The competition for the coveted lightweight title in the UFC in 2023 has changed dramatically. It appears as though the forceful, sweeping winds of change have transformed this competition into a series of home-and-home matches, uniting fighters from all over the world. One such fighter is Islam Makhachev, the reigning champion.
In February, Makhachev traveled to Perth, Australia, where he defeated New South Wales resident and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski by unanimous decision to successfully defend his title. This thrilling clash unfolded at UFC 284, setting the stage for a remarkable rematch in the heart of Abu Dhabi at UFC 294.
Returning to Abu Dhabi, Islam Makhachev is thrilled to be back in a place that eagerly awaited his return.
Originally, the plan was for Makhachev to face a familiar foe in a sequel to last year’s championship bout. He was set to take on Charles Oliveira, the Brazilian standout he had defeated for the title.
However, a training mishap left Oliveira with a significant injury just days before the event, forcing the UFC to find a replacement. The featherweight champion, Volkanovski, was the perfect fit.
Islam Makhachev himself was keen on the rematch.
Their first encounter was a highly anticipated spectacle, bringing together two of the best pound-for-pound talents in the sport with UFC gold on the line.
The fight exceeded all expectations, earning a well-deserved spot on the Fight of the Year shortlist. Both fighters had their moments, with Makhachev dominating much of the fourth round, only for Volkanovski to make a stunning comeback in the fifth.
The outcome was uncertain, with fans anxiously awaiting the scorecards. When the verdict was revealed, Makhachev emerged victorious with scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46. Some questioned the totals, but Makhachev respected his opponent’s toughness, saying, “Nothing surprised me—I know he’s a tough guy.”
As for changes since their first meeting in February, Makhachev has remained somewhat mysterious. He emphasized his dedication and focus on training, acknowledging the ongoing challenge of defending his title.
This rematch in Abu Dhabi promises to be another thrilling chapter in the ongoing saga of Makhachev and Volkanovski, and fans around the world are eagerly awaiting this high-stakes showdown in the lightweight division.
While he may not be the most talkative athlete on the roster, his confidence and assurance about his skills and upcoming victory were unmistakable in his words.
There was a certain lightness to his interviews, as though he was personally remixing the winking bravado that his current head coach, former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, showed off in his prefight interactions.
However, there’s been a noticeable change in Makhachev’s demeanor leading up to this fight. The champion has adopted a more serious and businesslike approach as he heads into UFC 294.
Makhachev expressed his respect for Volkanovski, who didn’t hesitate to accept the short-notice fight. He acknowledged that while many fighters might seize the opportunity because it’s a title fight (possibly their one and only chance), Volkanovski’s situation is different. People and fans have eagerly awaited this rematch, and Makhachev knows it.
He expects this fight to be just as tough as their first encounter, anticipating a grueling five-round battle. But this time, Makhachev has no intention of leaving the outcome in the hands of the judges.
Makhachev, obviously influenced by the post-fight conversations that have persisted for the past eight months.
His goal is clear: he wants to leave no room for doubt about who the superior fighter is at UFC 294: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2.