Russian star Makhachev wins UFC lightweight title
Islam Makhachev has become Russia’s latest UFC champion after defeating Brazilian rival Charles Oliveira in the second round of their lightweight title fight in Abu Dhabi.
With Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner, Makhachev emulated his friend and mentor by capturing the title once owned by his fellow Dagestani.
Makhachev, 31, has now written his own passage of UFC history, dominating Oliveira before securing a submission win three minutes and 16 seconds into the second round at the Etihad Arena.
Competing in the biggest fight of his career, Makhachev had faced questions over how he would handle the pressure against Oliveira – a former champion and more experienced rival who has ripped through much of the UFC’s lightweight elite in recent years.
But – just as Nurmagomedov had predicted – Makhachev shone under the bright lights in the main event on Saturday night.
The Russian dominated from top position in the first round of the contest, before rocking Oliveira with a right hand to drop him to the mat midway through the second round.
From there, Makhachev worked in an arm-triangle choke as Oliveira tapped – bringing an end to the Brazilian’s five-year unbeaten run in the UFC and ushering in Makhachev’s reign as lightweight ruler.
Jubilant scenes broke out in the octagon as Khabib raised Makhachev on his shoulders, completing a journey that he had foretold along with his late father and trainer Abdulmanap – who had tipped Makhachev to follow his son as UFC lightweight champion.
Khabib’s retirement in 2020 paved the way for that to come to fruition, but there is no mistake that Makhachev’s success is well-deserved and of his own merit.
He proved that against Oliveira – the man who succeeded Khabib by winning the vacant lightweight title against Michael Chandler in May of 2021 before defending it against Dustin Poirier later that year.
Oliveira would lose his title on the scales before beating Justin Gaethje in May of this year, but the Sao Paulo fighter had proclaimed himself the rightful ruler of the 155lbs ranks before his meeting with Makhachev for the vacant crown.
The Russian proved otherwise as Makhachev extended his unbeaten run to 11 fights, and he has still tasted defeat just once in his 24-fight career – more than half a decade ago.
With Khabib and respected American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) coach Javier Mendez in his corner, Makhachev paraded his title to the Abu Dhabi audience, where Russian social media sensation Hasbulla Magomedov has also been among the main attractions this week.
“I trained so hard for this moment,” Makhachev said of his title success.
“I want to say thank you. I always think this is not going to be an easy fight. He always pushes opponents but I know he’s going to be scared of my wrestling skills. I said this is my goal and Allah gave me [success].
“My belt is for my coach for Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. He said training hard and you’re going to be champion. [Khabib’s] father made me.”
UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski soon stepped into the octagon to signal his intentions for the next crack at Makhachev, in a potential blockbuster bout to start the Russian’s title defense in 2023.
But that is very much a question for the future, while Makhachev and his team will surely want to savor the moment as they fulfilled a dream for many in attendance in Abu Dhabi – and a multitude of others watching on from elsewhere.
Thoughts will also be spared for the defeated Oliveira, 33, who has propelled himself in recent years from among a crowd of lightweight contenders to become the holder of a host of UFC records and a promotion champion.
Many, however, will feel that his time has now passed, such was the decisive nature of Makhachev’s victory.