ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Ever since Khabib Nurmagomedov retired from mixed martial arts two years ago as an undefeated champion, Islam Makhachev‘s reclaiming that lightweight title felt like a preordained moment. That moment came Saturday.
Makhachev (23-1) seized the UFC’s 155-pound championship by submitting Charles Oliveira (33-9) at UFC 280 inside Etihad Arena. The finish came at 3:16 of the second round, via arm triangle choke. Oliveira, who saw an 11-fight win streak snapped, tapped to the choke after he was dropped by a right hand.
The victory solidified what Nurmagomedov and Makhachev have long referred to as “Father’s Plan.” Nurmagomedov’s late father, Abdulmanap, who passed away in 2020 due to complications of COVID-19, always envisioned that Nurmagomedov would retire as champion and Makhachev would pick up where he left off.
“I just want to say, this is my belt for coach Abdulmanap,” Makhachev said. “Many years ago, he told me to train hard and you’re going to be champion.”
Makhachev, 31, attempted to give the belt to Nurmagomedov, who was in his corner and immediately lifted him into the air after the win.
In a way, the work has only begun for Makhachev. His next challenge is expected to be UFC featherweight champion and consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound champ Alex Volkanovski. Volkanovski (25-1) is coming off his fourth title defense in July and has announced his intent to move up in weight.
The champion vs. champion fight will almost certainly take place at UFC 284 in February. That pay-per-view event will take place Feb. 12 inside RAC Arena in Perth, Australia, Volkanovski’s home country.
Makhachev’s win mirrored many of his earlier victories in the UFC. He has a similar style to his legendary teammate and mentor, Nurmagomedov. His stifling ground game has dominated almost everyone he has fought, and it set the tone for this fight at UFC 280.
Oliveira was aggressive on the feet as usual, but every time the two were in close quarters Makhachev’s skill and physicality showed. He converted two of three takedown attempts and accumulated more than five minutes of control time in a fight that lasted only 8:16.
After dictating where the fight went in the first, Makhachev started to find success with his boxing in the second round. He dropped Oliveira with a short counter right hand and then immediately followed him to the floor — something very few of Oliveira’s previous opponents were willing to do, because of his submission threat.
For Makhachev, it’s his fifth consecutive win by submission, and the latest comes against the man with the most submission wins in UFC history.
“I always ask God why he always gives me more than what I ask,” Makhachev said. “I knew this wouldn’t be an easy fight. This guy always pushes.”