On July 17, the mixed martial arts tournament UFC Vegas 31 was held in Las Vegas (Nevada, USA). In its main event, Islam Makhachev won the eighth victory in a row, ahead of schedule defeating Tiago Moises, who was missing stars from the sky. Already on July 20, the press service of the league updated the ratings of the organization. Of course, it was expected that after a successful fight, Makhachev would improve his position and, perhaps, rise by one or two steps. But the UFC rated Islam’s victory much higher. The Russian in the updated rating was in fifth place, soaring to four positions at once. Behind them were former league champion in two weight categories Conor McGregor, former interim league champion in lightweight Tony Ferguson, former league champion in the lightweight division Rafael dos Anos and Dan Hooker. The list is more than solid.
On the one hand, few people will have any doubt that Islam will be able to compete with each of these fighters. On the other hand, the rise to four positions is too inexplicable. It seems that they want to turn Islam into a new UFC project. What speaks in favor of this?
To begin with, we note that the victory over Moises, although impressive, was clearly not enough to help improve the position in the ranking by four lines at once. In fact, Islam beat nooneim, who had just crawled into the top 15 and was ranked 14th. That is, he defeated an opponent who was in the ranking below him. Can anyone name a case when in such situations a fighter after success rose four lines in the rating? Unlikely. Often, in such cases, you can count on a promotion of 1-2 lines.
Of course, one can argue that this was the eighth victory in a row and Islam deserves to be in the top 5. There is no doubt, we agree that Makhachev is rightly ahead of Ferguson and McGregor, who have never won in the last five meetings between the two of them. But is the number eight some kind of sacred? Why Makhachev was not significantly promoted after seven or six consecutive victories. For a long time, the Russian floundered within the top 15, although his potential was clear to everyone. Now, after defeating a little-known fighter, Islam immediately appeared in the top 5. What is this, if not an artificial pull into the elite?
But the question is different, why did the UFC begin to promote Makhachev right now? There are several options here. The first is that the league simply pays off debts to a fighter who has been marinated on the margins of the rating for too long. On the one hand, it may seem that this is really the case. But on the other hand, the promotion is primarily important for the business component, and if Makhachev was not of commercial interest, his progress could just as well be held back further.
The second option is the influence of Habib. Makhachev is known for his friendship with Nurmagomedov, moreover, he is his best friend. And the Eagle, in turn, is in a very good relationship with UFC president Dana White. Obviously, we are not talking about the fact that Nurmagomedov personally asked for his comrade, but Khabib constantly, about and without, talks about Makhachev’s title claims. It is unlikely that White never paid attention to this. In addition, Habib’s influence is also in another, albeit indirect.
During the years of playing in the league, Nurmagomedov clashed with both Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor. Now, if Makhachev is brought together in the octagon with one of them, it will be a very sold-out duel, especially if we are talking about a fight with an Irishman. It is enough to imagine what will happen at the weigh-in ceremony and the battles of views, where members of their teams are always present next to the fighters. The meeting of Khabib and Conor under one roof will become inevitable, which will already attract a lot of attention. So Islam has every chance to make the league rich. The sign of the fight “McGregor vs. Khabib’s successor” will beckon like a magnet.
By the way, this is one more reason to promote Makhachev as quickly as possible and turn him into a league project. This should be done right now, while Conor and Ferguson remain in the league roster.
And, finally, the reason for the sharp rise of Makhachev may lie banally in the sports component. It has long been known that Islam does not get top competitors, because they just run away from it. Probably, the matchmakers themselves are tired of solving the problem of finding a worthy opponent for the Russian. Now, when he takes the fifth place in the rating and is ahead of the real stars, they will be forced to look for a fight with him themselves. This simplifies the conduct of business both for the league and for Makhachev himself.
In short, the UFC has a lot of reasons to make an obvious bet on the promotion of Makhachev’s career. Among them there are both objective factors and commercial interest. In any case, with the rise of Islam, one thing became clear — soon the Russians will be waiting for fights with the elite of the light division. So, perhaps, Makhachev is right when he says that already in 2022 he will be able to count on a title fight.