Javier Mendez knows he’s got a tough task ahead, but he also knows that his team will have the upper hand.
The Team Eagle and American Kickboxing Academy coach is well aware his pupil Islam Makhachev has a tough challenger for his first defense of his UFC lightweight title. Makhachev (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) takes on Alexander Volkanovski (25-1 MMA, 12-0 UFC), who’s champion at featherweight and is going up a division in efforts to become a two-division titleholder, in the main event of UFC 284 on Feb. 11 at RAC Arena in Perth, Australia.
Mendez respects the work that Volkanovski has put in at featherweight, but believes the jump to 155 pounds will be too much for the Australian. Pair the discrepancy in size with Makhachev’s ground game, and Mendez believes they have a big edge in the fight.
“Yeah, the weight is going to be a difference and the wrestling too,” Mendez told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “Volkanovski has never faced a man with the wrestling that Islam has in that cage. It’s the first time he faces someone with the level of wrestling that Islam Makhachev has. I don’t know if Alex will be able to withstand that, we’ll see.
“He’s strong, he’s a great champion, but we’ll see. I don’t think he’ll be able to do it because he’s just a bit too small, just a bit, but he is strong. I think that the style of jiu-jitsu and Sambo mix on the ground, I think that Alex doesn’t have the experience that Islam Makhachev has (on the ground). Islam is one of the best on the ground. He’s a great.”
But even on the feet, Mendez likes Makhachev’s chances. The veteran trainer is confident that Makhachev has what it takes to stand with Volkanovski, as they’ve rounded out his game and turned him into a complete threat.
“And if we’re fighting him on the feet, I think Islam is going to beat him there too,” Mendez said. “People think that Islam is just a wrestler, and he’s going to take things to the ground, no. No, he’s very complete. He has everything.
“If we want to beat him, you can’t just think, ‘I can only beat him on the ground.’ No, he has the style on the feet too. If you’re going to fight the fighters that train with me and Khabib in Dagestan, you need to know everything and need to know it well if you want to win. If you don’t have all the styles well-trained, you’re in trouble.”