“Present the World” – Khabib Nurmagomedov challenges Islam Makhachev forward of the primary main UFC occasion

LAS VEGAS – Khabib Nurmagomedov’s late father, Abdulmanap, had a plan for the end of his son’s career. Abdulmanap wanted Khabib to retire with a 30-0 record, which is well known in the MMA world, but what is less known is that Abdulmanap’s plan also included Islam Makhachev.

When Nurmagomedov abruptly withdrew from the sport after successfully defending his title in October, which increased his record to 29-0, it was surprising for several reasons. One is that at 32 he was in the prime of his career. But it was also surprising because of the 30-0 goal of Abdulmanap, who died in July 2020.

Islam Makhachev, a student of Khabib Nurmagomedov, will meet Thiago Moises in his first UFC main event. In the Co-Main, Miesha Tate fights against Marion Reneau for the first time since November 2016.

UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs. Moises
Saturday, UFC Apex, Las Vegas
• Main card: 10:00 PM ET on ESPN / ESPN +
• Preliminary Round: 7:00 PM ET on ESPN / ESPN +

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However, according to Nurmagomedov, the final number of his victories was not the crucial part of Abdulmanap’s plan. The main goal for Nurmagomedov was to retire, vacate his title and replace his longtime friend, teammate and native of Dagestan Makhachev as his successor.

“He told me, ‘When you’re done, Islam must come,'” said Nurmagomedov, who retired after promising his mother that he would only have one fight without Abdulmanap in his corner. “‘You finish, Islam must come at the same time because there are three years between you.

“I told Islam, ‘You’re a little late, brother. You’re only in the top 10. You should be in the top 3.’ This guy’s too late. “

After finishing Drew Dober in March, Islam Makhachev was hoping for a top 10 opponent. He won’t get Moises this Saturday against Thiago, but it will be Makhachev’s first main event. Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC

Maybe – but if Makhachev (19-1) is late, it’s not much. The 29-year-old is ranked 8th by ESPN and 9th by UFC, and Saturday’s Fight Night card will mark his first main event when he takes on Thiago Moises (15-4). A win would extend his winning streak to eight and almost certainly get him a top 10 opponent on his next appearance. Makhachev put the dangerous Drew Dober in the third round of his last fight on March 6th.

“After my last fight, I thought [the UFC] wanted to give me a fighter in the top 5 or top 10 but they told me I would have to wait until November or maybe December, “said Makhachev.” I have to fight every three or four months. I told them, ‘It doesn’t matter who, just give me an opponent.’

“All these guys are hiding. Nobody wants hard fights. … They know that I will defeat them, hold on to them and make them tired. It will be an uphill battle for all of them. “

Because as popular and mainstream as Nurmagomedov was – and still is – Makhachev has largely flown under the radar. He’s been with the UFC since 2015 and has amassed a strong social media following – nearly 3 million Instagram followers – but has never headlined a single UFC event poster.

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Behind the scenes, however, Makhachev’s team has seen him as Nurmagomedov’s eventual successor for years. He has been training with Nurmagomedov since they were kids in Dagestan. He is a former master of the Russian martial art sambo and was trained in Abdulmanap’s system.

“I met these guys in 2014,” said Ali Abdelaziz, manager of Nurmagomedov and Makhachev. “I immediately felt that it was a different kind of love for Islam than Abdulmanap because he listens all the time and is disciplined. And if you are not disciplined with Abdulmanap, he will crush you. I think Islam is calm “He’s not a big trash talker, he’s not a showman … but he was born to be a champion.”

For Makhachev and his team, that championship moment could come in the first half of 2022. He will try to impress as a big betting favorite on Saturday and then plans to proclaim former champion Rafael dos Anjos or former interim champion Tony Ferguson.

“Honestly, I think I have two more steps,” said Makhachev. “Dos Anjos and maybe another guy. They have to give me the title fight in early 2022. A lot of people have told me for a long time that I have to be champion. I’m just going to train hard and one day I’ll be” I’ll be champion. “

Nurmagomedov, center, poses with Makhachev and his team after their victory in March. Nurmagomedov will be back in Makhachev’s corner on Saturday. Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC / Getty Images

There was a moment on September 7, 2019 when Nurmagomedov and Makhachev fought at UFC 242 that same night. Makhachev defeated Davi Ramos in a dominant unanimous decision. Nurmagomedov united his 155 pound championship against then interim champion Dustin Poirier in the main event.

At the post-fight press conference, when Makhachev answered questions from the media, Nurmagomedov put his championship belt in front of Makhachev and said, “Future champion”. Abdulmanap was present. It was a symbolic move by Nurmagomedov – not an official handover of the belt, but a statement that it was only a matter of time.

“You have to prove yourself this Saturday,” said Nurmagomedov. “Show the world who Islam Makhachev is. Not just Khabib’s brother. No. He has to be his own. Islam Makhachev. The best in the world. Eight-fight winning streak. He beat everyone.

“This guy doesn’t have to fight for the title because he’s my brother or friend or anything. [Because] he is very good.”

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