Dana White: This is how Islam Makhachev can surpass Khabib’s UFC legacy

Islam Makhachev reigned supreme at UFC 294

UFC 294 had it all. Fights in the crowd, bizarre officiating, infected nether regions, and—of course—a dominant victory for Islam Makhachev, who defended his UFC lightweight title with a headkick KO over Alexander Volkanovski.

In defeating Volkanovski for a second time, Makhachev continued to show he is one of, of not the, best mixed martial artists on the planet right now. The victory, which followed a close, albeit unanimous decision, over Volkanovski in February, stretches Makhachev’s current win streak to 13 fights and grows his record to 25-1, the only blemish begin a shock KO loss to Adriano Martins in 2015.

Makhachev’s lightweight run started after he beat Charles Oliveira in 2022. Oliveira captured the title after Makhachev’s friend, teammate and mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov retired from competition in 2020.

Dana White thinks Makhachev can surpass Khabib Nurmagomedov

At his UFC 294 post-fight press conference UFC CEO Dana White spoke about his lightweight champion, in detail.

White was also asked if he thinks Makhachev’s performance in Abu Dhabi was enough for him to get out of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s shadow. White was uneasy with that description and let the listening audience know why.

“I don’t know if he really lives in Khabib’s shadow,” he said. “Tonight was a big step in the right direction. The guy has been dominant and then he goes in—all the controversy that came off the last fight—and he finishes this fight the way that he did.

“There’s no excuses,” he continued. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, it went into the third round, Volkanovski didn’t have time to train.’ He went in there and viciously, impressively finished this fight with a Cro Cop-esque kick to the head. It doesn’t get any better than that, against a very tough, durable guy who has a great chin. And you don’t ever see anybody do that to Volkanovski.”

White then offered a path forwards for Makhachev, that he believes would see him surpass the achievements of ‘The Eagle’.

“The truth is when you look at Khabib, and nothing against Khabib, Khabib came in and won the title and defended it, but this kid could go on a defence run that absolutely blows everybody away that ever held the belt in that division.”

White also made it known that he would rather see Makhachev defend the lightweight title against all comers before entertaining the idea of jumping up in weight.

“He’s still got some guys to fight. Listen, if he held the belt, defends the belt for another year and wanted to move up, why not?”

Opinion: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s record, in hindsight, looks kinda drab

On paper Khabib Nurmagomedov’s UFC tenure, though undefeated, doesn’t exactly sing with top quality opponents. He won his UFC belt with a win over Al Iaquinta an was coming off wins against Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson and Darrell Horcher.

After getting the belt he beat Conor McGregor, easily (which I think said more about McGregor’s deficiencies than Nurmagomedov’s prowess). He then put down the best results of his career with dominant wins, and finishes, over Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje.

The lead-up to the final three fights of his career doesn’t look great on paper. But I don’t think we can be too harsh on Nurmagomedov, or his legacy, for that.

A number of those fights are short notice replacement opponents, thanks to his snake-bitten rivalry with Tony Ferguson. No disrespect intended to Horcher and Iaquinta, but neither man would have been matched against Nurmagomedov had there not been a pressing need for a live body at the time.

I also think it’s fair to say that Nurmagomedov was so good against lesser opponents that it was hard to imagine him struggling against better ones. It wasn’t like he squeaked by Michael Johnson. On that night, the way he handled his opponent, with equal parts of craft and brutality, it felt like Nurmagomedov could have beaten anyone in the world.

So I think we don’t need to judge ‘The Eagle’ based on who he beat, but instead on how he beat the men who were put in front of him.

Makhachev has walked a very similar path to Nurmagomedov in beating up names that won’t exactly wow you when you look back at his Tapology account in five year’s time. However, also like Nurmagomedov, Makhachev has finally gotten to face outstanding opponents in his championship fights.

Nurmagomedov stopped when he was ahead, though. If Makhachev keeps going there are plenty of quality opponents he can add to his record and then we can really have a debate about who accomplished more with their time in the cage.

CraigxKidwell / USA TODAY Network, IMAGO

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About the author

Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim’s specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE’s lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

Email me at [email protected]. Nice messages will get a response.

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