LAS VEGAS – Islam Makhachev sees a clear path to an opportunity to challenge for the UFC’s lightweight title, but he knows he’s got to deliver on a few key objectives to make it a reality.
First up, Makhachev (21-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) knows he’s got to pick up a win over late replacement Bobby Green (29-12-1 MMA, 10-7-1 UFC) in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 202 headliner at the UFC Apex. If the performance is impressive enough in what would be his 10th consecutive win, Makhachev thinks he’ll be facing current champ Charles Oliveira later this year.
“Of course, because it’s going to be my 10-fight win streak, and I really believe this is key for the title fight,” Makhachev told MMA Junkie at Wednesday’s media day. “I think Oliveira is going to beat Justin Gaethje, and (it will be) 11 winning streak vs. 10 win streak. This is going to be a big fight for all my fans.”
It’s a scenario that could certainly come to fruition. Makhachev is currently ranked No. 6 in the latest USA TODAY Sports lightweight rankings, and his nearly unbeaten career record speaks for itself. His ties to former lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov aren’t exactly a hindrance to his career progress, either.
But that all comes later. First up is Green, a slick striker with solid defensive wrestling who fought just two weeks ago but stepped up to fill a void left by an injured Beneil Dariush.
Makhachev knows he’s got to focus on the task at hand.
“This guy, you know, he has a big heart because he took this fight before one week, and he has a good boxing style,” Makhachev said. “About wrestling and grappling, we will check.”
It’s no secret what Makhachev will look to do in the fight. As he has throughout his UFC run, the Russian mauler will certainly be looking to utilize a grappling-heavy approach. Makhachev said his singular focus in fighting made the change to a different opponent on short notice a rather easy adjustment.
“I have always the same plan: takedown, make them tired, and finish him there,” Makhachev said. “Same plan I have with Bobby, too.”
If there’s been any criticism of Makhachev’s abilities in his rise up the UFC ranks, it’s that his style might not be the most electrifying in the sport, making him perhaps a tough sell to casual fans. Meanwhile, Green’s tendency to talk a little trash to his opponents in the cage has made him one of the most beloved athletes in the UFC. But Makhachev said there might be a little role reversal on Saturday.
“We’re going to talk inside the cage,” Makhachev said. “I’m going to take him down and tell him, ‘Hey, let’s go. Get up.’
“He’s going to talk with me when we’re beginning, striking, but when I’m going to take him down, I’m going to ask him a couple questions.”
A little something for the highlight reel could certainly help Makhachev solidify his claim for a title shot and maybe capture Oliveira’s attention, as well. Makhachev seems to be aware of exactly what’s needed, and he’s planning on delivering it.
“I have to finish Bobby Green, first round, and I will do it,” Makhachev said.
To see the full interview with Makhachev, check out the video above.
Islam Makhachev def. Dan Hooker at UFC 267: Best photos
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