Ilia Topuria, from putting sunbeds on the beach at the top of the UFC

Ilia Topuria, from putting sunbeds on the beach at the top of the UFC

When Inga took her teenage sons to a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym in Alicante, she could not have imagined that 17 years later they would form a successful pair of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in the premier league, the Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC). And even less so that the younger of the two, Ilia, could end up making history on Sunday by becoming the first Spanish absolute champion of the UFC featherweight category.

The fight between Ilia Topuriaaged 27, i Alexander Volkanovski, of 35, will be the main claim of the evening that will be held in California, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, where the Spanish-Georgian will look to take the championship belt from the Australian. The fight has been grabbing headlines for weeks amid threats and displays of superiority from both fighters, but Topuria has explained that he has spent his “whole life” preparing for it. He has assured on many occasions that he is not superstitious. He only trusts God and his people.

His fate and that of his brother, fellow fighter Aleksandre Topuria, were marked by “cauliflower ears” – as they call it in the world of boxing the ears that are swollen or split by blows. One afternoon, while returning from work, his mother noticed a boy with dirty ears. His children had left Greco-Roman wrestling when they moved to Spain and he decided to sign them up at Club Climent, where that boy also trained. It was their way of integrating into a country they had just arrived in and where they didn’t know anyone or speak the language.

Jiu Jitsu Black Belt

Since then, the way of the Slayer, as Ilia has been called because of the speed with which he ends his fights (usually in the first assault), has always been linked to fighting. He became the first Georgian jiu jitsu black belt and, in addition to his grappling skills, he is considered a very complete fighter because he has a very good level of striking. . These skills earned him to end up signing with the UFC in October 2020. It wasn’t in the best conditions, as he received the longed-for call-up when he had covid.

Despite this, in a very short time he won by unanimous decision his fight against the Moroccan Youssef Zalal. That fight marked a before and after in his career, as UFC president Dana White came over to congratulate him after the bout. The win against Zalal was followed by KOs against Americans Damon Jackson and Ryan Hall and Britain’s Jai Herbert, who leveled the ground for a fifth victory, this time by submission, against the North- American Bryce Mitchell, who lifted him into the top ten of the UFC featherweight rankings.

In his entire career he has fought 14 professional fights, remains undefeated and currently ranks third in his category. But, beyond the fight, Ilia Topuria has strongly generated a character and a personal brand that have served as a springboard for the world of advertising.

His confident, even swaggering attitude and brash pose have allowed him to be the face of all kinds of campaigns and products and even star in a documentary about his career, produced by the UFC, which will premiere tonight of the fight But it hasn’t always been like that. He debuted as a professional at the age of 18 in the fight, but it was not until the age of 23 that he could dedicate himself to it completely. Until then he had been a cashier in a clothing store, setting up sunbeds on the beach in Alicante, a coach and had worked in security. Young Ilia never lost his rings, as his parents taught him humility from the cradle.

“I feel very Spanish”

Ilia was born in Halle (Germany), but at the age of 7 his parents decided to return to their native Georgia for a season and leave him there with his brother while they looked for a better future in Spain. Years later, at 15, they moved permanently to Alicante, where Ilia forged herself as a person. “I feel very Spanish”, he has said in many interviews. Even so, he has never renounced his origins. “It’s the blood that runs through my veins,” he often remarks.

The character he has been creating in recent years surpasses his performance in the octagon and his fame has brought him close to proper names in the sport and the swagger with which he is usually seen on social networks, such as the footballer Barcelona player Ferran Torres, singer Omar Montes and ex-cyclist Alberto Contador.

This week, boxer Joana Pastrana, Rafa Nadal, Álvaro Morata, Iker Casillas and Carlos Alcaraz, among others, sent messages of encouragement to the fighter to “take the belt home”. The fight will take place at around six in the morning on Sunday and will be seen exclusively in Spain live via the Eurosport pay-per-view app.

2024-02-17 12:01:06
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