Is Islam Makhachev better than Khabib?
Islam Makhachev is one of the most talented and underrated fighters in the UFC’s lightweight division. The Dagestani fighter is currently ranked as #5 in the lightweight rankings following his dominant victories over Drew Dober and Thiago Moses. As of now, Makhachev has a professional record of 20-1 and is undefeated since 2015 while riding an 8-fight win streak in the UFC.
The question a lot of MMA fans ask is how good is Islam Makhachev? Can he take over the lightweight division following Khabib’s retirement from the UFC? Is Makhachev as good and dominant as his best friend (Islam and Khabib are not related) and training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov?
Makhachev’s skills are undeniable
There is no question about it – Islam is a very skilled and a well-rounded fighter. Makhachev grow up training with Khabib and his father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov and has an extremely strong wrestling/ground game base.
In fact, Khabib’s father in one of his interviews stated that Islam is naturally more gifted and talented than Khabib and he has all the tools to become the UFC lightweight champion in the future. Javier Mendez, Nurmagomedov’s and Makhachev’s head coach, also speaks very highly about Islam’s skillset. Mendez once stated that Islam is the only fighter to win rounds against Khabib in training.
Makhachev’s wrestling and grappling is second to none in the lightweight division. Islam has great takedowns and trips which would be a huge problem for any top contender. Khabib was able to take down McGregor, Poirier, and Gaethje and Makhachev is capable of executing a similar game plan as “The Eagle” did. Once on the ground, Islam is very good at controlling his opponents. In his last fight, Makhachev controlled Drew Dober for 9:26 minutes or 80% of the time.
He has a lot of tools in his arsenal including vicious ground and pound or a threat of submissions. In his pro MMA career, Makhachev has finishes via rear-naked choke, armbar, triangle choke, inverted triangle, and arm-triangle choke. Now that Khabib is out of the picture, Islam Makhachev is arguably the best overall wrestler/grappler in the UFC’s lightweight division.
Generally speaking, Makhachev’s stand up is better than Khabib’s. Islam is more technical than Khabib when it comes to stand up striking and boxing. In general, all Dagestani fighters including Islam Makhachev significantly improved their striking in most recent years.
An area where Makhachev possibly lags behind Nurmagomedov is his ability to take a shot. “The Eagle” proved over and over again that he has a very solid chin. Khabib has eaten big shots from some of the best lightweight strikers in the likes of Michael Johnson, Conor McGregor, and Justin Gaethje and he was never seriously hurt or knocked down.
Islam Makhachev was already knocked out once in the UFC by Adriano Martins at UFC 192 in his second UFC appearance and this fact really questions his chin. Adriano Martins is not the most powerful puncher in the division and he was able to knock out Makhachev with one shot. What happens if Makhachev gets caught once again when he faces one the best 155 lbs strikers?
We really don’t know how good or how bad Islam Makhachev’s chin is because he doesn’t get hit that much. In his 9 UFC fights, Islam’s opponents landed a total of only 67 significant strikes. According to UFC stats, Makhachev absorbs 0.77 significant strikes per minute which is a ridiculously low number. A big question is can Makhachev take a shot from killers like Justin Gaethje or Conor McGregor like Khabib did? I guess, we will find out an answer to this question soon enough.
Most Dagestani fighters are known for their exceptional cardio (with Zabit Magomedsharipov being a rare exception which apparently is a health-related issue according to his camp). Islam Makhachev did not participate in a 5 round fight in the UFC yet but he never had an issue with his cardio in 3 round fights.
Mental part is another extremely important aspect of the fight game. Nurmagomedov was undefeated not only because of his phenomenal technical skills and well-rounded game but also because of his mental toughness. Heck, McGregor tried very hard to get under Khabib’s skin and I actually think it almost worked. Khabib was very angry and emotional during his bout with Conor which is usually not a good thing in combat sports.
Islam Makhachev mental skills were never really tested at this point in his career. Makhachev never even headlined the UFC Fight Night not even talking about headlining a pay-per-view event. Obviously, there is a lot more pressure and nerves fighting at the highest level and we do not know how tough Islam is mentally.