Topuria ends Volkanovski’s reign with vicious KO

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The new generation of the UFC featherweight division is here, in the form of a multicultural, multilingual European fighter who has roots in Georgia, Spain and Germany.

The undefeated Ilia Topuria knocked out Alexander Volkanovski, arguably the best featherweight in MMA history, with a lethal combination in the second round to become the UFC featherweight champion in the main event of UFC 298 on Saturday night at Honda Center. The time of the finish was 3 minutes, 32 seconds.

“Guess what? The only person that has your back in this life is yourself,” Topuria said in his postfight interview. “Just trust yourself … and everything is possible. Look at me now. Look.”

All week, Topuria was saying he would knock Volkanovski out in the second round, which many thought was unlikely given the incumbent champion’s legacy.

Meanwhile, Volkanovski’s battle was also against time. No male fighter at 145 pounds had ever won a UFC title fight after his 35th birthday. Volkanovski turned 35 in September. Male UFC fighters after their 35th birthday are now 0-15 in UFC title fights at lightweight and under, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s where you’re going,” said the 27-year-old Topuria. “It’s more important what’s in front of you than what’s behind you.”

All the judges had Volkanovski winning the first round.

“I don’t need the judges,” Topuria said. “When I’m fighting, they can take their time to break and rest a little bit.”

Topuria was born in Germany to parents of Georgian descent. His family moved back to the Republic of Georgia when he was young then later to Alicante, Spain. Topuria lives and trains in Spain — his nickname is “El Matador” — but also represents Georgia. He is the first fighter representing Georgia to win a UFC championship and the first fighter living in Spain to do so.

UFC CEO Dana White noted that Topuria has opened up a new market for the UFC in Spain and said the promotion will attempt to go there for his first title defense.

“I want to go to Spain too,” White said. “We’re going to Spain. If there’s a venue available there for us, we’ll go there.”

Afterward, Topuria called out Conor McGregor.

“Conor McGregor, if you still have some balls, I will be waiting for you in Spain,” he said.

Coming in, ESPN had Volkanovski ranked No. 3 in the world on its pound-for-pound list. At featherweight, ESPN had Volkanovski No. 1 and Topuria at No. 5.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg walked out for the fight with Volkanovski.

Topuria (15-0) has won his first seven UFC fights, five of them by finish. Topuria was coming off a unanimous decision win over Josh Emmett in June. He changed his Instagram bio earlier this week, before the fight, calling himself a UFC champion and that he was undefeated at 15-0. White said there’s a few things you can say about Topuria doing that, including that he manifested it.

“Never been in a main event like this. Never felt the heat, the pressure. Couldn’t have looked any better,” White said of Topuria. “He looks like a guy who could be one of the all-time greats.”

Volkanovski (26-4) had five successful featherweight title defenses and six UFC featherweight title wins, the second most of all time. The Australian-born fighter was coming off a loss to UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev via knockout at UFC 294 in October. Volkanovski also fell to Makhachev in a lightweight title fight in February 2023 via unanimous decision, before defending the featherweight belt over Yair Rodriguez at UFC 290 in July. This was Volkanovski’s first loss at featherweight in the UFC.

Volkanovski proposed an immediate rematch in Spain during his postfight interview. He had been the featherweight champion since December 2019, the longest reigning titleholder in the UFC.

“Obviously, I’ve been the champion for a long time, and I want that rematch,” Volkanovski said. “That’s something that needs to happen.”

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