Mystic Makhachev? UFC lightweight champ envisions quick finish of Dustin Poirier at UFC 302

Russia's Islam Makhachev reacts after his Lightweight bout against Australia's Alexander Volkanovski during the Ultimate Fighting Championship 294 (UFC) event at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on October 22, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Islam Makhachev told Yahoo Sports his reign as UFC lightweight champion will end after title defenses against Dustin Poirier and Arman Tsarukyan. (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev thinks he has a pretty good idea how his fight with Dustin Poirier at UFC 302 is going to go. In fact, he can see it all laid out before him, from the opening moments to the finish — and it doesn’t take that long.

“We will start and I will try to take him down,” Makhachev told Yahoo Sports. “He will try to get me in a guillotine (choke). I will defend the guillotine. I will give him a couple punches. He will give his back. Then I will finish.”

See? Simple, really. The sly smile on Makhachev’s face as he laid out this vision of the future suggested that, at least to some extent, he was having a little bit of fun with the prediction. At the same time, he was also showing that he’s been paying attention.

At this point, there are a few things about Poirier that are pretty well-established. One is that he loves to jump for that guillotine, even if he’s never won a pro fight that way. (“I think in training he must finish a lot of guys this way,” Makhachev said. “If he didn’t, I think he would stop.”) Another is that, if you don’t count Poirier’s interim title won, he’s 0-2 in UFC lightweight championship fights.

The third, and maybe most important to Makhachev, is that wherever Poirier goes he brings a lot of eyeballs with him. That’s important when you’re a UFC champion, since those are typically the only fighters who get a share of the pay-per-view money.

“Maybe I will make some good money with Dustin,” Makhachev. “More than with Arman (Tsarukyan), I think.”

The way Makhachev sees it, these are the only two names left for him in the 155-pound division. Poirier would be good for the payday and the name value on his résumé, he said. Tsarukyan he’s already beaten once, but will likely have to face again after Tsarukyan’s win in a top contender fight at UFC 300. After that? Then it will be his turn to move up a division and challenge for the welterweight title, he said.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky for Makhachev, though. He’s closing in on two years as the undisputed UFC lightweight champ. As of right now, he has defended that belt against zero actual lightweights.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 21: (R-L) Islam Makhachev of Russia knocks out Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 21: (R-L) Islam Makhachev of Russia knocks out Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Islam Makhachev defended his lightweight belt with a first-round KO of Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 294 in October. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

It’s not really his fault, of course. His first title defense came against featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski, who had earned the right to move up and challenge for a second title. Makhachev escaped with a narrow decision victory in that one, and then was slated for a rematch with former lightweight champ Charles Oliveira last fall. When Oliveira pulled out, Volkanovski stepped in on short notice.

This time Makhachev made quick work of him, but seven months later he’s still waiting for his first chance to prove his dominion over the division with a title defense against one of its own.

What’s interesting is that, despite this curious history with title defenses, Makhachev is still largely regarded as a dominant champ. He comes into this fight with Poirier as a 5-1 favorite at BetMGM. You could mix up the field of contenders, which is pretty much always a crowded one in this division, and still you probably wouldn’t find anyone who’d be anywhere near a favorite to beat him.

Some of that is likely due to the 13 straight wins in the UFC that got him to this point. At least a little of it is a virtue of his association with Khabib Nurmagomedov, his longtime friend, mentor and training partner, who retired undefeated and effectively cleared the lane for Makhachev.

It’s also probably because, when you watch him fight, what you see is a man who seems to have very few weaknesses. He’s got the suffocating wrestling and ground attack of Nurmagomedov, but he’s also got a more aggressive striking game. In fact, he might be more aggressive overall, not to mention more ambitious in his ongoing title hopes.

This, Makhachev said, is why he’s reluctant to even consider suggestions that include fighters like Max Holloway, whose name got thrown around in the lightweight title conversation after winning the ceremonial BMF title at UFC 300.

“I have some job in this division,” Makhachev said. “I don’t want to give some chance to people from the other division. I already gave Volkanovski two chances. Now I need my chance for a second belt. In my division I think, honestly, I have Dustin and then Arman and then I’m done. We don’t have some new opponent who deserves a title fight. Then I will be ready to fight the champion at 170 (pounds).”

Of course, the MMA gods have a way of punishing those who dream too big or too soon of multiple titles in multiple weight classes. Makhachev has to get past Poirier first, and that’s by no means a gimme fight for anyone in the division.

Still, one thing Makhachev isn’t short on is confidence. Poirier might have veteran savvy and few tricks up his sleeve, the champion admitted, but it’s not a matchup that seems to worry him all that much.

“One day maybe, I hope (Poirier) will finish his guillotine on someone,” Makhachev said, that sly smile creeping in again. “But it’s not going to be me.”

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