The next great UFC lightweight to bust out following Khaib Nurmagomedov's impending retirement just might be from the unbeaten 155-pound champion's stable.
Islam Makhachev (19-1) put on a grappling clinic on Saturday in a third-round submission win over Drew Dober (23-10, 1 NC) at UFC 259 inside the Apex in Las Vegas. The 29-year-old Makhachev, like Nurmagomedov a native of Dagestan in Russia, returned to the Octagon following a 17-month layoff and appeared ready to make the leap into the upper tier of the division.
"This is not my fault because 2020 was very crazy," Makhachev said of his inactivity. "I lost a lot of my close friends and close people and I cancelled my three fights. That's why you for a long time don't see me."
The fight marked Makhachev's first since the loss of his longtime coach -- Nurmagomedov's father, Abdulmanap -- who died last summer following COVID-19 complications. Nurmagomedov, who has yet to be stripped of his title by UFC president Dana White despite repeatedly stating his intention to retire, joined Javier Mendez of American Kickboxing Academy as a coach in Makhachev's corner.
The performance Makhachev put in undoubtedly drew the respect of Nurmagomedov as he took the red-hot Dober down at will and methodically improved his position to create numerous submission opportunities, including an arm bar in the closing seconds of Round 1.
"I couldn't strike with him because he had a very large punch so I just took the easy way and took him down and grinded wth him," Makhachev said.
Makhachev's grappling control and seamless transitions on the ground continued into the second round as he spent most of it on top of Dober, landing clean strikes with elbows. Makhachev's takedown to open the final round appeared even easier as he flattened Dober out before securing an arm triangle to produce a tap at 1:37.
The victory was the seventh straight for Makhachev since his lone career defeat via knockout against Adriano Martins in 2015.
"The finish is always very important. Maybe Dana will give me the bonus… I tried to finish him in the first round, but Dober is a very strong guy," Makhachev said. "He has like crazy power, that's why I just tried to make him tired, make him work and finish him in the third round.
"I feel this pressure but I'm not an amateur guy. I have a big amateur career, now I have 19 victories, that's why I understand everything. I just have to train hard because people believe in me."
Makhachev is hoping for two more fights in 2021 before challenging for the title at the beginning of 2022. Dober snapped a three-fight win streak, all by TKO, and lost just his second over a span of eight fights.