Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev | Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
“When we see how much is going with Charles Oliveira, I don’t think he can do anything with Islam on the ground, and of course Islam is very good in stand up, too,” Nurmagomedov told ESPN. “Last couple years, people don’t even touch him. All these guys, they’re good strikers and they don’t even touch him. Islam dominated all of them and the last 11 months, Islam finished four opponents. Finished all of them. This is going to be fair if he fights with Charles for vacant title, because now there’s no champion in the lightweight division. Of course, Charles deserves this, but there is no champion.
“Why Islam have to fight for the contender fight if there is no champion? Let them fight, best versus best. There is only Islam and Charles, and every near is Beneil Dariush, but he has only seven [fight] win streak, and when the UFC gave him a chance, he got injured. Okay, if when you come back you want to fight with some top guy then fight for the title. Beneil has to fight contender fight and Islam has to fight for the title versus Charles Oliveira. This is my opinion and this is fair. 11 win streak versus 10 win streak. Let them fight…
“If they make Islam vs. Beneil Dariush in October, this is a contender fight,” Nurmagomedov continued. “They fight in October, they will need to rest for two months, and then in two more months they’ll become champ, that’s going to be … February or March. Who is going to be champion of the lightweight division? What’s Charles going to do? He’s going to wait until March? What are they going to do? I hear they want to make big show in Brazil in December, okay, December is a good date for Islam too.
“If they don’t want to come to Abu Dhabi to fight with Islam, OK. I hear Charles Oliveira’s coach say, ‘Come to Brazil.’ Okay, no problem. Send us location. We’re going to come to Brazil, Islam’s going to ride Charles Oliveira like his horse, we’re going to take this belt, and we’re going to show them if sambo was easy, it would be called jiu-jitsu, and we’re going to go home with the UFC lightweight belt.”
Oliveira was set to defend his his lightweight title against Justin Gaethje at UFC 274, but after failing to make the 155-pound weight limit, he was stripped of the belt. “Do Bronx” went on to defeat Gaethje at UFC 274 and has been guaranteed to fight for the vacant belt next, but his opponent has not yet been determined.
Oliveira has called for a fight with Conor McGregor, but there is a growing amount of support for Makhachev to face Oliveira, especially because some fans believe that should Oliveira beat him, that could coax Nurmagomedov out of retirement.
The lightweight GOAT retired from the sport in 2020, following his win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254, citing the death of his father as his primary reason for stepping away. But while the storyline would write itself, Nurmagomedov remains adamant that his time in the sport is over and now is the time for Oliveira and Makhachev.
“If Charles beats Islam, then we have to give him credit,” Nurmagomedov said. “Then he’s going to be undisputed UFC lightweight champion. Right now, I believe he’s champion… right now, he deserves to be champion. He’s doing a very good job, but he’s not undisputed. When I finished, I was undisputed. I fight with Conor, I fight with interim champ Dustin Poirier, I fight with interim champ Justin Gaethje… These guys were in different time, in different prime, not like when now they fight versus Charles Oliveira. It was one and a half to two years ago, and when I finished, I was undisputed. Like he said, ‘We have champion, his name is Charles Oliveira.’ I agree with him, but he’s not undisputed.
“But if he beats Islam, of course I’m going to feel bad, but it’s no way people can talk about, ‘Khabib’s going to come back.’ Leave me alone. Let these guys fight. This is different time, different fighters, now they’re prime time, and we have to understand who is the best lightweight in the world right now, between Charles and Islam Makhachev.”