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Russian star dethrones UFC pound-for-pound king

Islam Makhachev retained his world title in a hard-fought battle in

Islam Makhachev reacts after his victory over Alexander Volkanovski during the 284 event on February 12, 2023 in Australia © Getty Images / Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Russian champion Islam Makhachev defended his UFC lightweight title early on Sunday in an intense, five-round battle against hometown favorite Alex Volkanovski in Perth, Australia in the UFC 284 headliner.

Makhachev, the fearsome Dagestani grappler, entered the cage as the reigning 155lb champion, but faced a stern challenge from the Australian, who was moving up from the featherweight (145lb) division he has dominated in a bid to become the UFC’s latest two-division titleholder.

But after a back-and-forth contest which saw both men tested on their feet and on the ground, it was Makhachev’s persistent aggression and suffocating grappling which proved enough to earn a unanimous decision victory on the judges’ scorecards.

“Thank you Alex. It was a very good fight,” said Makhachev after what will likely be considered by far the toughest bout of his recent career. “I need some tough fights. I have to improve. I [thought] he’s going to be easy on the ground but this guy improved a lot.”

The victory will almost certainly see Makhachev succeed Volkanovski at the summit of the UFC’s official pound-for-pound rankings to determine the world’s best fighter across all weight classes when the latest list is issued on Monday. It was the first time in the UFC’s 30-year history that the fight league’s top two ranked pound-for-pound fighters fought in the Octagon.

“I show why I’m number one,” Makhchev added in his post-fight interview. “They have to improve more. You like or you don’t like but I am the best fighter in the world right now.”

Volkanovski, who was fighting in front of a fiercely partisan crowd Down Under, added his congratulations to Makhachev afterwards.

“Obviously a lot of people are going to be happy with that because they never gave me a chance,” said the Aussie, who had Makhachev in trouble on several occasions in the five-round fight. “I knew I prepared properly, it was a fun fight. Congrats to Islam.”

Makhachev, who has now won 12 straight fights, stands alone at the top of the UFC lightweight division. His victory ensures continued Dagestani dominance in the organization’s lightweight fold – just like the man he succeeded at the top of the division, his close friend and training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov.

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