The division’s title picture beyond that, however, is a bit murky with contenders Justin Gaethje, Beneil Dariush, and Islam Makhachev all lobbying for the next crack at gold. Each man has made his case, but the promotion and UFC president Dana White has yet to commit to an individual contender as next in line.
Recently, manager Ali Abdelaziz, CEO of Dominance MMA, provided insight into the matter. Interestingly enough, Abdelaziz manages all three of the listed contenders. This could make matters difficult, but Abdelaziz was confident enough in a recent interview to state his prediction for the lightweight division’s plans in a recent interview with TMZ Sports.
“Justin Gaethje is going to be next,” Abdelaziz said. “Probably, Beneil Dariush is going to fight Islam Makhachev. Probably, you are going to see Beneil Dariush fight Islam Makhachev and Justin Gaethje is going to fight for the title probably in May.”
Gaethje (23-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) most recently competed Nov. 6 at UFC 268 when he defeated Michael Chandler via unanimous decision. The win was his fifth in his most recent six fights with the only loss in that stretch coming to then-UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254.
Dariush (21-4-1 MMA, 15-4-1 UFC) is currently riding one of the longest winning streaks of his career, as he’s mounted seven victories in a row. Notable wins include Drakkar Klose, Diego Ferreira, and most recently Tony Ferguson at UFC 262 in May.
In the recent weeks, Gaethje and Makhachev’s coach and mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov have engaged in back-and-forth on social media. Past opponents, Gaethje and Makhachev were cordial in the lead-up to their October 2020 bout. However, things have gotten a little more testy recently.
Abdelaziz was quick to shoot down any notion Nurmagomedov and Gaethje hold disdain for one another. Additionally, he denied the popular rumor he’s still running Nurmagomedov’s social media accounts.
“Brother, the internet has been saying that (it’s me) for years,” Abdelaziz said. “It’s fine. They respect each other. They see each other all the time. They do press conferences together. At the end of the day, it’s the fight business, you know? Fighters are going to say whatever they want. But both guys have respect for each other. I do not tweet for nobody. But if they they think that, they can keep thinking… I used to tweet for Khabib to tell you the truth, but now his English is much better and he doesn’t need me.”