Coach: Islam Makhachev ‘never wanted to be’ Khabib Nurmagomedov, was never following in his footsteps


Islam Makhachev has been called the second coming of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and for good reason given their close relationship and style of fighting.

Beyond Nurmagomedov serving as Makhachev’s mentor and coach, the two Dagestani lightweights have both employed a similar approach in the cage, with a physically imposing, grappling-heavy style that often results in them mauling opponents on the ground. In addition, Nurmagomedov has been widely regarded as the best lightweight fighter in UFC history. Makhachev will be able to begin his championship reign on Saturday when he takes on Charles Oliveira at the UFC 280 main.

Despite these close similarities, Javier Mendez, American Kickboxing Academy’s head coach, says Makhachev never felt that he needed to uphold the legacy of Nurmagomedov.

“[Makhachev] has never copied [Nurmagomedov] and he didn’t feel pressure to do so.” Mendez stated on The MMA Hour . “Islam was Islam right from the get go. He was aware of what he would do.

“He knew his path and he had an example in Khabib to follow, but he wasn’t following in Khabib’s footsteps. He was following Islam’s steps. He was the one who created it .”

According to Mendez, Makhachev and Nurmagomedov may be as close as brothers without actually being blood related, but they have completely different personalities.

There’s no better proof than how Makhachev promotes himself, not to mention his interests outside the cage when he’s not fighting.

“For instance, Islam doesn’t have tag lines,” Mendez explained. “He doesn’t have great lines that he says. Islam is not out there doing what Khabib does. Both are complete opposites. Islam is more of an adventurer type man. He’s more of a [Donald] ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in regards to activity outside of fighting. He loves horse riding, dirt riding, and things of that nature.

“They’re completely different and Islam has been 100-percent comfortable in his role, and he’s never wanted to be Khabib and always felt he was Islam. Also, keep in mind, he doesn’t have a nickname and he never wanted a nickname. I tried to nickname him one time and Islam said, ‘No, coach, my name is Islam,’ and I said OK.”

If there’s one thing that Makhachev and Nurmagomedov definitely share, it’s the attention they’ve attracted while rising up the lightweight ranks.

Currently riding a 10-fight win streak, Makhachev has already been anointed as a future champion even before he clashes with Oliveira on Saturday, and that’s something Mendez saw in him from the first day he set foot in his gym in San Jose, Calf.

” You knew immediately that he was a champion,” Mendez stated. “One-hundred percent. It was obvious right away. He was extremely gifted back then, also. He just needed more time and more work, but he had it all.

“Islam is the perfect student. He is a master of his craft, knows exactly what he needs and puts in the effort. Doesn’t complain. He’s perfect. I can’t say anything other than that, because that’s what he is. You are very thoughtful about others .”

Mendez is not going to discuss strategy but does seem to enjoy the Makhachev vs Oliveira matchup. Mendez says that Makhachev’s suffocating wrestling style and powerful grappling have been his trademark. However, Mendez claims that he has many more tools at his disposal if they decide to unleash them at UFC 280..

“I feel good about the matchup, and honestly, I feel good about him with anybody because he’s so well-rounded,” Mendez said. We can be as creative with him as we like.

“He’s going to do anything we ask him to do and he’s able to do it. We will see at fight time. Just one thing to keep note, one fight in Las Vegas we had a game plan in place and right as we’re coming out of the gate, I tell Khabib I think we’re probably stronger on the grappling, let’s just go with [his] father’s plan [Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov], and we did just as we were walking out. It worked perfectly .”


Mendez anticipates the same Saturday, regardless of whether Makhachev faces Oliveira (or any other lightweight fighter in the world),

“This bout isn’t all about Charles. It’s all about the title,” Mendez stated. It doesn’t really matter if Charles does not face him in Oct. across the octagon. He will be confronted by someone and this is .”