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UFC Crowns a New Featherweight Champ in Ilia Topuria Following Brutal Knockout

Credit: Chris Unger/Getty Images


Unbeaten Ilia Topuria flatlined Alexander Volkanovski in the second round to claim the featherweight title at Saturday night’s coveted UFC 298, ending the Aussie fighter’s four-year title reign in dominant fashion. 


The marquee fight night in UFC 298 offered a little bit of everything with a top-heavy card that was expected to deliver fireworks. The main card was the star of the show, consisting of five fights capable of blowing the roof off of the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The sold-out arena was packed to the brim with dedicated fight fans who spent their hard-earned money to watch these hard-nosed men and women put their lives on the line for the sake of entertainment. 


The main card opened up with the fifteenth-ranked middleweight fighter Anthony Hernandez taking on Russian-born killer Roman Kopylov, a fan-favourite for hardcore UFC fans. Hernandez demonstrated much improved striking from his previous bout, while also exposing Kopylov’s weaknesses on the ground, awarding him a submission win late into the third round. 


The opener was then followed up by former Olympic gold-medalist wrestler and former UFC two-weight division champion Henry Cejudo, taking on rising star and future title challenger, Merab Dvalishvili. Despite Cejudo’s unmatched UFC and wrestling resume, Dvalishvili’s cardio and sheer relentlessness were too much to overcome for the 37-year-old MMA veteran. It was another signature performance from Dvalishvili, edging him one step closer to his imminent shot at the bantamweight strap and extending his win streak to ten straight fights. 


The third fight on the main card saw the welterweight division’s gatekeeper, Geoff Neal, take on rising, undefeated Irish prospect Ian Machado Garry in a three-round bout that was decided via split decision on the judge’s scorecards. As UFC fans expected, Ian Machado Garry shied away from brawling and standing in the pocket, resulting in his signature counter-and-move style of fighting. Although the fight was deemed a “snoozefest” by UFC fans, Garry’s technical striking once again led him to another victory, adding another title contender to an already stacked welterweight division. 


The co-main saw the much-anticipated return of Brazilian kickboxer Paulo Costa take on UFC legend Robert “the Reaper” Whittaker in a three-round stand-and-bang slugfest. The former middleweight champ Robert Whittaker was looking to rebound after a tough loss, landing crisp combinations and powerful leg kicks as he got the best of a very game and in-shape Costa, defeating him by unanimous decision. Although Costa looked very sharp, he was no match for a hungry and determined Whittaker. 


The main event of the evening saw an ultra-confident, elite contender Ilia Topuria, take on the seemingly unbeatable featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski. Topuria, a Georgian native who currently fights out of and represents Spain, controlled the entire first round as he got a feel for Volkanovski’s reach and timing while landing some crips combinations of his own. In the second round, Topuria starched the 35-year-old Volkanovski with a massive flurry of hooks, sending the former champion to the ground where Topuria finished him with ground-and-pound strikes, improving Topuria’s record to a formidable 15-0.



Credit: Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC


Despite a tough loss to a surging contender in Ilia Topuria, it is impossible to forget the dominant reign that Alex Volkanovski had over the UFC’s featherweight division for 1,527 days, consisting of five title defences and an unparalleled rise to the top. 


Yes, it matters that there will not be a sixth title defence. Yes, it matters that day 1,527 as the top of the featherweight fighter on the planet will not come for Volkanovski. And yes, it very much matters that Ilia Topuria is unquestionably the best 145-pounder on earth as he starts day one of his title reign. However, just days ago, Volkanovski was over with the masses as the most popular fighter in the entire UFC due to the masterclass performances he put on as the featherweight champ. 


Volkanovski’s aim has always been to go down as the greatest featherweight of all time. Currently, that position is still held by Brazilian kickboxer José Aldo, a man who held the UFC featherweight strap for 1,848 days straight and defended his belt a total of seven times. But, just like Volkanovski, Aldo lost the best to a young, surging contender in Conor McGregor, who knocked Aldo out clean in just 13 seconds at UFC 194. 


If Volkanovski’s wishes get granted by the UFC and he gets his rematch with Topuria - which should happen based on Volkanovski’s resume - he could potentially have one more chance to make a run at Aldo’s “GOAT” status. That means one more chance to prove the doubters wrong and once more chance to strengthen his already legendary resume and career. 


Regardless of whether the rematch happens or not, Volkanovski will eventually enter the UFC’s hall of fame as pound-for-pound one of the greatest fighters of all time. Fans will remember him as a man who demonstrated one of the most impressive title runs of all time, highlighted by his willingness and ability to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime.


Credit: Ryan Gaydos/Fox News


For Topuria, this was a perfectly seized moment that had been years in the making. He had stormed to the top of the list of contenders for Volkanovski’s belt with six consecutive UFC victories in less than three years, capped off by a blowout decision against the brass-knuckled Josh Emmett last summer.


As Topuria is only 27, another Volanovski-esque title reign could very well be in the cards for the young champion. His flawless fighting style and striking ability that he displayed last night, on top of his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu - the first Georgian black belt in BJJ history - seem to be miles ahead of the competition. It’s tough to envision how any of the current contenders could even come close to having a shot at beating the newly crowned champ.


Alongside his masterful fighting style, his brash personality and confidence provide the UFC with another cash cow. UFC president Dana White has already been talking about headlining a card in Spain with Topuria, potentially at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium which can hold over 80,000 spectators. We could be seeing another McGregor-style run here, which could result in another few years of record-setting numbers for the UFC.


Either way, the new champ will entice a lot of contenders to come hunting for him with the crown firmly upon his head. However, the heavy-handed Georgian will be ready to defend his long-awaited honour of being the UFC featherweight champion, regardless of what gets thrown at him.



Edited By: Josh Reidelbach




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