Ilia Topuria opened the market and became the UFC champion by knocking out Australian legend Alexander Volkanovski

Ilia Topuria opened the market and became the UFC champion by knocking out Australian legend Alexander Volkanovski


Fighter Ilia Topuria, representing Spain and Georgia, became the author of one of the main sensations of recent years in mixed martial arts (MMA). Having no experience of truly top fights, Topuria was able to knock out the outstanding Australian Alexander Volkanovski in the second round and take away the title of UFC champion, the main promotion in the category up to 67 kg. However, this sensation is relative: the match only confirmed that it is very difficult for MMA veterans from light categories to stay in shape sufficient to win titles.

The outcome of this fight in Anaheim, California caused a huge resonance in the world of mixed martial arts and seems to have really pleased UFC head Dana White. Expressing sympathy for Volkanovski, he did not even intend to hide it. The reason for the excitement was quite valid from the point of view of a businessman running a large promotion: Ilia Topuria’s victory may have opened up new markets for him.

All clear. The point is in the biography of 27-year-old Topuria, a classic “man of the world.” He was born in Germany, as a child he moved to Georgia, where his parents were from, where he practiced Greco-Roman wrestling, and at 15 he settled in Alicante, Spain. Spain – and White, of course, knew this – still remains something of a blank spot on the MMA map: well, for some reason they don’t work in this country. In fact, the country became interested in mixed martial arts only thanks to the success of Topuria, who earned the nickname El Matador from local fans. And now that he has made such a rise, it is possible that simply infatuation will develop into true love, such that White’s loud statement after the end of the match: “That’s it, we’re going to Spain! There is an accessible site!” – did not remain an empty promise, soon forgotten for purely economic reasons.

The takeoff was, by the way, very spectacular. Ilia Topuria appeared in the UFC quite recently – at the end of the last decade – and only managed to fight seven fights there. Moreover, there were no truly top ones, against exceptional opponents, among them. But the leaders of the structure were so impressed by Topuria’s audacity and indomitability in the octagon, as well as the knockout talent gushing out of him, that they decided to give him a title match, and even against a legend of the genre.

Alexander Volkanovski with his amazing career last year occupied the top spot in the ranking of the best UFC fighters, regardless of category. And his radiance dimmed a little after clashes with the Russian Islam Makhachev, who was rushing to her. The Australian suffered two defeats from him. First, in February 2023 in Perth, Makhachev defeated him on points in an incredibly difficult fight, then in October in Abu Dhabi – by knockout in the opening round.

But the value of Ilia Topuria’s success is in some sense even higher than the success of Islam Makhachev. Alexander Volkanovski, for the sake of fighting the Russian, rose from his usual featherweight to the next, lightweight (up to 70 kg), “native” for his opponent. And in the second case, he simply did not have time for more or less full preparation for the fight: he agreed to replace the injured Charles Oliveira two weeks before.

Volkanovski prepared for the match with Ilia Topuria in combat mode. And there was no reason to think that he was underestimating the enemy. On the contrary, it was obvious that he perceived him as a serious threat.

The opening round confirmed the feelings. Volkanovski was extremely careful in it, always met Topuria’s attacks and took the lead on the judges’ cards. But it all ended sadly for him. In the middle of the second round, Topuria still waited for the Australian to fail. Seemingly insignificant – not a failure, but a failure. But this miraculous attack from Volkanovski was followed by a series of blows, deadly in speed, cruelty and beauty, from Topuria, who clearly demonstrated what it is – the killer instinct. The Australian found himself on the floor next to the net, and the referee had no other choice but to stop the fight, recording the sensation.

However, the sensation may be very relative. Anyone who closely follows martial arts has long been aware that veterans hold up well in them, as a rule, only in heavier categories, in which power is more important than speed: and it goes away earlier with age. But in others it’s not easy for them. And ESPN, commenting on Alexander Volkanovski’s misfire, cited ruthless statistics. This was the 15th UFC title fight involving an athlete at least 35 years old (the Australian turned that age in September) in categories up to and including lightweight. And their opponents had the upper hand in all of them.

Alexey Dospehov


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