Written By Dylan Knostman
Ever since his debut in the UFC, almost everyone who has seen Ilia “El Matador” Topuria fight agrees this young man will eventually be fighting for a title. Undefeated at 13-0, he has torn through the opposition while displaying an elite set of skills both on the feet, on the ground, and the areas in between. Fighting both at featherweight and lightweight, his skills and power translates to two divisions and after his most recent submission defeat of Bryce Mitchell, he sits at #9 in the featherweight rankings. A Georgian who spent his formative years living in Spain, Topuria is not only one of the best fighters in Europe, but one of the best in the world. His boxing and movement are elegant and crisp, his takedown defense is staunch, and the power he holds is unmatched by nearly anyone in his weight class. A name to know in mixed martial arts, the brutal technicality Topuria displays in the cage is not just worth noting, but also appreciating as one of the better fighters we have in the sport. He is scheduled to face Josh Emmett on June 24th, in his first main event in the UFC.
Ilia Topuria was born in 1996 in Germany to Georgian parents, and at a young age moved back to Georgia. His father was a former wrestler and encouraged Topuria to get involved in combat sports from a very young age, starting with judo at 4 years old. He took up Greco Roman wrestling in Georgia, and due to some political strife in the country his family once again emigrated, this time to Alicante, Spain when Topuria was 15 years old. It was at this time Topuria dropped out of school with the blessing of his father to train MMA full time. He competed in a variety of jiu jitsu and wrestling competitions around Europe, and when he was 18 he made his MMA debut. In an interview with Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour, he stated how he never saw any other option than to fight in the UFC, and fighting is what he is meant to do above all else. This seems to ring true as during his young career he compiled an undefeated 8-0 record fighting for European promotions such as Cage Warriors and Brave CF. He got his call to the UFC in 2020, and has continued his unbeaten run amongst progressively more and more skilled competition. Topuria has no shortage of confidence both inside and outside of the cage. Known for his brash and arrogant personality, he has been known to trash talk virtually any fighter, and specifically has his crosshairs on UFC lightweight Paddy Pimblett, as evidenced during their minor scrap in 2021 prior to UFC London. He is exactly the type of fighter so many fans want to see, and after this main event in Jacksonville his popularity is sure to skyrocket even further.
The best comparison for the Ilia Topuria fights is like a panther. He is smooth, stalks his prey, his timing is impeccable, and he never loses focus as he goes for the kill. Growing up as a grappler benefits him greatly, but it is primarily his striking as of late that has elevated him to the next level. His shoulder movement and footwork are excellent, never losing his base and while he over commits in terms of power punches on occasion, he is quick to reset and resume his pace. A strong jab and powerful right hand are his calling cards, and he changes levels with his striking very effectively. This was showcased in his knockout of Jai Herbert, in which he went to the body and came back up stairs with a brutal shot that put Herbert’s lights out. He uses his kicks well to keep the hands of his opponent high in their guard and at home, opening up his punches and other offensive weapons. He can be slightly reckless while on the offensive sometimes, but has been bailed out of sticky situations by his wrestling. When the fight hits the ground, Topuria combines his wrestling pedigree with beautiful jiu jitsu to craft a powerful and threatening top game. In his last fight, he submitted one of the best grapplers in featherweight, Bryce Mitchell, by arm triangle after manhandling him both on the feet and on the mat. Topuria is the prime example of a fighter using their wrestling skills not just to take opponents down, but dictate where the fight takes place and allows him to fight on his terms, not his opponent. Topuria’s skillset truly fits so well in the 145 pound division and there are few fighters outside of the champ, Alexander Volkanovski, who are as well rounded as “El Matador”
Ilia Topuria is a force to be reckoned with in the featherweight division. Tearing through his first five opponents, he has proven he is among the elite in the division, which has earned him a fight with title gatekeeper Josh Emmett. This is a perfect chance for Topuria to prove that he is a top five fighter in the division, and put himself next in line for the title. There are few fighters as well rounded and exciting to watch as Ilia Topuria, and he touts himself as the man to take down the champ Volkanovski. At just 26 years old, he has shown the skills to do so thus far, and within one or two more fights if he continues his winning ways, he will get his shot at the belt.High level comparison: Ilia Topuria is truly one of a kind, setting the precedent for the new generation of fighters