If it were up to Javier Mendez, Islam Makhachev would be defending the UFC lightweight championship against Beneil Dariush next.
Minutes after his second-round submission win over Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 this past Saturday, Makhachev shifted his focus to the first defense of his reign—which, by all appearances, will come against UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. The champ vs. champ clash was all but confirmed by UFC president Dana White, who said ‘it looks like Volkanovski is next’ in his post-fight press conference.
Though Mendez is fine with Makhachev vs. Volkanovski, he told Submission Radio that someone else is more deserving of an opportunity against his newly crowned champion. The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) coach threw his support behind Dariush, who defeated Mateusz Gamrot in what was widely considered a potential No. 1 contender.
“Now who is actually, in my opinion, more deserving from a true professional sport-sport? But this not a true sport, this is an entertainment-sport,” said Mendez. “So, from a true sport, Dariush, he deserves it. He 100 percent deserves the next shot. But because this is an entertainment sport, the fans want to see Alex and Islam go for it because [it’s] the pound-for-pound king vs. the new king in the lightweight division.
“Let’s see if the pound-for-pound king can take that lightweight title,” continued Mendez. “Which, hey, he’s the pound-for-pound for a reason, right? He’s cleared out his division and he keeps getting better and better. And what better way to have two guys that are actually going to be professional all the way through. They got a great camp. I’ve spoke nothing but highly about who they are as a camp and how they are as a team. And I still stick by what I say. I think they’re a great, great camp over there and they’re meeting another great camp. Let’s see how we can put it together and throw on a great fight for the fans.”
With Volkanovski next in line, Dariush may have to fight one more contender before securing his seemingly elusive championship opportunity. However, from what Mendez saw on Saturday, the Kings MMA product shouldn’t have to.
“Beneil really, really, really impressed me,” said Mendez. “I said, ‘Wow!’ I didn’t know the other guy. I’ve never seen the other guy at all, not one time. So I asked some of the guys around and I go, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ And they go, ‘Oh, Beneil can’t wrestle with this guy. This guy’s too good a wrestler. He’s something European — ADCC champ and he’s this champion. And I went, ‘Oh, wow.’ Then I saw Beneil and how great he performed and I saw what a champion heart he had and I said, ‘There’s your answer right there. There’s your next challenger.’”
Makhachev vs. Dariush was supposed to happen at UFC Vegas 49 in February, but the latter was forced to withdraw after suffering an ankle injury. Should Makhachev get through Volkanovski, perhaps he and Darisuh can share the Octagon in 2023.
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