But names like Beneil Dariush, Makhachev’s initial opponent for the 26th prior to his severe leg injury, and Justin Gaethje have also recently established their position for a championship crack. Also, the looming presence of Conor McGregor returning to action right into a title affair is a narrative tendril as well here.
In a sport that’s very fixated on what’s next, that thought process now extends to the surging lightweight contender. The question of ‘where does Islam go?’ is one that Dan Hooker tackles on The AllStar MMA Live show.
“Conor coming out there, that definitely throws a spanner into the works,” Hooker said. “If you’re Charles Oliveira, you’re waiting for Conor McGregor. If he has put it out there and he is serious, in talks with the UFC.
“Iron some timelines out and some numbers out. You wait for Conor McGregor and that’s just what it is. Little computer people sitting down there can say oh what about the integrity of the sport? He’s got to fight (Justin) Gaethje. Get the fuck out of here. Like Charles Oliveira deserves it, hands down.”
Oliveira has the belt and has had a mean run. Hooker admits he has talked some trash about Do Bronx in the past but has to give the reigning lightweight champion his due.
Hooker can understand certain negative internet sentiments regarding a McGregor title shot, to a degree. But he would not fault Oliveira for fighting the Irish superstar in a highly lucrative outing.
“He’s earned that spot to wait for Conor McGregor. What? Fight Gaethje for fun? You will earn like ten times the amount of money for fighting Conor McGregor as you will for Justin Gaethje.
“I understand what [fans] are getting at by saying that sort of stuff but I would not hold it against Charles Oliveira for a single second if he sat around and waited for Conor. That is perfectly fine. Sucks for Gaethje. Sucks for Gaethje but hey if you’re that upset about it, there is Islam Makhachev there waiting for him.”
Hypothetically, if Oliveira defends his title against McGregor, Gaethje could end up facing Makhachev in a title eliminator.
“Not saying [Gaethje] would lose or anything like that,” Hooker quipped. “I’m just saying that stylistically it’s not a great fight. A guy that likes to go out there and put on an absolute show….is not the best, as we’ve seen, stylistic matchup for Islam.”