UFC lightweight Islam Makhachev wants to face Charles Oliveira for the vacant title in October, and believes he will beat the Brazilian at his own game of submission grappling.
Makhachev (22-1) is expected to fight Oct. 22 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, located in a predominantly Muslim region where he is very popular. The question of whom he will fight is a big one in determining the UFC's schedule in the second half of 2022. UFC president Dana White has stated he wants Makhachev to fight Beneil Dariush, but Makhachev is also an obvious candidate to face Oliveira (33-8).
"We don't have a champion," Makhachev told ESPN. "Charles is a contender. That's why it's going to be for the title. I deserve it. I have a 10-fight win streak."
Oliveira, of Brazil, is widely viewed as the defending champion -- even though, officially, he is not. The 32-year-old missed weight by one half-pound ahead of a scheduled defense against Justin Gaethje at UFC 274 on May 7 in Phoenix. Oliveira went on to submit Gaethje in the first round of the fight but was still stripped of the belt for missing weight. He is expected to be one participant in the vacant title fight.
Makhachev, of Dagestan, was originally scheduled to face Dariush in February, but Dariush was forced out of the fight with an ankle injury. White has said the UFC will rebook that matchup, but he did admit that a fight between Oliveira and Makhachev is a very intriguing option. He also revealed that UFC commentator Joe Rogan personally asked him to make that fight next.
"[Oliveira] said I don't deserve this, but he's asking about Nate Diaz and Conor [McGregor]," Makhachev said. "I think Charles is a No. 1 contender now. We don't have a champion because he don't make weight. He is not a professional."
Makhachev is a longtime teammate and friend of retired former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov's. After Oliveira's recent wins over Dustin Poirier and Gaethje, some have said it's unfortunate the sport will never see a fight between Oliveira, who has won 11 fights in a row, and Nurmagomedov (29-0), who retired in October 2020.
Makhachev, 30, laughed off the topic of Oliveira and Nurmagomedov and promised to answer the question himself. His style of fighting is very similar to Nurmagomedov's, particularly his ability to smother and control opponents from the top. He also said he wants to submit Oliveira, who is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with the most submission wins in UFC history.
"This is like an easy fight for Khabib," Makhachev said. "Khabib had the most dominant grappling from top. He's going to take him down, hold him there. Very easy. I honestly think this is a very easy fight for Khabib. Stylistically, all of [Oliveira's] pressure is not going to work against Khabib because Khabib pressures all of his opponents.
"We don't have to say Khabib is going to beat Charles. I'm going to beat Charles. And everybody is going to understand. Honestly, I believe I can finish this guy, and I really want to finish him in the grappling, in his area. I know I can do this."