Islam Makhachev beat home favourite and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski by unanimous decision to retain his lightweight title in an engaging contest at UFC 284 in Perth, Australia.
In a close contest, Russian Makhachev’s counter striking and offensive wrestling gave him the edge over a gallant Volkanovski.
In victory, Makhachev 31, could replace Volkanovski, 34, who was attempting to become a double champion, as the UFC’s pound-for-pound number one.
The bout was billed by the UFC as the first ever meeting between their current pound-for-pound number one in Volkanovski, and the number two-ranked fighter in Makhachev.
Volkanovski, who has dominated the featherweight division since winning the title in 2019, was stepping up to lightweight in the hope of following Conor McGregor, Amanda Nunes, Daniel Cormier and Henry Cejudo in becoming the fifth simultaneous double UFC champion.
Makhachev, meanwhile, was making the first defence of his title since beating Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 in October.
The Russian was a big pre-fight favourite with bookmakers because of his bigger size, with pundits pointing to his high-level wrestling as being the difference, but the fight was much closer than some predicted.
There was a party atmosphere as Volkanovski made his way to the octagon, voraciously cheered by the Australians inside the RAC Arena, while in contrast Makhachev sported a stern, focused look as he was booed during his walk-out.
Makhachev was also fighting without his coach, mentor and former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner, after the latter suggested in January he was stepping away from the sport.
The fight begun with both athletes showing patience as Volkanovski feinted and switched stances, while Makhachev looked for openings.
Just over midway through the round, Makhachev had his first significant moment as a punch stunned Volkanovski, illustrating the difference in power, before he landed a takedown and ended the round in a dominant position.