Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Crooke’s Cage: All Hail King Makhachev

Molly Boyke
UFC Lightweight Champion Islam Makhachev. Illustration by Molly Boyke.

If you’re Islam Makhachev, his best friend and mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov, any of his teammates, or even the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, you’re probably thinking the same thing right now: “Finally.”

Islam Makhachev gained his rightful throne as the UFC’s pound-for-pound king on Tuesday, nearly nine months after he won a close decision against featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 284 in February, where Volkanovski gambled his status against Makhachev’s lightweight title. In what was one of the biggest pay-per-view cards of the year, we saw Makhachev’s crowning achievement in the pound-for-pound landscape, solidifying himself as the UFC’s best fighter and clear successor after Khabib stepped away from the sport.

Clearly, the UFC didn’t see that immediately. As a matter of fact, come Valentine’s Day, the UFC hadn’t changed any rankings—Volkanovski remained the pound-for-pound king. And in a moment that almost felt like UFC CEO Dana White was pulling the rug on everyone, Jon Jones reclaimed the top spot in the pound-for-pound ranking after putting down Ciryl Gane in the first round back in March.

Every single Tuesday this summer, the pound-for-pound rankings remained in the following order—Jones, Volkanovski, and Makhachev. Volkanovski would even bump up to the number one spot during the summer leading up to and after his successful title defense at UFC 290. But as the months drew on and fans continued to expect Makhachev to defend his title in Abu Dhabi in October, it almost felt like Volkanovski’s offer of a title fight for his pound-for-pound ranking would never be honored, even if it was out of both fighters’ control.

Two things happened in the last four weeks that brought fans back to this conversation. The first is that Makhachev and Volkanovski would get their rematch in Abu Dhabi this past October due to an injury to former lightweight champ Charles Oliveira just before fight week. The champ would defend his title again by knocking Volkanovski out cold in just over three minutes. The other was out of anyone’s control—Jon Jones’ pectoral muscle was torn off the bone during a live sparring session, forcing him out of UFC 295 and canceling his matchup with Stipe Miocic.

Makhachev’s ascension to the pound-for-pound throne was long overdue. Looking at the catalyst for this as Makhachev’s encounter with Volkanovski at UFC 280, the featherweight champ clearly said “the lightweight on the line, pound-for-pound on the line, let’s do it!” This pretty much meant the loser conceded either his championship or the honor of being the highest ranked fighter in the UFC. The honor of being the pound-for-pound king in the UFC is back in Dagestan, and it all comes back to the legacy of Makhachev’s late coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who was also Khabib’s father and coach.

If there’s one word you can use to describe the legacy that the Nurmagomedov family and their gym will have in MMA history, that word is dynasty. Khabib stated at UFC 280 last October that “[Makhachev] is a pound-for-pound number one fighter, right now.” That statement is now solidified in history, and, as a result, builds on the legacy that began with Khabib’s father Abdulmanap.

We at least know Makhachev vs. Oliveira 2 is in the works. While there were rumors about a rematch being booked for January, they were quickly squashed by UFC CEO Dana White announcing the first three pay-per-view headliners of 2024. All we know is the legacy resting on Makhachev’s shoulders will be put into question in his to-be-rescheduled rematch with Charles Oliveira, with White stating that the two will fight “whenever both are ready,” which Makhachev unavailable to defend until early March.

While the era of Khabib’s rule over the lightweight division is long gone, there’s not only a new era of dominance in the UFC lightweight division, but also a chance for other lightweights to have the spotlight—Justin Gaethje is the current BMF champion as well as the ongoing comeback story of Charles Oliveira. In any situation, Makhachev is the world’s best fighter in what could be the best division right now in the UFC. 

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About the Contributor
Aidan Crooke, Staff Writer, Sports
Aidan Crooke (he/him) is a sophomore sports communications major hailing from Lenoir, North Carolina. Crooke's work focuses on the UFC, NBA, and NFL, mainly in his work with Crooke's Cage. Outside of the Beacon, he can likely be found at a MMA gym or being an active member of Emerson Esports.

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