Islam Makhachev was so impressive at UFC 294 that his stand-up stills are drawing comparisons to heavyweight pioneer Mirko Cro Cop.
The lightweight champion, known for his grappling prowess, switched things up and stunned featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski with a brutal head kick three minutes into their rematch Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It was just the second standing knockout win of Makhachev’s UFC career.
“Spectacular. Cro Cop-esque head kick,” UFC president Dana White said of Makhachev’s finish at the postfight press conference, according to MMA Fighting.
“Islam talked a lot about coming in and (getting revenge) and setting the record straight on how everybody felt about the last fight. It wasn’t one of the those situations where you say that Alexander came in on short notice and gassed out or anything. (Makhachev) went in there and finished it (early). Impressive win by him.”
Makhachev’s highlight-reel win comes eight months after he edged Volkanovski in a close unanimous decision at UFC 284. Volkanovski stepped up for the rematch on 11 days’ notice.
“It doesn’t get any better than that – against a very tough, durable guy who has a great chin,” White said. “You don’t ever see anybody do that to Volkanovski.”
Makhachev, who entered as the No. 3 pound-for-pound male fighter in the UFC rankings, has expressed interest in the past in moving up to welterweight to challenge for a second belt. White said Makhachev is “talented enough” to do so and could in the future, but not “anytime soon.”
“He’s still got some guys to fight,” White said. “But listen, if he held the belt, defends the belt for a year and wanted to move up, why not?”
Makhachev came up in the UFC as the protege of former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who’s considered one of the greatest fighters of all time. White said Makhachev has long been out of Nurmagomedov’s shadow. Makhachev is one win away from tying the record for most title defenses in UFC lightweight history, held by Nurmagomedov and three others.
White said he thinks Makhachev may eventually surpass Nurmagomedov’s greatness in at least one way.
“The truth is, when you look at Khabib – nothing against Khabib. Khabib came in and won the title and defended, but (Makhachev) could go on a defense run that absolutely blows everybody away that ever held the belt in that division,” White said.