Russia's Islam Makhachev, above, works against Dustin Poirier during the first round of a lightweight title bout at the UFC 302 mixed martial arts even early Sunday, June 2, 2024, in Newark, N.J. Makhachev won the bout. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Islam Makhachev’s next opponent? — 3 possible options

Islam Makhachev defeated Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 302 last night. With his fifth round D’Arce choke sealing the deal, eyes immediately looked ahead to the next fight for the UFC’s pound for pound king. Here are the top three options for Makhachev going forward.

The Superfight: Islam Makhachev vs. Leon Edwards

After missing out on Anderson Silva vs. Geroges St-Pierre, I will call for as many champ versus champ fights as makes sense. Islam Makhachev vs. Leon Edwards makes sense. Leon Edwards is currently scheduled to take on Belal Muhammad at UFC 304 in two months time. He’s beat the former pound for pound number one fighter in Kamaru Usman, twice, and Colby Covington in his last outing. Should he get past Muhammad, everything should be put into Leon Edwards vs. Islam Makhachev at 170.

Leon Edwards is a staunch anti-wrestler in a division full of grapplers. Seeing him take on the Dagestani dynasty and giving Islam Makhachev the opportunity to fight for a second belt, something his predecessor Khabib Nurmagomedov never did, would let Islam Makhachev out from Khabib’s shadow. Makhachev is currently number one in the pound for pound rankings. Leon Edwards is number three. Much like the Makhachev-Volkanovski fight, this one is among the best fights the UFC can make.

The lightweight option: Arman Tsarukyan

If the timeline doesn’t work out, say Edwards gets a little beat up against Muhammad, Makhachev would likely have to stay at lightweight. I don’t see him fighting for anything less than the 170 title. This would call for Arman Tsarukyan to be the next in line for the title shot. Islam Makhachev and Tsarukyan fought way back in 2019 when Tsarukyan stepped in on short notice for Francisco Trinaldo. Makhachev won that fight but it was not easy.

Since that loss, Makhachev has gone on a tear beating names like Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Matt Frevola, and suffering a close loss to Mateusz Gamrot. In his last two fights, however, Tsarukyan has had his best wins by beating Beneil Dariush and Charles Oliveira. This has put him as the number one contender in the lightweight division and the obvious next choice for Islam Makhachev.

The long shot: Mateusz Gamrot

Mateusz Gamrot is an odd pick for Islam Makhachev. He’s had his ups and downs, suffering some tough losses to fighters like Beneil Dariush and Guam Kutateladze. But he’s also got that aforementioned win over Tsarukyan. After his Dariush loss, however Gamrot has won three straight. Jalin Turner, Rafael Fiziev and Rafael Dos Anjos have all been beaten by Gamrot giving him his current win streak.

Gamrot would get the Makhachev fight by process of elimination. Tsarukyan would have to pass on the fight for some reason or another. Makhachev also already has a win over him and over second ranked Charles Oliveira. Oliveira is also coming off of a loss as is Justin Gaethje, the third ranked option. Dustin Poirier just lost and is likely to fall out of his fourth ranked spot which leaves Mateusz Gamrot.

Gamrot is an ADCC European champion with a great grappling pedigree but a spotty record. It could be a fun match, it could suck. Tsarukyan is preferred, but Gamrot could be a viable alternative.

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Blaine Henry
Your friendly neighborhood fight fan. I watch way too many fights and my wife lets me know it.