Islam Makhachev is coming around to Dana White’s way of thinking.
Ahead of UFC 284, the UFC lightweight champion was critical of the UFC’s promotion of the event in an interview with RSports Russia, questioning why more had not been done to market his champion vs. champion fight against Alexander Volkanovski. Makhachev’s comments earned a stiff rebuke from UFC president White, who on Tuesday defended the promotion’s marketing of the fight in an interview with The Jim Rome Show and said of Makhachev, “First of all, he lives in Dagestan. What does he know about what’s going on for the promotion of the fight? He doesn’t know anything.”
White also predicted that UFC 284 will be “one of the top-five biggest fights” in UFC history.
When asked about the situation at Wednesday’s UFC 284 media day, Makhachev walked back his initial comments and stated that he was happy with the information White showed him.
“I say something in the media, this fight is not promoted. But Dana send me message and show me all their rankings, all this stuff, how they promote, how they sell. Now I understand,” Makhachev said. “Because I don’t follow this game, how they promote, what they did. But they promote a lot, that’s why we don’t have tickets [available] and Dana say on pay-per-view, it’s high. It’s going to be maybe number two or three [of all-time].”
Makhachev, 31, suddenly finds himself as the face of a major event for the first time after grinding for years to work up the UFC lightweight ladder. His battle against UFC featherweight king Volkanovski is only the seventh champion vs. champion fight in the promotion’s history, and Makhachev will likely steal away Volkanovski’s No. 1 pound-for-pound ranking with a win.
It’s a far cry from where Makhachev found himself for the majority of his UFC career. Despite racking up an 11-fight win streak, the Dagestan native struggled to land big-name opponents until his title victory over Charles Oliveira at UFC 280. But now the hunter has become the hunted, and those same names who avoided him for so long suddenly have no choice but to call Makhachev out if they want to get their hands on UFC gold.
“The game has changed when I take the belt,” Makhachev said. “Now the people or fighters know my name. Before they tried to avoid me, but for [Volkanovski], it’s a good fight. What’s he going to lose? Belt? Nothing. He just come to the fight, make money, but after that fight he can step [back into] his division and be champion. He’s not losing much on this fight.”
One of the names Makhachev is already hearing plenty about is a fighter whose recent return thrust him back into the forefront of the 155-pound conversation: Former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor.
McGregor is set to return this year for the first time since 2021 in a co-starring role on The Ultimate Fighter 31 alongside Michael Chandler. McGregor has only won one of his past four UFC fights and rides a two-fight losing streak into the show, but he remains the biggest superstar the sport has ever seen, and it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll vault back into the title picture if he defeats Chandler in their eventual fight. That could mean a potential dance date with Makhachev if the champ gets by Volkanovski at UFC 284.
But Makhachev isn’t concerned. He wouldn’t even be surprised if the Chandler fight proves to be McGregor’s swan song in MMA.
“It’s a good fight for MMA fans, but if Chandler wins, [McGregor] is going to retire for sure,” Makhachev said. “Make some good money and that’s it. But Chandler, so smart guy, because I saw his last couple fights, he fights like crazy, like he comes from the street.
“But now I understand why he did this, because if he beat [Dustin] Poirier and [Justin] Gaethje, this fight never happens. But the last four fights, they have same streak, they lose three times, that’s why this fight is happening. And for Conor, he chooses a good way too. He chooses small guy, 170 [pounds], and finally someone is going to win.”
For now, Makhachev is the king of the castle at 155 pounds.
He’s been virtually untouchable since his lone UFC loss in 2015 and has run roughshod over every lightweight thrown his way. He expects Saturday night to be no different against Volkanovski — and he even plans to beat the featherweight champ at his own game.
“Every second, I’m going to try to finish him,” Makhachev said. “But my goal? I want to knock him out.”