What Now for Islam Makhachev?

December 29, 2023
2 months

Islam Makhachev, the reigning lightweight champion, sits atop of the UFC pound-for-pound rankings. Widely regarded as the top fighter in the world right now, what should the Dagestan fighter do next?

Keep the Lightweight Division on Lock

Could Islam Makhachev just continue on his current course and continue to dominate the UFC lightweight division? He’s on a hot 13-match winning streak and would welcome any challenger that Dana White pits him up against. Whether he wants to continue fighting in a rote-like process forever might be another story, but right now, he’s winning fights and getting paid well to do so.

Who else could he realistically challenge who he’s not already fought? Justin Gaethje is a very appealing name for him to fight against. That match would be MMA breaking news, for sure. Dustin Poirier is also a good shout, with another high ranking right now. Makhachev has already fought Arman Tsarukyan, but that was back in 2019. The Georgian-born Armenian forced Islam to go all five rounds back then and generally has been a much more improved fighter since that fight.

Wait for Charles Oliveira to Comeback From Injury

The second fight between Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski shouldn’t have happened. It was only by chance that the Australian was available to step in at late notice. Makhachev should have been fighting Charles Oliveira at UFC 294, but the Brazilian had to drop out due to injury.

The Russian appeared to be excited about the fight as he was publicizing a lot more than his other fights on his social media channels. While nobody was particularly disappointed with the fight they got, many still desired the original bout. Oliveira isn’t expected to be out for much longer and could be a credible opponent for Makhachev. Islam has said he’s not overly interested in a re-match, but this could just be smoke and mirrors to help bolster his position in the company.

That, of course, would rule out a third fight with Volkanovski. The first fight between those fighters was given multiple accolades as one of the best fights of the year, which fans would be more than happy to see again.

Try his hand at the PFL

The top fighter has pretty much mastered the UFC ranks. While new challengers will surely emerge with time, is this enough to keep Islam Makhachev around? The hot new promotion making all the noise on the MMA news websites is the Professional Fighters League.

The lightweight division in the PFL arguably needs a new face. Olivier Aubin-Mercier won it in both 2022 and 2023 but, after winning the latter, decided to retire from the sport. That leaves a spot open for a new fighter. The UFC champ would most certainly bolster the division quality as he would be a pre-season favorite to win the title. If he were to participate, that would set up key fights against Clay Collard, Bruno Miranda, and maybe even Natan Schulte, all of which would be exciting matches in the 2024 season.

Try to Claim Another Division Championship in the UFC

Potentially, the most obvious path for Islam Makhachev is to challenge for another championship. He’s only ever fought at lightweight before, but there’s scope for him to bulk up to welterweight or size down to featherweight. Of course, this would take time for him to do successfully and to be comfortable.

If he were to fit in the featherweight classification, he could have a trilogy series fight with Alexander Volkanovski. After all, the Australian has challenged Makhachev for his title twice, and it only seems fair that the Russian should get a chance at his title.

The other option would be to go up a division and see if he can be successful in the welterweight ranks. However, he might first have to prove himself at that weight rather than just go straight into a title fight against Leon Edwards. If he could get past Kamaru Usman and/or Colby Covington, then he could wangle a shot against the popular British fighter.

Take a Break from MMA or Even Retire

It’s not the situation that fight fans want to hear, but Islam Makhachev deserves a break. He’s been pretty much non-stop since March 2021, having fought seven fights. He’s proved in that time that he’s pretty much untouchable. Alexander Volkanovski forced him to go five rounds in their first match at the start of 2023. He could take some time out and enjoy life away from combat sports. Of course, he’d be welcome back to the UFC or elsewhere if he decides to come back.

His Instagram feed shows him enjoying his time off by traveling around, usually in outdoor spaces where he likes to be at one with nature, especially in mountainous settings. He could take some time out to enjoy the natural wonder around the world and reset. Or he could decide that after such a long period of dominance, he wants to completely step away from the sport. Lots of other champions have after reaching such a definable pinnacle of the sport as Amanda Nunes did. What does Islam Makhachev have left to prove?

Help Out with Eagles MMA

Khabib Nurmagomedov famously left the UFC and started his own MMA promotion, causing a stir in the MMA news sites, founding Eagles MMA with one of his business partners. Islam Makhachev is famously very close with Nurmagomedov, as the pair can often be seen training together or just hanging out. Surely, another option for Makhachev would be to help the promotion grow, whether that’s fighting on the cards or just using his status within the sport to help the project develop.

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