Makhachev's Resolve

Next weekend, Islam Makhachev will make his second defense of the UFC lightweight title. As in the first case, his opponent will be Alexander Volkanovski, who came on as a substitute for the injured Charles Oliveira. And although on paper it is the Australian who urgently interrupted his rest who is in more difficult conditions, replacing the opponent always carries certain risks for another fighter. After all, he needs to adjust the training plan as soon as possible, taking into account the new opponent.

Indeed, Oliveira and Volkanovski are very different from each other. Take, for example, anthropometry. On the one hand, the tall (by the standards of the division) and lean Charles, on the other, the short and stocky Alexander. But don't forget about the difference in styles. If the Brazilian is famous for his skills in jiu-jitsu and non-standard striking technique, then the Australian is famous for his incessant pressure on the opponent, coupled with exceptional wrestling skills.

Nevertheless, Makhachev himself admitted to ESPN that he does not intend to change his training methods in any way. And the reason for this is not only the lack of time, but also the self-confidence. According to him, at the moment he is the lightweight champion and the best fighter in the world. And he must confirm his status in a duel with any opponent.

Curiously, he said literally the same thing to UFC President Dana White when he informed him about the sudden change of opponent.

"What does this title mean? It means that you are the best in the world, and if you are the best in the world, it doesn't matter who is standing in front of you. What can I say? No? Never. Let's do it," White said of Makhachev in a conversation with former NFL player and now journalist Pat McAfee.

As the functionary admitted, he was incredibly impressed by the determination of the Russian. And he ordered Makhachev's quote to be painted on the walls of the UFC PI research center and the UFC Apex arena — the same arena where most of the organization's weekly shows have been held since 2020.

Nurmagomedov's participation

Makhachev's self-confidence is probably fueled by the presence of his close friend and former UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in the camp. Some time ago, he announced his retirement from MMA and his desire to devote his free time to his family, which is why he missed Islam's first fight with Volkanovski, which he ended in his favor, albeit with difficulty. And although the Eagle still does not intend to return to full-time work as a mentor and second, he does help in preparation. Footage from the joint training of athletes appeared in a video dedicated to UFC 294 on the promotion's YouTube channel.

"Coach Khabib is with us. He drives us every day. The shape is excellent... If you are a champion, you have to be ready to fight anyone who is put up against you," Makhachev said.

As Nurmagomedov himself admitted in another Anatomy of a Fighter video, he stopped entering the octagon and accompanying his teammates there, but he did not refuse to visit the camp and participate in classes.

"I've been training with Khabib since I was young, and I've always had a tough time. But these rounds helped me get better, because if it's hard for you in training, it's going to be easy in the fight. My coach Abdulmanap told us that Khabib would become a champion, and when he finished his career, Islam would take his place and take the belt," Makhachev said.

In an interview with TSN, he explained Nurmagomedov's decision to limit his involvement in the life of the team by his reluctance to single out any of the athletes. According to the current UFC champion, he equally cares about all representatives of Eagles MMA, regardless of what stage of their career they are at at a particular moment. And if Habib had continued to second Islam, he would have had to bring the other 30-35 fighters into the cage.

"The Islam camp was amazing. When the fight was 100 days away, he began to plow and did not stop until that moment. Today was the last hard sparring. All the main work is done. Of course, Volkanovski is different from Oliveira, so we'll change a few things. But the goal is the same as the location. I think Makhachev's motivation has become even greater. He's a warrior. When he goes into the cage, he always beats. There will be an ocean, no matter how deep it is. He's ready for it," Nurmagomedov summed up in the first episode of UFC Embedded.

Team Confidence

It is noteworthy that it was Khabib who first learned about the change of the opponent of his teammate. As manager Ali Abdel-Aziz admitted to ESPN, he contacted Nurmagomedov immediately after the offer to replace Oliveira with Volkanovski was received. And only after receiving approval from him, he gave an answer to the UFC management.

At the same time, Makhachev was not surprised by the Brazilian's refusal to fight at the 294th tournament of the championship. In his opinion, Oliveira did not want to participate in this fight, because he was not only aware of his inability to oppose anything, but also remembered how their previous meeting ended. In October 2022, less than nine minutes were enough for Islam to first knock down his opponent, and then "strangle" him with a hand triangle.

With that in mind, a rematch with Volkanovski should seem like a much more difficult test for Makhachev. After all, the outcome of the first duel caused heated debates in the MMA community. While some agreed with the official decision, others considered it unfair and called Alexander a real triumphant. Islam itself has no doubts about its victory.

"The last fight with Volkanovski was the hardest of my life, because I fought five rounds for the first time in my life. But I hit him very hard, I moved him, I took his back. Ask him: What did you do to win this fight? Some people say the battle was close because they only saw the last minute. But people who understand MMA know that I won by unanimous decision," the Russian said.

And although Makhachev does not follow the example of Volkanovski, who openly declares his intention to knock out his opponent, he has no doubts about his success. In particular, he has already appealed to the Australian not to complain about the lack of preparation in case of failure. After all, according to the Russian, it is this circumstance that he will use as an excuse if he gives in again. Islam also suggested that he agreed to replace Oliveira primarily because of the money.

But if Makhachev still prefers not to share predictions on the eve of the show, then his mentor Javier Mendez is actively expressing his point of view. He praised the current form of the ward and suggested that in the upcoming duel he will dominate the challenger.

"Islam is in great shape. Nothing bothers me at all in the run-up to this fight. I think we will win very confidently. We have an improved version of Makhachev compared to what happened in the last battle," Mendez said.

At the same time, the head of American Kickboxing Academy did not completely write off the Australian and predict his first early defeat in the UFC.

"Volkanovski will never run out of steam because of his excellent cardio condition. Unless he starts conceding. So, if he manages to avoid serious damage, he will last all five rounds. I expect it to be a five-round battle, just like last time," Mendes said in an interview with Submission Radio.

Abubakar Nurmagomedov is also confident in the triumph of his teammate. Khabib's cousin called Makhachev a full-fledged champion and expressed confidence that he would retain his title after the tournament in Abu Dhabi.

"He has been working for a long time, performing. Yes, he didn't have any special injuries. He wants to be a champion and he fully deserves this title. I am confident in his victory," Match TV quoted Nurmagomedov as saying.

Makhachev himself knows one thing for sure - in the return confrontation, the fans will be on his side. And this is not surprising, because if the first fight took place in Volkanovski's homeland - in Australia, then the second will take place in the United Arab Emirates, where Dagestani fighters are extremely popular.

"Last time... everyone was rooting for Volkanovski. But now that's about to change. The whole arena will support me. It's going to be a big night," Islam said.