Islam Makhachev prefers fresh fight with Justin Gaethje over Charles Oliveira, Arman Tsarukyan rematches

UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev is not one to pick opponents, but if he had his choice, he would steer clear of another rematch in his next fight.

After defeating featherweight titleholder Alexander Volkanovski in back-to-back fights in February and October, it seemed Makhachev (25-1 MMA, 14-1 UFC) was trending toward running it back with Charles Oliveira, who he took the 155-pound strap from in October 2022, in his next outing.

Arman Tsarukyan, whom Makhachev defeated by unanimous decision in April 2019, has also been clamoring for a chance at the belt following his recent knockout of Beneil Dariush.

The standout contender whom Makhachev has yet to share the octagon is “BMF” champ Justin Gaethje, who also positioned himself well in the division with a head kick knockout of Dustin Poirier in July. And of all the options, Makhachev said he likes Gaethje (25-4 MMA, 8-4 UFC) the most.

“To be honest, I’ve already said that I’m not that interested in rematches,” Makhachev told reporters at an IBA Boxing event on Saturday in Dubai. “Because if you want to win someone in a good way, you have to add new names. There is Gaethje, who I would say deserved a fight. I think it would be more interesting to fight him.”

Makhachev, No. 2 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie pound-for-pound rankings, said he hopes to return to the octagon in March so he can compete before taking his yearly hiatus from competition to observe Ramadan. The two primary dates could be UFC’s Saudi Arabia debut on March 2, or UFC 299 on March 9, which is expected to take place in Miami.

The reigning UFC lightweight champ said he sees UFC 299 as the more likely of the two possibilities, and Makhachev, 32, will ultimately accept whichever name the promotion presents to him.

Although he sees Gaethje, 35, at the forefront, Makhachev admits Tsarukyan (21-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC) was impressive in his performance against Dariush. He admitted he was amused by Tsarukyan predicting he would win a rematch by first-round knockout, but thinks he needs another solid showing before stepping into a title shot.

“It was a good knockout, to be honest,” Makhachev said. “After that fight, I think he said loudly that he had won (the top contender fight). Well, he is approaching the title chance, I would say.

“He already had the chance to knock me out. But he didn’t succeed. He didn’t win a single round. Let him train more. He will grow up. If he will pass one more fight confidently, then the UFC leadership will give him this fight with me.”

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie