From Ilia Topuria to ‘El Matador’, a path to the top of the UFC

The irruption of Ilia Topuria (14-0) in the MMA elite has gone from promise to reality in a matter of a few years, and now the Hispanic-Georgian seeks to defeat Alexander Volkanovski in the fight for the featherweight title and become the first Spanish champion in the history of the UFC. The Honda Center in Anaheim, Los Angeles, will witness a battle that may mean a generational change in the throne.

The Climent Club pupil is one of the great prospects of the top company in the mixed martial arts. His charisma and style inside and outside the cage have made ‘El Matador’ one of the most recognized figures on the scene., a status that convinced Dana White to give him the opportunity to fight for the 145-pound belt. The challenge is gigantic. Ilia will face the considered best of all time in the featherweight category, a Volkanovski who is undefeated in the title defenses (5/5) and with more than four years of reign behind him.

Stars like Yair Rodríguez and Max Holloway have passed through the clutches of ‘Volk’ in recent years, but Ilia’s case seems different from all the others. At 27 years old, he is in a perfect physical and mental state to, now, be the new ‘Featherweight’ monarch (65.8kg).

The origins of ‘El Matador’

Born in Germany (Halle) in 1997 and raised in Georgia, the native country of both his parents, the Topuria family moved to Alicante (Spain) with the aim of forging a better life. The little ones of the house, Alex and Ilia, found a second home at the Climent Club, a martial arts gym run by two other brothers, Jorge and Agustín, and that today has become a factory of warriors that devastate the main promoters. Ilia is his best disciple.

A boy with a past in Greco-Roman wrestling and who, through sweat and work, has become today one of the most complete fighters in the world and who aspires to leave an indelible legacy. The role of his older brother is a fundamental part of this meteoric rise. Alexandre, who aims to debut in the UFC in 2024, has ‘set aside’ his professional career to help the little one in the house fulfill his dreams, and is part of the ‘Topuria Team’ as a trainer and sparring partner.

Ilia, at 27 years old. He has demonstrated talent in the three areas of MMA, striking, takedowns and jiu jitsu, skills that have captivated UFC fans and especially Dana White., the company’s boss who has shown on more than one occasion his liking for Ilia and even dropped an approach to Spain at a press conference: “I had never considered going (to Spain), but now it is very close,” he announced. In any case, the first objective right now is the belt.

His nickname ‘The matador’ He was born in the Climent Club and, due to his relationship with bullfighting, Ilia did not like him at first. However, the fighter has confessed that over time “it sounded better” and now he looks proud when they recite his name.

Unexpected debut and meteoric rise

He made his professional debut in April 2015 – at the age of 18 – with a victory against Francisco Javier Martínez in the West Coast Warrior, the first of his eight victories – seven submissions and one knockout – that would serve to knock on the doors of the UFC, where he would debut with just 10 days’ notice against Youssef Zalal. He defeated the Moroccan by unanimous decision in October 2020, a victory that paved the way for what was to come. Damon Jackson, Ryan Hall and Jai Herbert, the latter in London and with the entire public against him, savored the fury of the Hispano-Georgian. Later, two victories against top-10 rivals would come that helped Ilia definitively establish himself in the elite of the featherweight category: he dominated an expert on the ground like Bryce Mitchell and then beat one of the toughest boxers like Josh Emmett, leaving the American’s face completely bloody and bruised.

Everyone had Topuria as an expert in jiu jitsu and takedown techniques, but these last two fights made it clear that the Hispanic-Georgian’s boxing is on par with the greatest in the UFC. His fists strike at the speed of light and impact like steel. This three-dimensionality in his game makes the ‘Alicante’ a three-headed monster inside the cage, something very appealing in terms of ‘Pay Per Views’.

The biggest challenge…before the biggest

The dream came true on November 6, when Dana White announced on his social networks the fight between Ilia Topuria and Alexander Volkanovski, with the 145-pound title in dispute. The confrontation between ‘The Great’ and ‘El Matador’ a month later did not disappoint and both also sent messages to each other at a press conference. “I’ll punch him and put him at the height of my balls” assured the hispanoegoerginao, always so discreet. The UFC is a spectacle and he seems to have understood it wonderfully, something that martial arts fans like – a lot -.

Volkanovski (Australia, 1988) is the longest reigning UFC champion today. with more than 1,500 days of reign behind him and an impeccable record 15-0 in the division (26-3-0 overall, 13 knockouts and 5 title defenses). He rose in category on two occasions to snatch the belt from Makachev and become a double champion, but the Dagestani was too much for ‘The Great’ who stood up to the best ‘pound for pound’ on the planet. Islam knocked him out in October and, at 34 years old, that could affect him ahead of the fight with Ilia, but the Australian aims to once again display enviable physical condition on February 17 in Anaheim.

2024-02-16 08:17:19
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