One of the most highly anticipated cards of the year delivered on its word in Abu Dhabi on Saturday as UFC 294
The card saw Islam Makhachev stun Alexander Volkanovski, and Khamzat Chimaev continue to back the hype with another win over a valiant Kamaru Usman.
Here are the main takeaways for the co-main and main event of the card.
Islam ends the pound-for-pound debate
There can be no doubt anymore that Islam Makhachev is the pound-for-pound best fighter in the UFC right now. Consecutive wins over the great Alexander Volkanovski is justification enough but the manner in which he dispatched Volk on Saturday sent shockwaves through the UFC.
Islam shot roughly seven low kicks in the opening exchanges of the fight, luring Volk into a false impression that it would be as far as his kicks would go. However, Islam disguised his next leg kick and struck a left kick upside the head of the Aussie to send him crashing to the canvas, before a ground and pound halted the bout.
Volkanovski had not been finished for 10 years, stretching all the way back to the fourth fight of his career. The image of Volk’s bloodied, limp head resting on the knee of Islam as the Dagestani rained down hammer fists was inconceivable. Volk just does not lose like that.Embed from Getty Images
The caveat of course to the shock is that Volkanovski took the fight on 11 days’ notice. Whilst on holiday with his family, Volkanovski was informed of Charles Oliveira’s withdrawal from his fight with Islam owing to a deep cut under his right eye. Volk stepped up when others would probably shy away, and he deserves universal credit for that. He might not look back with regret, but Volk’s bravery seems to have backfired this time.
For Makhachev, he main soon surpass the legacy set by the man who is helping him create his own. Khabib Nurmagomedov gathered 13 wins in the UFC, Islam has just got his 14th and chatter is starting to circulate that Islam can better the achievements of his trainer and dear friend. A date with Oliveira is surely on the cards next and victory in that will add further fuel to the debate.
Khamzat vs Strickland for middleweight title up next?
First off, as with Volkanovski, it is important to give Kamara Usman his flowers for stepping up to fight Khamzat Chimaev also on 11 days’ notice after Paulo Costa dropped out. After the fight, Usman spoke with UFC’s Megan Olivi and raised a valid point that his opponent had over a year to frame his middleweight physique whereas he had merely a few days.
Looking at the fight, you wouldn’t imagine this was the case. Usman contributed valiantly to the bout and in the stand-up, he caused Khamzat issues and pushed the Chechan all the way to the third and final round. Chimaev won the fight via scores of 29-27, 29-27 and 28-28. Usman won the second round on all three judges’ scorecards. He won the third round on one judge’s scorecard.
Khamzat ultimately won the bout for his control time on the ground and the four takedowns that he landed on Usman, which is remarkable. For context, the first and only time Usman had conceded a takedown was at UFC 278 against Leon Edwards. For Khamzat to stitch four in one night against a fighter who is so renowned for his takedown defence is some feat.Embed from Getty Images
Chimaev is now ready for a title fight with Sean Strickland, but in truth, he was ready three years ago. Since joining the UFC in 2020, his meteoric rise through the organisation has today made him one of the most imposing fighters in the world, especially given the fact that he’s passed his toughest test yet with flying colours.
He’s currently the favourite to beat Strickland and could have ambitions of becoming a two-weight champion if he can cut down to welterweight and challenge Leon Edwards, or potentially Colby Covington- depending on the result at UFC 296.
For Usman, he may need to play the waiting game and also wait until UFC 296 is finalised before he makes his next move. But despite the loss, his stock has only increased after such a promising showing.