UFC 294 ended quickly with a head kick from Islam Makhachev to Alexander Volkanovski. Prior to that fight, Kamaru Usman put up a good effort, but couldn’t stop Khamzat Chimaev from earning the biggest win of his career. Makhachev and Chimaev put their dominance on display on Saturday, as did a number of rising prospects. Here’s what Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi are taking away from a dramatic event in Abu Dhabi.
There’s no longer room for any doubt: Islam Makhachev is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
On Saturday at UFC 294, Makhachev didn’t just beat Alexander Volkanovski to defend his UFC lightweight title. He stopped Volkanovski, the featherweight champ, with authority — a left kick upside the head that sent Volkanovski crashing to the canvas. Volkanovski had not been finished for 10 years, going back to his fourth career fight.
There is a caveat here, of course. Volkanovski came in on 11 days notice. Makhachev was already preparing to fight in Abu Dhabi against Charles Oliveira until Oliveira got a cut in training and was forced to withdraw. Was this the best version of Volkanovski? Of course not. But you also cannot discredit Makhachev, who was training to compete against a completely different style. Oliveira is a tall, lanky Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter who is dangerous with his Muay Thai. Volkanovski is a short, stocky all-arounder.
Furthermore, Makhachev already beat Volkanovski back in February at UFC 284. With a full camp for both. There’s no asterisk on that one. If you have Makhachev and Volkanovski at Nos. 1 and 2 pound-for-pound, as many do, Makhachev is now 2-0 in that series. It’s hard not to say the fighter from Dagestan is tops in the world right now.
The Jon Jones conversation is a different one, looking at him specifically as the current heavyweight champion. Jones has never truly lost in the Octagon and his résumé is better than anyone else’s in the history of the sport. There’s no doubt and no one is really even close. But right now, it’s hard to say what he’s doing is more impressive than Makhachev. If Jones goes out and steamrolls Stipe Miocic at UFC 295, we can revisit that conversation.
But what about the man who helped Makhachev get ready for this fight? Could he surpass the achievements of his dear friend and coach Khabib Nurmagomedov? Makhachev has 14 wins in the UFC, which is now one more than Nurmagomedov had. Further comparing, Nurmagomedov had three lightweight title defenses; this was only Makhachev’s second. And then, of course, there’s the fact that Nurmagomedov never lost and retired undefeated.
Makhachev tied Nurmagomedov’s 13-fight UFC winning streak Saturday. That’s the third longest mark in the history of the promotion. Only Anderson Silva (16) and Kamaru Usman (15) have had more. With another few wins, Makhachev will need to start being put in the conversation not only with Nurmagomedov, but among the greatest of all time.
But right now? Yeah, he’s the best in the world. — Raimondi
Who’s next? By Brett Okamoto
This is a tough one. Justin Gaethje is deserving of the shot, and he’s done nothing wrong. He fought who he needed to fight to put him back in this position. He accepted a fight against Rafael Fiziev, a guy no one really wanted to fight. He then knocked out Dustin Poirier in spectacular fashion. He deserves to fight for the belt, soon. But the problem is, Oliveira has done what was asked of him as well. He took out Beneil Dariush in July, and although it’s maybe his ‘fault’ he couldn’t make Abu Dhabi this month, I hate to see an opportunity lost due to an injury.
Oliveira has a win over Gaethje. I believe you probably should give the opportunity back to Oliveira, but this one is really tough.
Wild card: Justin Gaethje
It’s a fresh opponent for Makhachev, which I’m assuming he’d appreciate. It’s a good one for the fans. UFC can’t go wrong here. If they choose to go with Gaethje, it’s justified.
This was the plan, before Volkanovski took this fight on 11 days notice. Nothing changes, except for maybe the date it happens. But even that probably won’t change.
Volkanovski wants to be as active as possible. If he’s ready to go in January, the UFC will likely set him up against Topuria for the first pay-per-view of the year.
Wild card: Nobody
There’s not one, really. Topuria is the obvious and only title challenger to go with here. If something were to happen to Topuria they might even choose to just wait, depending on how long any delay would be. Volkanovski has been so good, he doesn’t have a ton of challenges left. Topuria is next, pretty much under any and all circumstances.
Let’s be real, Chimaev was ready to fight for a UFC championship three years ago. Has he had some growing pains occasionally? Yes. But we are looking at one of the most imposing fighters in the world, and he’s capable of beating anyone.
He’ll be a significant betting favorite against Strickland — and any other middleweight. If he can cut to welterweight ever again, he’d be a favorite to beat Leon Edwards as well. He’s talked about being a champion in three weight classes, and right now, no one can confidently say he’s not able to do that. Middleweight will be the one he goes for first.
Wild card: Paulo Costa
If for some reason a title shot didn’t happen, I would imagine the UFC would rebook Chimaev’s original fight against Costa. But I expect the title fight to happen.
What should be next for Kamaru Usman: Wait
If Covington wins, which is certainly possible, Usman holds two wins against him and just scored something of a moral victory against Chimaev. To compete like he did on 10 days notice against a monster like that, no one can say Usman doesn’t have plenty left if he wants to keep going.
What matchups make sense for him though? There aren’t a ton, if we’re being honest. So, wait. And hope Covington beats Edwards. Because if Covington is holding the belt, Usman might not even need another win to get a title shot. And that’s a shock, considering he’s now lost three in a row.
Who’s next for Said Nurmagomedov?: Chris Gutierrez
Nurmagomedov has been a little up and down thus far in the UFC. When he’s been good, his ceiling appears to be off the charts. When he’s struggled, it’s been hard to place him in the bantamweight division rankings. On the surface, he holds all the intangibles one would look for in a future champ, but he’s lost as a betting favorite twice, and had a very competitive fight against the good (but relatively unknown) Saidyokub Kakhramonov.
His most recent loss came against Martinez, who is a teammate of Gutierrez. I like this fight stylistically quite a bit, and it would be a chance for Nurmagomedov to somewhat avenge a loss against Gutierrez’s Factory X gym in Colorado.
Wild card: Kyler Phillips
There are plenty of good matchups out there for Nurmagomedov, as bantamweight is stacked at the top and has plenty of depth waiting even beyond the top 15. Phillips is 5-1 in the UFC, and the promotion actually booked this fight earlier this year in August and Nurmagomedov was forced to withdraw.
It made sense then and it makes sense now. Two of the best 135-pounders in the division who are currently not ranked inside the top 15.
Did Muhammad Mokaev gets his breakthrough moment?
The 23-year-old has shown an incredible amount of promise so far in the UFC. His wrestling is dominant and he’s been able to survive some very close submissions in his last few fights. The third-round submission (arm-triangle choke) finish of Elliott represents the biggest moment of his young career. The only thing next for him is a contender fight.
Mokaev called out top contender Kai Kara-France during his post-fight interview, then said he’d just take a title fight outright. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are some very good fighters at the top of the flyweight division and all have done more at this stage than Mokaev.
But the Dagestani-born Brit has earned a legitimate 125-pound fighter next, someone like Amir Albazi or a Matheus Nicolau. Eventually, Mokaev will run into someone he cannot completely bully with his wrestling. That day was not Saturday, but it won’t get any easier from here. We’ll see if he can rise to the occasion.
Shara Magomedov impresses in UFC debut
It was only his UFC debut, but Shara Magomedov already looks like a unique matchup for most middleweights in the promotion. He has a bevy of unorthodox kicks from different angles and did a lot of damage against Bruno Silva with a left kick from the orthodox stance to the outside of Silva’s lead leg, specifically his thigh. The popular leg kick attack in MMA these days is a roundhouse with the back leg to an opponent’s lead calf.
Magomedov seems like a different guy, in general. He’s from Dagestan, but also represents Shanghai, China. He has a grayed-out right eye due to issues with it following surgery. While he could use some better takedown defense, “Shara Bullet” is aggressive, fun to watch and clearly has great striking. He’s someone to keep an eye on in the 185-pound division. — Raimondi