The fact that Islam Makhachev became a champion solves a huge issue for the UFC with lightweight matches

Islam Makhachev’s reign over the lightweight division is favorable for UFC matchmakers, as the promotion is reportedly working on a bout between top-ranked contenders Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev.

Following his spectacular knockout victory over Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Vegas 58, Fiziev seized the opportunity to call out Gaethje for a potential fight that has fireworks written all over it. Gaethje was just coming off a loss to Charles Oliveira at UFC 274 in his second bid to lay hands on the undisputed UFC gold.

Fiziev continued to make his case for a fight against the American as Gaethje continued to explore other opportunities.

From Gaethje’s perspective, a fight against Fiziev did not make sense, considering that a victory over the Azerbaijani would not guarantee him a title shot since he had already lost once to Oliveira. Now that Islam Makhachev has dethroned the Brazilian and ascended to the top of the 155-pound division, it makes sense for the No.3-ranked lightweight contender to fight Fiziev, thereby resolving a significant matchup issue.

ESPN reporter Brett Okamoto offered this insight on a recent episode of The Patrick McCorry Sports Show. He said:

“I think the problem with that fight [Gaethje vs. Fiziev] is that Gaethje has reached a point in his career where he’s like, ‘I don’t want to fight down [in rankings]. I’ve earned the right to be in the fight that I want to be in…that gives me clear motivation. What am I getting out of fighting Rafael Fiziev?”

Okamoto added:

“While Oliveira was the champion, what was the answer to the question? He had just lost to Oliveira. So it’s like if you beat Rafael Fiziev, do you get a title shot? No, because it’s Charles Oliveira… But now, it’s Islam Makhachev and Gaethje has not fought Islam Makhachev.”

Justin Gaethje has insisted on being booked to fight alongside teammate Kamaru Usman on the same card. Given that Usman is likely to rematch welterweight champion Leon Edwards at UFC 286 in London later this year, Gaethje vs. Fiziev on the same card seems plausible.

Catch Okamoto’s comments below (44:00):

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