The Rise of Islam Makhachev

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Issue 14, Volume 112

By Nakib Abedin 

Though many describe him as a good-natured man, Islam Makhachev is a ruthless monster inside of the cage. He overwhelms his opponents with his world-class wrestling and relentless cardio. After his most recent win against Bobby Green on February 26, Makhachev is expected to challenge for the title. Fans alike have acknowledged his immaculate skill, but many fail to recognize that his success stems from a humble background.

Makhachev was born on October 27, 1991 in Dagestan, Russia. This region has a rich history of warriors, the most notable of which was mixed martial artist Khabib Nurmagomedov. Makhachev has been a life-long friend and training partner of Nurmagomedov and received mentorship from Khabib’s father, the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. Makhachev learned wrestling from a very early age, which has become an essential component of his fight game. Fighting was all he did, as Dagestan was a region that was very secluded from the rest of Russian society. There weren’t many activities to partake in other than sports and wrestling. Makhachev and Nurmagomedov not only wrestled each other, but also fought against wild animals such as bears. Thus, it is no surprise that they seem to overwhelm revered wrestlers with ease.

Makhachev competed in combat sambo, a type of martial art that is used by the Russian military, and became the world champion in 2016. At the same time, Makhachev was on an amazing streak of 12 wins in Mixed Martial Arts until Adriano Martins ended his incredible run. Many thought that this would be the end of an “overhyped prospect,” but Makhachev showed that he is truly of an elite caliber by going on another streak of ten wins, becoming the favorite to challenge for the title.

Though Makhachev is yet to fight anyone inside of the top five, his fighting skill is obvious to any viewer. He defeated each of his last four opponents, with the last two of his victories coming inside of the first round. Many people have drawn parallels between Khabib and Makhachev, comparing their similar styles of wrestling. However, this comparison is not fair to Makhachev, whose striking is a lot more advanced than Khabib’s. Makhachev’s punches are a lot more fluid and his movement is less stiff. When Khabib was in the UFC, he relied on his incredible durability to overwhelm his opponents. Makhachev’s chin is not as strong, which is displayed in his loss against Martins; all it took was one clean strike from Martins to drop Makhachev. To make up for this, Makhachev developed his striking fundamentals to the point where he could hold his own against opponents such as Bobby Green and Dan Hooker, who were feared strikers in the division.

In many ways, Makhachev has even more potential than Nurmagomedov, and in his next few fights, UFC fans will see if he lives up to the hype. He is already one of the most feared fighters in the division, and many opponents are unwilling to fight against him because of his adept skills. Perhaps Daniel Cormier, a former two-division UFC champion, put it best when he described Makhachev as “special.” After 12 consecutive victories, it is inevitable that he will soon fight for the Lightweight title. However, the end goal for Makhachev is not just the title. Rather, he is trying to become one of the all-time greats. “There [are] fighters, there [are] champions and there is elite. My opinion is like Islam is elite in UFC right now,” said Nurmagomedov. With Makhachev only just reaching the prime years of fighting, he hopes to transcend his status as an elite fighter to stand alongside the likes of George Saint-Pierre and Jon Jones in the GOAT debate.