ISLAM MAKHACHEV will succeed Khabib Nurmagomedov as UFC lightweight champion 'this year'.
The 29-year-old is a long-time training partner of the recently-retired Nurmagomedov and was a student of The Eagle's late father, Abdulmanap.
Makhachev has shown glimpses of a championship skill set during his five-year stint in the UFC, which his American Kickboxing Academy team-mates have eulogised.
And AKA head coach Javier Mendez reckons it's only a matter of time before he gets hands on the lightweight title.
Mendez told SunSport: "He's gonna be the champion this year. He's that goddamn good. He's that good."
Mendez's belief that Makhachev will replace Nurmagomedov at the summit of the 155lb division stems from his first-hand viewing of their sparring sessions, which are the stuff of folklore.
He said: "When I used to talk to you guys about his [Khabib's] sparring sessions and how he may lose the rounds and this and that.
"Well, guess what? That's who it was. That guy. That guy.
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"Nobody else comes close, but that guy was right on him every single time. So guess what? Yes, he will be Khabib's [heir].
"If Khabib had to fight him and they weren't together, that would be Khabib's biggest threat.
"His biggest threat would be Islam. Of course, they'd never fight each other because they're brothers.
"But if he had to fight Khabib, that would be his biggest, giant worry would be Islam Makhachev."
Before the No.14-ranked Makhachev can think about having the lightweight strap wrapped around his waist – or making title run for that matter – he must first get past the formidable Drew Dober, whom he'll meet this weekend at UFC 259.
Mendez said of the fight: "I think the only thing it's going to do for Islam is just let everybody know that Islam is legit.
"The RDA [Rafael dos Anjos] fight would've propelled him into title contention.
"This one is not going to put him in that situation."
Despite believing a win over the in-form Dober, who has won his last three in a row, will do little for Makhachev's title hopes, Mendez is refusing to overlook the Nebraska native.
He said: "The problem with this one is because it's not going to put him there, it could be a dangerous fight. Drew Dober is no joke.
"He's on a roll, he's explosive, he can knock you out. Man, he's strong. He's a strong competitor, he's underrated, in my opinion.
"So Drew Dober is not somebody we need to be sleeping on.
"Unfortunately for us, it's a win we're gonna get, it's a win we're expected to get.
"So I don't think it's a win that's going to propel us into anything other than maybe another RDA fight type of scenario.
"But it's not going to put us in the, 'OK, the next shot you get is the No2, No3 guy and then you go for a title.'
"I don't think the Drew Dober fight does for us as much as the RDA fight would've done."
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