When Islam Makhachev headlined UFC Vegas 31 against Thiago Moises in July, he sat at the number nine spot in the lightweight rankings. After submitting the then number 14-ranked Moises, he instantly leaped four spots to number five.
Makhachev’s win was his eighth straight since 2015, and that may have contributed to his boost in the media-voted rankings. But for fellow top-fivers like Justin Gaethje, it’s a “pretty crazy” situation.
“It’ll be good to see Islam fight someone that’s ranked higher,” Gaethje told Helen Yee in a recent interview. “It was crazy to see… we got the same management and all that. But to see the dude jump from 15 or 12, to five, after beating the number 14 guy was pretty crazy to me. So yeah, I’m glad to see him fight an actual ranked fighter.
“I hate to see people get pushed that are not finishing people, not exciting. But that’s just me. And that’s how I’ll be... whether he’s champion or not, that’ll be my outlook.”
Makhachev’s UFC 267 opponent will now be Dan Hooker, who stepped in last week fresh off UFC 266 to replace the injured Rafael Dos Anjos. Gaethje expects the same from his fellow Dominance MMA talent, but hopes “The Hangman” can ward off the wrestling and impose his game.
“Islam’s gonna go out there and try to wrestle, try to control and fight the fight that they fight. I think he’s gonna be a big favorite, probably a huge favorite. ‘Cause Dan Hooker’s a striker. He’s not a grappler, he’s never been known as a grappler.
“But I hope he can stop those takedowns and make Islam fight. We’ve seen him get knocked out before.”
Makhachev did get wind of Gaethje’s statements and didn’t seem perturbed.
Hey @Justin_Gaethje you not happy I’m getting next to you in rankings?— Makhachev Islam (@MAKHACHEVMMA) October 7, 2021
After a yearlong layoff and an apparent battle with COVID, the number two-ranked Gaethje is now slated to face Michael Chandler. The two are part of UFC 268’s main card on November 6 at Madison Square Garden.