The Severe Spotlight: Islam Makhachev

Generational talents come around few and far between, especially in MMA. In modern times, Georges Saint-Pierre, Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson, Khabib Nurmagomedov are some of the names that immediately come to mind. That’s four names in the span of thirty years, thousands of fights, multiple weight classes. It is time we begin to add Islam Makhachev to that list of names.

That list cares not for star power, revenue generation, trash-talking ability, or fan revere. It cares for skills only.

The display of skills from Makhachev on Saturday night is something that we both must begin to become accustomed to from Makhachev, but also understand its uniqueness. Before we break down the fight it is important to give the respect deserved to Dustin Poirer. Whilst Dustin did not look during the fight to be able to sway the crushing waves of momentum built by Islam over the five rounds – The Diamond showed every piece of grit, heart, skill, and determination to continue to make the fight competitive. We do not get to see the display of unadulterated skill should Makhachev not have a willing dance partner like Poirer.

In this fight we saw multiple different looks from Makhachev, we saw vintage Nurmagomedov blueprint in round 1, we saw a pushed and tested variation in round 2, an effective and slick striker in round 3, a revert to the dominant grappling in round 4, and of course the artistry in round 5 to cause the finish. So lets look at each one.

Round 1 waste very little time engaging with a fresh and dangerous Poirier on the feet, it was well understood that exchanging strikes in close boxing range without grips was out of the question, but striking at range was acceptable for Makhachev. So from kickboxing range he countered well from his southpaw stance, before catching a naked kick and running Poirer to the wall, hitting the first takedown of the night; a high crotch trip variation – an immediate uniqueness.

The control here as stated previously was Nurmagomedov blueprint 101, Islam camped in the half guard position, heavy hips controlling his partners hips, a cross face to control the posture, and then moved between looking for one of Islam’s favoured submissions; the kimura or landing shots to Poirer. Always presenting the dilemma of positional advancement, taking damage, offering space for a submission attempt, mixed in with the inability to get up.

Eventually Poirer’s elbow removed from his ribs enough that Islam latched onto a straight armbar. To defend that, the arm must bend. Porier, as a seasoned black belt did just that and begun to build height as Makhachev chased the kimura. The adjustment from Makhachev to focus on the hips and not the arm was magic, as he used the kimura grips to follow Poirier as he rose, slotting hooks in and immediately locking a body triangle.

Much of the rest of the round was Makhachev contesting for choke attempts and shots from the back on Dustin. Dustin defended valiantly.

Round two saw Poirer employ some tactics that was successful in the Alexander Volkanovski fight, instead of just fighting the takedown conventionally when in open space, he used the transition time to find his escape, stuffing 4 takedowns in the process. The confidence swelled in Porier who began to land his right hand, and the left behind it. Islam however took this round to implement what was a staple of the striking game the entire night, the knee from the plum clinch. Poirier had come to the fight with a gameplan of only throwing singles or doubles when on the feet, to give himself time to react to the shots from Makhachev, whilst this was effective, it allowed Makhachev to be comfortable with the volume coming from Porier and could counter and enter the clinch, looking for short uppercuts and that devastating knee.

Round three saw the knee back in full force as Islam found his way back to the wrestling, once again finding the back of Porier before taking efficiency learnings from round ones back control portion and this time switching to the mount, isolating an arm, and searching for an armbar. Dustin keeps his shoulder height beautifully to ensure that a clean break isn’t on, and twists and turns until he has found his escape and a reset to the feet. Iconic Dustin screaming into his opponents face as blood pours from his nose.

Totally undeterred by the consistent resistance from Poirer, Islam goes right back to the beautifully effective, impactful striking in round four. He shows off his ability to inter-fight, fighting between the ranges so well in this round, the kicks on the outside, the long right-hand counters, the short body shots in the median boxing ranges, the up-close pocket clinching, the knee ever present, shots against the fence, a complete range offering from the champion. Makhachev stuns Poirer with a crisp right-hand counter straight to the chin, causing Dustin to stumble his hips underneath his snapped back neck – Islam level changes and slams his shoulders to Poirier’s hips against the fence.

Often after stunning an opponent shooting on a takedown is seen as low fight IQ, instead here we know that the grappling is where Islam can drain Poirer, and the cage wrestling we saw at the end of four is a demonstration of energy balancing. Dustin is less tired that Islam, and so Islam having drained energy points from the bank of Porier by wobbling him, needs to capitalise and does so with the grappling.

Round five is art. Both fighters talking to each other, Poirier needing a finish and sensing a tired fighter in front of him, he has survived the back control, the mount, the cage wrestling, stuffed shots in the open, taken the knees, taken the elbows, taken a crisp right straight that stunned him just the round before. As fresh as you can be in a five-round war like this he stands, confidence still swelling but knowing the task in front of him. Yet, as all true great champions do, Islam Makhachev finds a way. He starts with the knee, before shooting and picking up a low single. From here he peeks to his left and waits for the reaction his copious amount of study and in-fight reading has taught him.

He waits and waits until Poirer throws the shot that compromises his own base, and Islam times that leg whip to perfection, forcing a scramble that can only end in front headlock. Makhachev immediately turns the corner and places his chest behind the left shoulder of Poirer, blocking his ability to turn in. A bolt cutter grip is used to setup the d’arce, as Islam hoists Porier onto his chest as he sinks the choking arm as deep under the neck of Porier as possible, not needing the connect that choking arm to his bicep, instead connecting it to the forearm and using a winch mechanic to get the bend in the neck.

Porier is forced to tap almost immediately, which only demonstrates how tight that choke truly was.

We must pay homage and bear witness to what is likely the greatest fighter alive right now, in Islam Makhachev.

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