Charles Oliveira is a foe worthy of respect in the eyes of Islam Makhachev. The same can't be said for the entirety of the lightweight elite. Oliveira vs. Makhachev headlines UFC 280 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi with the vacant UFC lightweight championship at stake.
Former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will be in Makhachev's corner on Saturday night. Nurmagomedov has repeatedly downplayed Oliveira's chances. Nurmagomedov recently told Henry Cejudo that submission specialist Oliveira can't claim to have a ground game when he's tapped eight times (in reality, Oliveira has only lost via submission three times and has eight career losses). Makhachev is certainly confident in his skills but refuses to downplay Oliveira's growth over a dozen years of trial and error inside the UFC cage.
"I just prepare for the hard fight always," Makhachev told CBS Sports. "I don't want to say this will be an easy match or something like that because I have to give this guy respect. He has come from a hard life. A hard way because he has many hard fights in the UFC. He did not from the easy way.
"I have to respect Charles but I cannot respect some people like Michael Chandler who talk too much. Who has [Chandler] beat? He beat just Tony Ferguson, who almost retired -- he has to retire but he's still fighting. And he beat Dan Hooker. [Chandler] is 2-2 in the UFC and he keeps trying to get a title fight. It's not working like that."
Check out the full interview with Islam Makhachev below.
Oliveira has developed a puzzling MMA game that has stumped the likes of Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, Chandler and Ferguson. Few fighters are willing to gamble with Oliveira's record-setting submission game under any circumstances. This not only makes it difficult to capitalize on knockdowns but, according to Makhachev, it also drains gas tanks as fighters desperately load up on single, fight-ending strikes.
"His opponents try to knock him out. All these guys knock him down but no one goes to the ground and tries to finish him because all of these guys are scared of his grappling skills. That's a big problem," Makhachev said. "They let him get up and again they try to land a hard punch. All these guys get so tired."
Mahkhachev's detractors will point to his level of competition. Despite an impressive 22-1 pro record, Makhachev has not fought anyone in the top 10, excluding Arman Tsarukyan who was unranked at the time of their fight. Makhachev insists that is a consequence of fighters -- including Chandler, Gaethje and Poirier -- avoiding him. UFC gold around his waist will remedy that problem. As top dog, Makhachev can begin tearing his way down a division that denied him opportunities on the way up.
"All my professional career I've had one problem, all these guys from the top avoid me for many years," Makhachev said. "This is not my mistake. I just fought who they put in front of me. I never choose some opponents. Now this problem is going to finish because I'm going to be the champion and they are going to call me out."
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