quarantined for a long time, so I don’t think he’ll want to come back soon. He’ll probably want to rest after getting knocked out, so I think they’ll give me dos Anjos.”
And if that fight doesn’t come together for whatever reason, the Russian also has his eyes on another highly ranked lightweight that doesn’t currently have a fight booked.
“Yes, it’s possible. Justin [Gaethje] and I know each other, but it’s not like we’re friends,” Makhachev said. “It’s possible. He’s free right now. Why not? I’d love to fight him.”
Gaethje, a former interim champion, is currently ranked No. 2 in the division and is coming off a loss to Nurmagomedov.
Long Island-based sports writer covering MMA, Boxing, and the New York Jets.