'Top 15... I'm ready!': Islam Makhachev wants top opposition after tricky test at UFC St Petersburg
Russian UFC lightweight prospect Islam Makhachev edged out dangerous debutant Arman Tsarukyan in a thrilling UFC St. Petersburg co-main event clash, then called for a shot at the division's best.
Makhachev and Tsarukyan engaged in a breathless back-and-forth battle at the Yubileyny Sports Palace, with UFC debutant Tsarukyan proving a much tougher test than many - including Makhachev himself - expected.
Tsarukyan came into the contest on a 12-fight win streak, but was considered a significant underdog against Makhachev, whose displays in the UFC so far have marked him out as a potential star of the future.
But the 22-year-old prospect from Khabarovsk proved to be the equal of his more well-known opponent as he pushed Makhachev all the way to the scorecards after a thrilling back-and-forth battle.
Armen Tsarukyan pushed him to the limit for three full rounds in a thrilling back-and-forth contest that went all the way to the scorecards.
Roared on by the St. Petersburg crowd and watched by Makhachev's teammate, UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, both men grappled back and forth in a fast-paced, exciting contest as the pair scrambled for position on the mat, and traded heavy strikes on the feet.
After a keenly-contested two and a half rounds, Makhachev finally took control as Tsarukyan started to show signs of fatigue in the final three minutes of the contest.
But Tsarukyan battled gamely to take the bout to the judges scorecards after a hugely impressive debut, but was unable to do enough to earn the win, with Makhachev taking the win with scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
After the bout, Makhachev paid tribute to his opponent, admitting he was somewhat surprised by the level of his opponent's grappling during the contest.
"I haven't fought the whole distance in a while, so that was a little unexpected, but I'm glad I got the victory," he told Dan Hardy after the fight.
"I was expecting I would have a bigger advantage on the ground, but he was a strong dude. He's only young, so he has a big future in the sport."
Then he made a short, but clear, call to the UFC's matchmakers as he staked his claim for a big matchup against one of the top lightweight contenders in his next fight.
"Anyone from the Top 15, I'm ready."