Eddie Alvarez extremely confident Arman Tsarukyan beats Islam Makhachev, breaks down Khabib comparison

Islam Makhachev is MMA’s pound-for-pound king, but Eddie Alvarez expects that reign to end soon.

Makhachev authored another impressive defense of his lightweight title in this past Saturday’s UFC 302 main event, fending off a valiant effort from Dustin Poirier to secure a submission in the final round. With the victory, Makhachev secured his third straight title defense (tying a UFC record in the 155-pound division), won his 14th fight in a row, and improved his record to 26-1.

Up next in the lightweight contender line should be Arman Tsarukyan, who fell short in his UFC debut when he fought Makhachev on short notice in April 2019. The stage is set for a rematch, one that Alvarez predicts Tsarukyan will win.

“Arman beats him,” Alvarez said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I made that assumption right after the fight, because look at who Khabib [Nurmagomedov] went against. Everybody Khabib defended [his UFC title] against, he had what I call a distinct grappling advantage. The gap in the grappling advantage was so high and he dominated these guys.

“He never had to take the risk of getting his shot stopped, not securing a takedown, not being on top, and Islam just had to deal with that for a little bit [at UFC 302] and look how bad it kind of went the other way when he couldn’t get the guy to the ground and control him.”

Makhachev and Khabib Nurmagomedov are lifelong training partners and have frequently drawn comparisons to one another due to their elite wrestling and sheer dominance in the cage. Nurmagomedov never tasted defeat in 29 pro bouts and retired in October 2020 with his unblemished record intact.

Though Makhachev has a lone loss on his record, he has gone almost eight years without a misstep, most recently knocking off Poirier, featherweight great Alexander Volkanovski twice, and former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira. Alvarez believes the key to Tsarukyan upsetting Makhachev is his ability to match him in the wrestling, and then outwork him in other aspects of MMA.

“If you’re able to match [Makhachev and Nurmagomedov’s] wrestling a little bit where they can’t dominate you and you can put them in a fight, you start to see they’re a little bit human,” Alvarez said. “So I think Arman, because of his wrestling background, he’s going to be able to stop the shot. He may even take Islam down a little bit. Islam won’t be the hammer the entire fight, and we need to see how they’re going to deal with that.

“They’re always the hammer, and that’s easy to do, but when you get a guy like Arman who can match your wrestling ability, make you work and breathe heavy and work for your grappling positions and advantage, now that’s a fight. That’s a fight I want to see, that’s a fight I’m interested in, and I don’t know if they want that fight. I feel like they don’t want that fight.”

In their first encounter, Tsarukyan’s wrestling allowed him to give Makhachev a tough three-round fight, but Makhachev’s grappling proved to be superior and the now-champ ultimately won a unanimous decision. Tsarukyan was only 22 years old when he fought Makhachev, and afterward went on a tear of his own, winning nine of his next 10 fights.

Seeing Makhachev pushed to the limit by Poirier has made Alvarez even more confident that Tsarukyan will win the rematch. The UFC 302 main event provided Alvarez with more insight into why Makhachev is more beatable than his close friend Nurmagomedov.

“Khabib, his greatness was in he never fought mid, mid-way,” Alvarez said. “Khabib fought way far away or suffocated you in. He never put himself in danger. So he was either on top of you suffocating you, you couldn’t breathe, or way far away to never get hit. He was beautiful in that he did that and he never got really hurt during his fights.

“Islam’s different because Islam plays in-between a lot more. He takes a lot more risks. He goes for a lot more submissions, he tries to finish, so he puts himself in more danger than Khabib ever did. So he’s susceptible to getting beat more than Khabib was when you look at Dustin vs. Khabib or Dustin vs. Islam. Islam gave Dustin them opportunities. He went for the kimura early, Dustin almost reversed it. He kept trying to go for things or he was more willing to engage in-between standing up and he took damage for that.”

“Islam is not Khabib,” Alvarez continued. “He doesn’t fight like Khabib. He takes more chances. He takes more risk and relies on finishing guys, where Khabib, he knew you weren’t going to be able to deal with him over time and he would take you from 100 percent energy to zero energy and then he would finish you. Islam’s more — he’s going to go for it. He’s going to leave himself more vulnerable, so he’s a little bit funner to watch, but he’s more susceptible to getting beat than Khabib was.”

Just for the fun of it, Alvarez was asked how a hypothetical fight between Makhachev and Nurmagomedov would go, and he leaned towards “The Eagle.”

“I think Khabib,” Alvarez said. “Especially based on how much damage Islam took against Dustin. I think based on that. I think it’s a boring fight to watch, it’s not something I’d ever be interested in watching, or maybe fans would just because they’re brothers, but it’s not something I’d be interested in watching. I think it would be a chess match that only high-level fighters would tune in for.”