EXCLUSIVE | 'I used my striking game': Islam Makhachev recalls 'hard sparring' with Khabib Nurmagomedov
- Makhachev has an impressive record of 18 wins and only one loss and is a former teammate of retired lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Islam Makhachev (18-1) is making his return to the Octagon after more than a year. He was booked to fight Rafael dos Anjos in 2020 but the Brazilian MMA legend had to pull out due to Covid-19. The fight was booked again but this time, Islam could not make it to the Octagon due to a staph infection. But finally, the much-talked-about fighter from Russia is coming back to the UFC arena.
Makhachev has an impressive record of 18 wins and only one loss and is a former teammate of retired lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. He has been talked highly by his peers as the likes of former heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, celebrated MMA coach Javier Mendez and Khabib feel that he could be the next UFC champion.
Ahead of his fight at UFC 259 against Drew Dober ((23-9(1)), Makhachev talked to Hindustan Times' Yash Bhati about his plans for 2021 and his sparring matches with Khabib.
Q) You are fighting Drew Dober at UFC 259, what do you expect from the fight. Do you think you will be able to dominate him or do you expect a close contest?
Makhachev: Drew is a tough opponent. He's not now in the top rankings, but he's really tough. Everybody knows he has good striking, a hard punch. I don't think so much about him, I have to show him what I have. I have fought guys like him before. But I know I have more than him. I will finish him quickly.
Q) Several experts have talked about Octagon rust developing after a long layoff. Islam you haven’t fought in the UFC since 2019, do you think you could also have some Octagon rust?
Makhachev: You know, I'm very excited for my come back because it's been one and a half years. Almost four fights were canceled. So I'm excited for my come back.
Q) Are there any goals you have set for yourself in 2021?
Makhachev: My goal is to take the belt this year, and go home.
Q) Javier Mendez stated you are the only one to have win rounds against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Can you describe how those rounds shaped up like what are the things you did during those rounds to dominate a champion fighter like Khabib?
Makhachev: I had hard sparring with Khabib all the time. We sparred a lot. I used my striking game because he is very good at wrestling and grappling. But his striking is good, too. I think we have almost the same striking, that's why I use more. Now I'm happy because he retired, so there's no more sparring. Just a little bit, sometimes, but it's not so hard now.
Q) Even Khabib has stated that you could be the next lightweight champion. What is the influence that Khabib has had on your career?
Makhachev: My wrestling improved a lot. I improved more when I worked with him.
Q) Is there an opponent you would like to face in your next fight?
Makhachev: I don't know about what UFC wants, but I think Rafael Dos Anjos and Tony Ferguson will be good for me.
Q) Talking about the lightweight division. Who do you think is the toughest challenger in the division barring you and the now-retired Khabib.
Makhachev: Everybody in the top five is tough. Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, Charles Oliveira now, he's really good now.
(Watch UFC 259 – Blachowicz vs Adesanya on March 7, 2021, LIVE on Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 3 channels from 8:30 AM IST)