Just a couple months ago, the UFC’s plans for the fall couldn’t have seemed more clear. The promotion was headed for Abu Dhabi in October, lead by their recently crowned lightweight champion Islam Makhachev, fresh off his first title defense against Alexander Volkanovski.
Who was he going to fight? Even that seemed like a solid plan already in motion. Charles Oliveira was all set to fight Beneil Dariush; a former champion still at his peak against a top action fighter finally in spitting distance of a title belt. Oliveira walked out of that fight with his hand raised, following a dominant first round finish. That’s where things started to go wrong.
Islam Makhachev isn’t interested in a fight with Charles Oliveira
The first sign of trouble came immediately following UFC 289, when it became clear that when Makhachev had shown interest in fighting the Oliveira/Dariush winner he’d really only expected Dariush to be the man across from him in the Octagon.
“The fight [with Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush] was good,” Islam Makhachev said in an interview after UFC 289 (transcription via LowKickMMA). “Oliveira won, but I was rooting for Dariush. I thought it would be a new challenge for me. Dariush had eight wins in a row. I don’t know. I can’t say yet if my next fight will be a rematch against Charles. We have to wait. Now, Justin (Gaethje) and Dustin (Poirier) will fight, and then the UFC will decide.”
Although Makhachev did add that he’d be willing to take on whatever challenge the UFC gave him, he made it clear that he’d much prefer to add a fresh face to his resume than re-hash a fight he’d already won. That could still mean—as aforementioned—the winner of Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier later this month. But with the high probability that fight will be an absolutely brutal war, it seems unrealistic for the champ to pin his hopes on either man being ready to go just 2.5 months later.
All things considered, ‘Do Bronx’ really looked like the best prospect Makhachev had for a title fight in October.
Of course, as it would turn out, Oliveira couldn’t even make UFC 294 if Makhachev had wanted him there. Earlier this month the Brazilian sat down with TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter to talk about his next fight, where he revealed that he won’t be ready for the Abu Dhabi card.
“So, I’m going to be honest with you,” Oliveira said through an interpreter, when asked about the Makhachev rematch. “We don’t have nothing yet, we still are waiting. But, to be honest, in October? It’s too soon for me. It’s too soon, especially if the fight’s going to be [in Abu Dhabi]. I’m really going to be ready in November, December. But in October? It’s too soon.”
Islam Makhachev calls out Leon Edwards
So what’s a champ to do? With Oliveira making it plain that he won’t be ready to go on the UFC’s time table, and with no guarantees that the Poirier/Gaethje winner will be prepared for a fast turnaround, Makhachev took to Twitter to test the interest on an idea out of left field. A superfight with welterweight champion Leon Edwards.
As for the rest of the lightweight top contenders? Michael Chandler is currently waiting for Conor McGregor to commit to something other than a future court date and Rafael Fiziev is coming off a loss to Gaethje. Mateusz Gamrot and Arman Tsarukyan are there, but hardly feel like the kind of high profile bookings the UFC had been aiming for.
Does Leon Edwards have a fight already?
What Leon Edwards is actually up to, however, is an entirely different question. The next shot at welterweight gold had been promised to former title challenger Colby Covington, after ‘Chaos’ agreed to play backup for Edwards’ rematch against Kamaru Usman back at UFC 286. Covington’s services weren’t required on the night, but despite only a 1-1 record since beating Tyron Woodley back in 2020, the former NCAA D1 All American wrestler ended up at the top of Dana White’s list of future contenders.
When and where that fight might happen seems less clear. Edwards successfully defended his title back in March, since then we’ve largely got radio silence—even as the fall schedule snaps into place. Aljamain Sterling and Zhang Weili are co-headlining at UFC 292 in August. Israel Adesanya vs. Dricus du Plessis is expected to be made official soon for UFC 293 in September. Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic has been announced for November. And Conor McGregor is still hinting that he’ll be back to wrap up the year against Michael Chandler in December.
Is Edwards going to settle for co-main status? Is Covington actually ever going to be able to fight again after the head trauma he reportedly suffered at the (alleged) hands of Jorge Masvidal outside of Papi Steak last year? Could it be that Edwards vs. Makhachev is actually the fight to make right now?
It feels more likely that the UFC will wait the two weeks for UFC 291 to wrap and see where the Poirier/Gaethje winner is in terms of health and willingness to do the UFC a solid and forego a long camp. But if that doesn’t go to plan, then it may just be that the UFC has to start considering some creative moves if they want to keep a Makhachev title fight on their PPV card in Abu Dhabi.
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