Islam Makhachev certainly isn’t easing himself into life as the undisputed UFC lightweight champion. Rather than contenting himself with a title defense against a top 155-pound contender, the newly-crowned champion has bigger goals in his sights.
Makhachev will welcome the challenge of the UFC’s pound-for-pound number-one fighter and current UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski in the main event of UFC 284 in Perth, Australia.
And the softly-spoken 31-year-old from Makhachkala knows that he’s the man taking all the risks as he prepares to put his title on the line for the first time this weekend.
“If I just defend my belt? Someone like, I don’t know, who is next there, but it’s not same, you know?” he said of his first title defense.
“If I beat Volkanovski I’m gonna be pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. This is my dream. That’s why we call Alex.”
Makhachev was in relaxed mood as he fielded questions from the press at UFC 284 media day in Perth. The champion, who was long considered the heir-apparent to his friend and teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov as he made his way up the lightweight ladder, now stands at the 155-pound summit, and is relishing the opportunity to face the only man ranked above him in the UFC’s pound-for-pound list.
“I believe he’s the best fighter in the world right now in the rankings, of course,” he said.
“But I know I’m the best fighter, best MMA fighter, because I have all skills – striking, wrestling, and grappling. I’m the best MMA fighter, I believe.”
Makhachev is still getting used to life as the top dog at 155 pounds. Previously, the Russian was the lightweight nobody wanted to fight in. Now, with the undisputed title in his possession, the man everyone seemed to avoid is attracting the attention of the rest of the division.
And he’s very aware of the risks he’s taking compared to his opponent, who is stepping up to challenge for a title in the knowledge that he’ll still be featherweight champion, regardless of the outcome on fight night.
“You know, the game changed when I take that belt,” said Makhachev.
“Now the fighters all know my name, you know? Before they tried to avoid me. But for (Volkanovski), you know, it’s a good fight.
“What’s he gonna lose? The belt? Nothing. He can just come to the fight (and) make money. But after that fight, he can step (back to) his division and be there like a champion. He’s not losing much on this fight.”
Makhachev’s predominant skillset is well known heading into the bout, with his smothering, suffocating top game proving to be a weapon the UFC’s top lightweights have been unable to disarm.
But, despite his wrestling and grappling chops, Makhachev is looking to showcase the less-heralded part of his arsenal, his striking, against Volkanovski.
“My goal, I want to knock him down, knock him out, because I have everything (in my ability) for that,” he said.
“I said before the (last) fight all week, and I said to the media, I want to choke (Charles) Oliveira, because he has most finishes in the UFC, and I did. (It’s the) same goal here. I want to knock (Volkanovski) out.”
The event could catapult Makhachev to UFC superstardom. Victory would elevate him to the top of the UFC’s pound-for-pound list and put one of the promotion’s best fighters on his victim list.
But, more important than his wins inside the cage, Makhachev wants his career to serve as an example to the next generation of how you can succeed by doing things the right way.
“Not just the best fighter. Not just champion. Like, (as) a person,” he said.
“Never do something bad, always follow the rules. Religion, program. I’ve never drank or do this bad stuff, never smoke. When the kids look at me like a fighter I want them to know that he’s not just the best fighter, he’s a good person.”