In short, no. While I’m not saying that Islam can not be as successful or perhaps even more than his best friend and training partner Khabib, the reality is that there will ever only be one Khabib. While the comparisons and similarities are there, tremendous wrestling, serviceable stand up, deadly ground and pound and of course training under the AKA banner. But as far as fighting and career trajectory goes, this is where the resemblance ends. While Islam doesn’t hold the impeccable record of the Eagle, his lone loss was over 7 years ago and due to a very quick and questionable stoppage, this does nothing to deter from the fact that he is in line to pick up where Khabib left off.
Since joining the UFC, Islam has amassed an 11-1 record and battered everyone in his way (except for 1). Sound familiar? Well, Khabib rifled off 10 straight victories before receiving his title shot VS Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 and capturing gold. The eagle smashed all 29 opponents before calling it a career and going out on his terms. But unfortunately for Islam, he has yet to receive actual confirmation of when he will receive said title shot, even after dominating his last 4 opponents all by stoppage we have seen Islam calling time and time again for his well-deserved shot at the crown. There are even rumours that Conor Mcgregor might receive such a shot even though he is on a 2 fight losing streak and hasn’t won since beating Donald Cerrone in 2020.
MMA has evolved into a sport where self marketability and animosity rule all, this includes things like PPVs, salaries and the amount of push and exposure in terms of media and marketing. In part, this is where I believe the distinctions between Islam and Khabib begin. For one Khabib and Islam, both were at a disadvantage in terms of the language barrier, they had to adapt and learn to progress and create an audience in the biggest market on earth “USA”. The way both fighters control the mic whether before or after a fight is also very similar in terms of humility, praising God and family above all. But between the two fighters, I believe Khabib brought fire and confidence to interviews that Islam has yet to find. Don’t get me wrong Islam has the tenacity of a Lion while fighting, but talking is not the man’s style. He would rather punch a hole in your face and call it a night. But unfortunately, this is not what gets attention or a title shot for that matter.
Another aspect that brings eyes to the sport is the aspect of bad blood, just look at some of the most anticipated fights of all time and they have rivalries written all over them. The fact that Khabib was as dominant as he was but had arch-nemesis with the likes of Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson helped boost his stock tremendously, whether, with fans, PPV’s or the UFC brass, all of it helped get him to his first title shot. Islam on the other hand looks like a future champ destined to lap his competition much like Anderson Silva, Izzy, Usman and others. While the closest to a rival that Islam seems to have found is that of Beneil Dairush, but nothing major. A true bad blood rivalry could not only bring out that fire that Islam has, but it could also create a narrative that more fans and onlookers can get behind, after all, entertainment is part of MMA.
Finally, I would like to talk about styles. Yes I know they both come from the same camp, yes I know they were both trained by Khabib’s late father Abulmanap, yes I know they are both wrestling machines. But let us be honest, Islam has a clear edge in the striking department. This isn’t to say he’s got the world’s best striking or is on a different level above Khabib, but in terms since joining the UFC Islam has a higher striking accuracy (57%) to Khabibs (48%), striking defence (68%) to Khabib (65%), strikes absorbed per minute (.84 per min) to Khabib (1.75 per min), under the UFC Islam has competed 12 times to Khabib 13. Islam has proven to be the more efficient striker while getting hit less. The wrestling department stands as follows Islam takedown average is (3.41 per min) to Khabib (5.32 per min), Islam TD accuracy (65%) to Khabib (48%). So while they may be similar in so many ways, I wholeheartedly believe Islam will break out of the shadow of Khabib when he claims gold and possibly fights longer than his compatriot.