“Ilia Topuria is a wicked intriguing fighter,” said UFC commentator Jon Anik on social media this week. “He also looks a little bit like my podcast partner Kenny Florian, who, incidentally, will be in the opposite corner with Ryan Hall for the fight this weekend.”
We’ll leave the internet to debate the merits of whether he’s the doppelganger of KenFlo (signs point to yes), but Anik’s definitively Bostonian assertion that he’s “wicked intriguing” is right on the money.
The German-born, Spain-repping standout arrived on the radar of UFC fans during his promotional debut last October with his win over Youssef Zalal, and punctuated it less than two months later with a first-round KO victory over veteran Damon Jackson. The two wins brought him to a perfect 10-0 professionally, with aspirations of making quick moves up the featherweight ladder.
Now nearly seven months removed from his last bout, Topuria is visibly restless. He’s tired of rehearsing and just wants to get to the show already.
“It was a bit of a long training camp because I was supposed to fight in May,” he concedes. “When the UFC asked me to fight Ryan Hall, but that the fight would happen in July, I said ‘Ok.’ I prefer to wait if it means fighting someone with a big name. So, it was a long camp, but I’m happy to be here and I can’t wait to do my performance.”
There was nearly a one-year layoff between his 2019 win under the Brave CF banner and his UFC debut, and it’s not the kind of layoff he’s eager to duplicate going forward. Still, the extra time has given him the opportunity to formulate a plan for the grappling conundrum that is Ryan Hall.
“In every fight I have different gameplans. For example, when you’re going to fight someone and you know you have to strike with him and do a standup fight, the mentality is a little bit different. When you go to fight someone where you know that you have to take him down and do grappling, it’s different. You’re going to see a very, very aggressive Ilia Topuria and you’re going to see how I’m going to smash his face.”
A very aggressive Topuria isn’t a rare sighting. His bout with Zalal is the lone fight on his record to go the distance, and only one other bout made it to the second round. First-round finishes are his bread and butter. Taking nothing away from Hall, he doesn’t see why this fight should go any differently.
“He’s a very good fighter. But if you look at him, he has four fights inside the UFC. He has just one submission against BJ Penn…which I give him all the respect in the world, but [Penn] was older in that fight, not the same BJ Penn we were watching ten years ago. He was an older man. Hall didn’t submit Artem Lobov, Gray Maynard or Darren Elkins. He has a good ground game, but I don’t think I’m going to be surprised with anything he’s going to do July 10.”
Maybe not, but outside his lone loss in his pro debut way back in 2006, Hall has continued to surprise audiences and his opponents for his ability to get his hand raised time after time.
“You can’t come and fight against me with just one technique,” Topuria counters. “I feel so confident we can even start the fight in his favorite position - that’s the 50/50 position - and he’s not going to do anything. When you get that confidence, because of all the training I did, it’s difficult to submit someone like me. I’m very confident in the standup, the ground, everything. And he’s going to feel it.”
Those are bold words, but they’re not idle fight week soundbites. He exudes the same sort of confidence as he says this as he would in saying he parked his car successfully in the driveway. The 24-year-old has big dreams and, like I mentioned, he’s restless.
UFC 264 FREE FIGHTS: Dustin Poirier vs Eddie Alvarez 2 | Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz 2 | Conor McGregor vs Dustin Poirier 1 | Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor 2 | Stephen Thompson vs Vicente Luque | Gilbert Burns vs Tyron Woodley
“Honestly, I don’t give a f*** to be number 10 in the world…number nine, number eight…I don’t care about that. I want to the number one. I will be happy when I will be the number one in the world, the best in the world. I don’t care if I’m number two, number three or number 10. That’s nothing for me. I want to be number one.”
“For all the people who are following me, texting me and supporting me, of course I feel it. But I don’t feel any pressure, you know? I feel like it’s more comfortable. I feel like I’m in the place where I deserve to be. After this fight, after this win, I will be closer to being what I wanted to be a long time ago. I want that belt right here [pats stomach].”
All in due time. But while he gets there, he plans to make the journey a memorable one for the fans.
“I don’t come here to just win. I come here to put a lot of violence inside that amazing cage. I don’t want people to be bored, I want them to enjoy. I don’t want them to hate me, I want them to love me. So, I come here to put on a performance for all my fans. They’re going to see a lot of violence.”