3 of the best Islam Makhachev performances

A look into UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev's best performances in the Octagon.
Islam Makhachev landing a head-kick on Charles Oliveira at UFC 280
Islam Makhachev landing a head-kick on Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 / Craig Kidwell-USA TODAY Sports

UFC 302 is just around the corner. The Newark, New Jersey card is set to be headlined by lightweights Islam Makhachev and Dustin Poirier. In what might probably be his last fight, Poirier will be facing arguably the toughest opponent in his MMA career. The marauding Makhachev is unbeaten in almost nine years, with a 13-fight win streak to boast. The lightweight champion has stepped up to the plate ever since teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov's early retirement, very well keeping "father's plan" alive.

With more devastating power than Nurmagomedov, Makhachev has hardly been given a difficult piece of the puzzle to solve by the lightweight division. That's how simple Makhachev has made even the most elite of opponents look. Making light work of the majority of fighters he is up against, Makhachev boasts a record of 25-1, with a staggering 64 percent finish rate. With his third title defense, his first against a real lightweight, fast approaching, here is a closer look at three of Makhachev's best performances in the UFC.

1. Versus Gleison Tibau

Riding a two-fight win streak, Makhachev took on the returning Gleison Tibau at UFC 220 in January 2018. Tibau had just finished serving a two-year suspension by the USADA. With Nurmagomedov in his corner, Makhachev started quite cautiously, hurling a few kicks which only landed partially. Tibau, for his part, didn't show much activity either. However, just 54 seconds into the first round, Makhachev expertly set up a probing right hand, before unleashing a massive left that sent Tibau crashing into the Octagon. He was out cold even before Makhachev hurried down to land two more left-hand strikes. Makhachev had earned the first knockout win of his UFC career.

In the post-fight interview, Makhachev, in English that was not as developed as how it is now, assertively expressed his desire to fight an opponent from the top 15, even as Rizvan Magomedov and Nurmagomedov looked on. He then went on to fight Kajan Johnson in July that year. It is worth noting that, it took Nurmagomedov the entire three rounds to see off Tibau via. unanimous decision, whereas Makhachev needed hardly a minute. It was only a sign of things to come.

2. Versus Charles Oliveira

It was October 2022; Makhachev and Charles Oliveira had built up massive fanbases for themselves. Both fighters, at the peak of their powers, were riding mighty double-digit win streaks. While Oliveira unlocked his full potential after his loss against Paul Felder, Makhachev never really looked back after being caught out by Adriano Martins in October 2015. Fighting for the vacant lightweight title, both fighters were off to a brisk start. The round began tilting in Makhachev's favor when Oliveira dragged him down to the mat to set up an unsuccessful triangle choke. Once Makhachev was able to get his head and arms out, the action shifted to the fence from where Oliveira was tossed to the ground. A perfectly executed takedown. Makhachev never let Oliveira get back up, occasionally pummeling him with vicious elbows, causing him to bleed. The first round ended in Makhachev's favor.

There wasn't much ground game in the second round, with the action mostly centered around the middle of the Octagon. At the three-minute mark, Oliveira found himself knocked down after being caught by a fierce right hook from Makhachev. Getting to the ground in no time, Makhachev sunk in a tight arm-triangle choke to get the win and eventually grab hold of the UFC lightweight title. He was greeted by a roar of chants from the Abu Dhabi crowd, with an equally ecstatic Khabib Nurmagomedov rushing in, to hug his protege.

3. Versus Alexander Volkanovski (the second time)

After putting up a certain Fight of the Year contender (which eventually came to be), the world waited with bated breath to witness Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski 2. Volkanovski, the then-featherweight champion had come very close to defeating Makhachev in the first fight, testing him to the fullest. Although the MMA world called for an immediate rematch between Makhachev and Volkanovski, the lightweight champion was initially booked to fight Charles Oliveira in a rematch at UFC 294, exactly a year after their first encounter. However, a couple of weeks before the fight, Oliveira pulled out due to an injury, and the ever-ready Volkanovski stepped in on short notice.

The high-stakes clash began with an exchange of several leg kicks. Makhachev came out a bit more successful in that exchange with a head kick partially landing. The lightweight champion then shot for a takedown which was stuffed quite expertly by Volkanovski. The action then shifted to the fence. Makhachev was able to inflict damage in the clinch as well, landing a few knees to the dome. Once they broke free, Volkanovski was struck by a fierce head-kick that sent him spiralling down to the ground. Makachev then rushed with a barrage of massive left hands, but the damage had already been done. Referee Marc Goddard waved off the fight, even as a bleeding Volkanovski was left thinking, 'What just happened?' Makhachev, who was doubted and critiqued by many after his first fight performance against Volkanovski, proceeded to shush the crowd implying who the real shot-caller was. This also marked the first time Volkanovski was ever finished in his UFC career.

Makhachev's resume boasts some of the most dangerous lightweight fighters to have ever lived, and he's only getting started. At only 32, the current lightweight champion might very well surpass even the legendary Khabib Nurmagomedov, if he keeps going at this pace.


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