UFC lightweight contender Michael Chandler has assessed who the better fighter is between former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and reigning king Islam Makhachev.
While Khabib ruled over the 155-pound landscape, he and coach Javier Mendez long touted one individual as his successor. And while Charles Oliveira secured a brief reign in-between the Dagestani’s retirement and UFC 280 last October, the lofty ambitions set for his protégé were met in dominant fashion.
At the Abu Dhabi-held event, Makhachev extended his active win streak to 11 by dropping and submitting Oliveira in the second round. In doing so, the Russian standout completed a path long laid out for him.
While the achievement was a big one for Makhachev, it was something that didn’t come as a surprise to the likes of Khabib and Mendez.
Although “The Eagle” achieved immeasurable success inside the Octagon before hanging up his gloves with an unblemished 29-0 record, he’s stated in the past that his teammate and compatriot will surpass him as the greatest lightweight champ of all time.
But according to one man eyeing up Makhachev’s gold, he’s not on Khabib’s level yet.
Chandler Names What Separates Khabib/Makhachev
During a recent interview with Michael Bisping and Anthony Smith on the Believe You Me podcast, #5-ranked lightweight contender Michael Chandler was asked to name the better fighter out of Dagestan’s two UFC lightweight titleholders.
The former Bellator champion had been vocal in dismissing Makhachev’s credentials pre-UFC 280, even predicting victory for Oliveira. After being proved wrong at the October event, Chandler gave Makhachev his dues.
Despite that, though, he’s not ready to brand the champ a better fighter than his mentor.
“Khabib (is better). Only because we haven’t seen — I don’t know if I wanna call it aggression. I think it is aggression,” Chandler said. “When Khabib fought, and when he bear-hugged somebody, it was aggressive. Like, he wanted to break your spine. Islam, very effective, will take guys down. But (with Khabib), it was like, ‘I wanna break your spine.’
“Khabib was very active on top, constantly trying to catch a wrist and do damage. He went from (a) brilliant wrestler, ‘I wanna break your back,’ to like, straight up sledgehammer, ‘I wanna punch a hole through your head,’ while trash talking… That is unheard of,” Chandler added.
Chandler went on to clarify that the gulf in skill isn’t as large as he might have made it seem, naming one aspect of Makhachev’s game that can bring him closer to his countryman’s level.
“I think there was a little bit of voice inflection where it made it sound like Khabib is 10 times better. I don’t think he’s 10 times better than Islam. But in my book, Islam just hasn’t proven that yet,” Chandler stated. “We got to see Khabib run through so many guys in such a dominant fashion… I think Islam should be a little bit more aggressive on top and really look to be more dominant.”
Makhachev could adjust Chandler’s perception slightly with a strong showing next weekend at UFC 284. In a feat not achieved by “The Eagle,” the reigning lightweight kingpin is set to defend his title against another divisional champ in Alexander Volkanovski.
With a victory, the Dagestani will rise to top spot in the pound-for-pound rankings and go 1/3 of the way to matching Khabib’s defense tally. Should he continue his reign with the kind of dominance Chandler is calling for, perhaps he’ll make Bisping and Smith’s query a tougher one to answer in a few years time.