UFC 280’s Islam Makhachev: Oliveira Still Champ, but “I’m the Best Lightweight in the World”

Islam Makhachev’s lightweight title shot at UFC 280 this Saturday has been a long time coming.

For years, Makhachev has been waiting in the wings as friend and teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov dominated the promotion’s 155 pound division. With Nurmagomedov retiring in 2020 following the death of his father, Makhachev continued to wait as Charles Oliveira ran roughshod over the division — while the Dagestani fighter himself did nothing but win.

“All my life, I’m waiting for that moment, and now I’m very close,” Makhachev (22-1) said during this week’s UFC 280 media day, with his title shot at long last nigh. “And I’m ready.”

Oliveira was stripped of his title earlier this year, having missed weight for a championship fight against Justin Gaethje in May. Still, most of the MMA world consider the Brazilian an uncrowned king, given a backstage scale being reset was fingered as the culprit behind that weight flub. And especially given that he went on to defeat Gaethje decisively.

“He’s a champion,” Makhachev agreed, “but he has to show all fighters good example. He has to be professional. I hope he’s gonna make weight this time.”

As far as Oliveira’s submission game is concerned, Makhachev wants to prove he can hang on the mat. “This is my goal, finish him on the ground, because I have to show all people my grappling level.”

Given Oliveira has more submissions inside the octagon than anyone in UFC history, tying and later surpassing even Royce Gracie a few years back, that will be no easy feat. But as Makhachev later pointed out, “this is an MMA fight.” It won’t be just grappling, and standup will likely come into play as well.

“We’re gonna begin from the standup, and I’m gonna check his skill there. All my opponents, they’re good. For example like Drew Dober, all these guys. If I’m going to stand with them, they can make me some trouble, you know? I just have to go where I’m good, close the distance, hold them, take them down. If I let him work, he gonna do [a lot of] stuff.”

For his part, Charles Oliveira has seemed angry at times heading into UFC 280. Perhaps with the fact that he was stripped of a title due to circumstances beyond his control. Makhachev isn’t reading too much into that.

“I just have to respect his skills. Striking, grappling,” he stated. “I don’t think about his emotions. I just focus on me. I just have to cut weight and be ready every day.”

As for whether or not Oliveira should still be considered the champ, “right now he’s the champion. Right now he’s the best lightweight,” said Makhachev, then contradicted that. “I don’t think he’s the best. Right now I know this is my moment, and I believe even right now, I’m the best lightweight in the world.”

Should anything go wrong at the scale this Friday, there is a Plan B. Alexander Volkanovski, the UFC’s reigning featherweight champion, will weigh in as a back-up fighter for the main event.

“I met Volkanovski downstairs, he’s a short guy. I asked him ‘hey, why you need this?'” recalled Makhachev, who doesn’t appear to be all that interested in the prospect of fighting a replacement. “He’s cutting weight right now. If I beat Volkanovski, people are going to [talk], but people always talk something. But I want to fight with Charles, and I hope he’s going to make weight. But doesn’t matter, because this camp I trained so hard, it doesn’t matter who is going to be there. Saturday night, I need someone.”

Watch the full UFC 280 media day appearance by Islam Makhachev above. The event takes place this Saturday, October 22, 2022 at the Eithad Arena in Abu Dhabi, UAE.