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UFC Vegas 31: Islam Makhachev shoulders expectations of Khabib and Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov

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Can Islam Makhachev take the next step toward a UFC title against Thiago Moises at UFC Vegas 31?

Under normal circumstances, Islam Makhachev would be under a significant amount of pressure on Saturday for his main event performance at UFC Vegas 31. He’s a top-10 ranked lightweight on a seven-fight winning streak who has absorbed the fewest strikes per minute in UFC history at 0.77. He is a -700 favorite over Thiago Moises and competing in his first UFC main event.

However, Makhachev is not fighting under normal circumstances thanks to his association with former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Khabib’s late father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.

During an in-depth interview with ESPN, Nurmagomedov, who “officially” retired from the UFC in March, said that he and his father had not spoken about a specific retirement timeline for Khabib, but Abdulmanap had a framework in mind for his son and that included Makhachev.

“He told me, ‘When you gonna finish, Islam have to come,’” said Nurmagomedov. “’You finish, Islam have to come at the same time, because there are three years between you guys.”

That plan didn’t work out because Khabib promised his mother he would only fight once without his father in his corner. That fight, a submission win over Justin Gaethje, occurred in October. Nurmagomedov wrapped up his career with three UFC lightweight title defenses and a 29-0 record.

Today, Makhachev is ranked No. 9 in the official UFC lightweight rankings. A position that Nurmagomedov seemed to tease him about during the ESPN interview, “I told Islam, ‘You a little bit late, brother,” said Nurmagomedov. “You only top 10. You’re supposed to be top 3.’ This guy is late.”

Nurmagomedov, who will be in Makhachev’s corner for the main event of UFC Vegas 31 on Saturday, feels this is the fight where the 29-year-old Makhachev can prove he is a future UFC champion.

“This Saturday, you have to prove yourself,” Nurmagomedov said. “Show the world who is Islam Makhachev. Not only Khabib’s brother. No. He has to be his own. Islam Makhachev. Best in the world. Eight-fight win streak. He beat everyone.

“This guy has to fight for the title not because he is my brother or friend or something like this. He is very good.”