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Ilia Topuria of Germany warms up prior to his fight during the UFC 264 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
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The Unshakeable Confidence Of Ilia Topuria

'El Matador' Certain He'll Keep His Record Perfect In UFC 270 Featured Prelim

When the UFC kicked off 2022 in Las Vegas last weekend, Ilia Topuria—like most of us—watched the main event between Calvin Kattar and Giga Chikadze with keen interest. His reaction was the same as most of ours, too.

“Great fight. At these levels, anything can happen.”

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He had been watching in support of Chikadze, but also studying the competition at the top of his own featherweight division. On the eve of his fourth UFC bout Saturday in the featured prelim, Topuria predicts his own era of being a Fight Night headliner may soon be afoot.

Ilia Topuria's 3 Straight Wins to Start UFC Career
Ilia Topuria's 3 Straight Wins to Start UFC Career
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“I could be the main event after this fight, perfectly. The thing is…if I want it. Yeah, of course.”

If there’s a through-line in every interaction you might have with Topuria, it’s confidence. It’s visible on him the way an arm or a leg might be visible on anyone else. And he has the résumé to warrant it: he’s 11-0 in MMA, including his most recent three in the UFC.

Last July, he memorably became the first UFC fighter to defeat Ryan Hall. And while he’s deeply proud of the win, beating “The Wizard” had little to do with how he views himself.

“Even if he defeated me, I’m going to keep with my confidence, always, because I put so much love into this. No one can shake that confidence.”

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Ok, but still.

Folks had begun to whisper about Ryan Hall being an unsolvable puzzle, and yet there was Topuria knocking out “The Wizard” in the first frame.

“It feels good, man,” Topuria concedes. “It always feels good to finish someone inside the most famous Octagon in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ryan, Jourdain or Damon [Jackson].”

Ilia Topuria of Germany reacts after his victory over Ryan Hall in their featherweight fight during the UFC 264 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ilia Topuria of Germany reacts after his victory over Ryan Hall in their featherweight fight during the UFC 264 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

It almost slipped by unnoticed, but it was clever of Topuria to sneak this week’s opponent, Charles Jourdain, into his list of finishes. He’s not looking past the Canadian, but he speaks of the bout almost as if it has already happened.

“He’s very skilled and he has all my respect because he jumped in [to save] the fight. But the result is going to be the same,” he shrugs. “I’m going to get that finish.”

He’s less complimentary of the man Jourdain is replacing in the bout: Russia's Movsar Evloev. He wanted Evloev’s No. 13 ranking, of course, but he also just wanted to fight him.

“It was a disappointment because I wanted so much to crush his face. But what can I do? Things like this sometimes happen.”

So does that mean he would he be interested in rescheduling with Evloev? In Topuria’s mind, pulling out of a fight is the same as losing the fight.

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“Maybe in the future if he gets some wins I’ll give him a rematch. Right now, it’s El Matador 1, Movsar 0.”

If the Spain-by-way-of-Germany BJJ black belt manages to get his hand raised Saturday, the probability of that win being by the finish he predicts is acutely high. In his 11 pro fights, only one—his UFC debut vs Youssef Zalal—went the distance. It was only one of two times he went past the first round.

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Topuria started his MMA career with seven consecutive submission finishes, but his skills on the mat are something that have scarcely been seen since entering the UFC in October 2020. A new fan would be forgiven for thinking Topuria was a striker, and he’s patiently awaiting the moment he can demonstrate his true expertise.

“I enjoy it most on the ground because my background is wrestling and BJJ. The thing is, I had to fight striking in my last two fights because of my opponents. But I like to fight more on the ground.”

Jourdain is a dangerous natural striker, so it may or may not be the grappling showcase Topuria craves this weekend. Topuria is at peace with this, and an epic afterparty is already in the works for what he is certain will be a joyous occasion.

“I will be happy to be there, to be there with my team and all my family, my friends, my country, my fans watching the fight. It will be a great moment, like always.”

UFC 270: Ngannou vs Gane took place on Saturday, January 22, 2022, live from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. See the Final ResultsOfficial Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.