UFC 294 What Comes Next: Makhachev Settles the Pound-for-Pound Debate

UFC 294 What Comes Next: Makhachev Settles the Pound-for-Pound Debate

UFC 294 concluded swiftly with a head kick from Islam Makhachev, which sealed the victory against Alexander Volkanovski. Before that intense fight, Kamaru Usman showed a strong performance but couldn’t prevent Khamzat Chimaev from securing the most significant win of his career. Makhachev and Chimaev demonstrated their dominance on Saturday, alongside several up-and-coming prospects. Here’s what Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi are highlighting from this action-packed event in Abu Dhabi.

There’s absolutely no room left for doubt: Islam Makhachev has solidified himself as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

At UFC 294 this past Saturday, Makhachev didn’t simply defeat Alexander Volkanovski to defend his UFC lightweight title; he did it with remarkable authority. A powerful left kick to the head sent Volkanovski crashing to the canvas, marking the first time he had been finished in a decade, dating back to his fourth career fight.

There is a caveat to consider here, though. Volkanovski stepped in on just 11 days’ notice, while Makhachev had been preparing to face Charles Oliveira in Abu Dhabi until Oliveira suffered a training injury and had to withdraw. Naturally, this wasn’t the best version of Volkanovski. However, it’s also essential to give credit to Makhachev, who had been training for a completely different style of opponent. Oliveira, a tall, lanky Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, is dangerous with his Muay Thai, whereas Volkanovski is a short, stocky all-around fighter.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Makhachev had already defeated Volkanovski back in February at UFC 284, and that bout had a full camp for both fighters. There’s no asterisk attached to that victory. If you rank Makhachev and Volkanovski as the top two pound-for-pound fighters, as many do, Makhachev is now 2-0 in their series. It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to acknowledge the fighter from Dagestan as the best in the world right now.

UFC 294 What Comes Next: Makhachev Settles the Pound-for-Pound Debate

When it comes to Jon Jones, it’s a separate discussion, especially when looking at him as the current heavyweight champion. Jones has never suffered a true loss in the Octagon, and his resume stands as one of the best in the history of the sport. There’s no doubt that he’s in a league of his own, but right now, it’s challenging to argue that what he’s doing is more impressive than what Makhachev has achieved. If Jones goes on to dominate Stipe Miocic at UFC 295, we can reconsider that conversation.

But what about the man who played a pivotal role in Makhachev’s preparation for this fight? Could Makhachev surpass the accomplishments of his dear friend and coach, Khabib Nurmagomedov? Makhachev now has 14 wins in the UFC, one more than Nurmagomedov had. Additionally, when comparing their lightweight title defenses, Nurmagomedov had three, while this was only Makhachev’s second. Furthermore, Nurmagomedov retired undefeated, having never experienced a loss.

Makhachev’s 13-fight winning streak in the UFC ties Nurmagomedov’s record, which stands as the third-longest in the history of the promotion. Only Anderson Silva (16) and Kamaru Usman (15) have achieved longer streaks. With a few more victories, Makhachev will undoubtedly need to be included in conversations not only alongside Nurmagomedov but also among the all-time greats of the sport.

Who’s next ?: This is a challenging decision. Justin Gaethje is undoubtedly deserving of the title shot, and he has done everything right to earn it. He faced tough opponents, including accepting a fight against Rafael Fiziev, a fighter many were reluctant to take on. Gaethje then delivered a spectacular knockout against Dustin Poirier, solidifying his claim for a title shot in the near future.

On the other hand, Charles Oliveira has also met the expectations set for him. He secured a victory against Beneil Dariush in July. Although it’s not his fault that he couldn’t compete in Abu Dhabi this month due to an injury, it’s unfortunate to see an opportunity slip away.

Adding to the complexity, Oliveira holds a win over Gaethje. Given these circumstances, one might argue that the title shot should be given back to Oliveira, but making this decision is undeniably tough.

A fresh opponent for Makhachev would likely be welcomed by him, and it’s an exciting matchup for the fans. Either choice by the UFC, whether it’s Gaethje or Makhachev, would be justified.

As for the next opponent for featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, Ilia Topuria could be a compelling choice.

The initial plan was to have this matchup, even before Volkanovski accepted the fight on just 11 days’ notice. Essentially, nothing has changed in terms of the intended fight, except for the possibility of a different date. However, even that might not see significant alterations.

Volkanovski has expressed his desire to stay as active as possible. If he’s prepared to return to the Octagon in January, it’s probable that the UFC will schedule him to face Topuria on the first pay-per-view event of the year.

There’s really no alternative or other choice at this point. Ilia Topuria is the clear and only suitable title challenger in this situation. If, for any reason, something were to happen that prevents Topuria from taking the fight, they might opt to wait for his return, depending on the expected delay. Volkanovski has been incredibly dominant, and there aren’t many significant challenges left for him. So, under almost all circumstances, Topuria is the next in line for the title shot.

The next logical choice for Khamzat Chimaev should be Sean Strickland, and it should be for the UFC middleweight title.

Let’s face it, Chimaev has been ready to contend for a UFC championship for the past three years. While he has encountered occasional challenges, there’s no denying that he’s one of the most intimidating fighters in the world, fully capable of defeating anyone in his path.

Against Strickland, Chimaev would likely be a significant betting favorite – and that would probably hold true against any other middleweight contender. If he can make the cut to welterweight again, he’d be a favorite to take on Leon Edwards as well. Chimaev has expressed his aspirations of becoming a champion in three weight classes, and at this point, it’s difficult for anyone to confidently claim he can’t achieve that. Middleweight is likely where he will make his first championship bid.

UFC 294 What Comes Next: Makhachev Settles the Pound-for-Pound Debate

As a wildcard option, if for some reason a title shot didn’t materialize, the UFC might consider rebooking Chimaev’s originally planned fight against Paulo Costa. However, the more likely scenario is that the title fight will come to fruition.

The next move for Kamaru Usman should hinge on the outcome of the Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington fight scheduled for December.

If Covington emerges as the victor, which is certainly a possibility, it would significantly strengthen Usman’s position. With two victories over Covington and his recent impressive performance against Khamzat Chimaev on just 10 days’ notice, it’s clear that Usman has plenty left in the tank if he decides to continue competing.

In terms of logical matchups for Usman, there aren’t many options, to be honest. So, the best course of action might be to wait and see what transpires in the Edwards vs. Covington bout. If Covington holds the belt, Usman might not even need another win to earn another title shot. It’s a surprising turn of events, especially considering he’s currently on a three-fight losing streak.

Said Nurmagomedov’s next opponent should be Chris Gutierrez. Nurmagomedov’s UFC journey has had its ups and downs, with moments of great promise. However, he’s faced setbacks, including two losses as a betting favorite and a competitive fight against Saidyokub Kakhramonov. His recent loss was to Gutierrez’s teammate, Martinez. Stylistically, a matchup with Gutierrez would make sense, and it offers Nurmagomedov a chance to somewhat avenge his loss against Gutierrez’s Factory X gym in Colorado.

A wildcard option could be Kyler Phillips. Phillips holds a 5-1 record in the UFC, and a previously scheduled fight between him and Nurmagomedov had to be canceled earlier this year. Both fighters are among the best in the 135-pound division and are currently not ranked inside the top 15.

As for Muhammad Mokaev, his recent victory over Tim Elliott signifies a breakthrough moment. To continue his rise, Mokaev may consider facing a legitimate 125-pound contender next, such as Amir Albazi or Matheus Nicolau. Although Mokaev has displayed dominant wrestling, he will eventually encounter tougher opponents who can challenge his style. His callout of top contender Kai Kara-France shows his ambition, but he’ll need to work his way up to a title shot.

In Shara Magomedov’s UFC debut, he showcased a unique and intriguing style that could pose challenges for many middleweights in the promotion. His unorthodox kicks and striking were notably effective, and he inflicted damage on Bruno Silva with a left kick to the thigh. While Magomedov has areas to improve, such as takedown defense, he presents an aggressive and entertaining style. He’s someone to keep an eye on in the middleweight division.

 

 

 

(Source : ESPN)