Toporia ends Volk’s featherweight reign with R2 KO

Toporia ends Volk’s featherweight reign with R2 KO

Ilia Toporia is the new featherweight champion after scoring a second-round knockout win over Alexander Volkanovski in this past Saturday’s UFC 298 main event at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The 27-year-old Spaniard knocked Volk out cold with a violent right hand to hook up his betting supporters as a +115 to +128 (BetRivers) underdog.

“I feel so happy,” Topuria said following his win. “They’re going to tell you, you can’t do it. They’re going to knock you down. Just trust yourself. Work tirelessly, have faith and everything is possible. Look at me now.

“I just know my skills. I work so hard. I worked so hard for this one. I knew one day I would become a UFC world champion. It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you know where you’re going. It’s much more important what’s in front of you than what’s behind you.”

Toporia improved to 15-0 overall and 7-0 in the UFC. He has 13 career finishes, including eight submission and five KOs.

Toporia also earned a Performance of the Night bonus for an extra $50,000 on top of his disclosed salary of $350,000. Volk’s $750,000 salary led 13 total fighters with six-figure paydays.

The loss ended a spectacular run for Volkanovski atop the featherweight division for more than four years. He first won the belt with a unanimous-decision win (48-47, 48-47, 50-45) over Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway in the UFC 245 co-main event on Dec. 14 of 2019.

He retained his strap with successful title defenses in two rematches with Holloway and wins over Brian ‘T-City’ Ortega, ‘The Korean Zombie’ and Yair Rodriguez.

Prior to facing Toporia, the only major threats to his championship run came against Ortega and in the second fight with Holloway, who was granted an immediate rematch after losing his belt at UFC 245.

Volk won a split decision over Holloway (47-48, 48-47, 48-47) in the UFC 251 co-main event in Abu Dhabi. However, 18 of 27 media members scored the bout 48-47 in favor of Holloway.

In his UD win over Ortega (49-46, 50-45, 50-44), Volk was somehow able to escape serious submission attempts in both the third and fourth rounds from Ortega, who is one of best submission specialists on the UFC’s entire roster.

After dominating Holloway in a UD victory (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) at UFC 276, Volk was given a chance to earn double-champ status by moving up to face lightweight kingpin Islam Makhachev at home in Perth, Australia, in the UFC 284 main event.

Makhachev ended up winning a hotly-contested UD (49-46, 48-47, 48-47), but Volk dropped Makhachev in the fifth and final round and spent the last minute of the fight delivering ground-and-pound punishment from the top.

Although Makhachev got his hand raised, Volk left the Octagon without much damage to his face while one of Makhachev’s eyes was nearly swollen shut.

Volk went back down to 145 and successfully dispatched of Rodriguez via third-round KO at UFC 290. Then when Charles Oliveria was forced out of his UFC 294 showdown versus Makhachev less than two weeks before the event, Volk accepted an offer to rematch Makhachev on only 11 days of notice.

Makhachev left no doubt this time around, scoring a first-round KO win over Volk (head kick and punches) at the 3:06 mark last October.

In recent weeks, many pundits questioned whether Volk was returning too soon after suffering his first KO loss in 11 years. That sentiment will only grow louder based on Saturday’s result, but it might not have mattered anyway.

“You can’t take anything away from Topuria,” Volkanovski said. “If he puts a hand on you like that, you’re going to go down. I don’t care, that’s just that.

“That was a clean right hand and I think no matter who you are, you let one of those land on your chin while you’re caught there, you’re probably going down. Don’t let him catch you, that’s what that was. He caught me, so I won’t take nothing away from him. I’m not going to sit there and say it was this or it was that. I felt great. Camp was great. I felt good in there.”

Although Volk has lost three of his last four fights, he had never lost at featherweight until facing Toporia. Volk now has a 26-4 overall record and a 13-3 record in the UFC.

Volk has expressed interest in moving up to 155 pounds, even doing so multiple times last week. But after losing to Toporia, he made it clear that he wants an immediate rematch.

“Obviously, I’ve been a champ for a long time, and I want that rematch, so that’s something that needs to happen. I’ve been reigning champ for how long? I’ve been a bit of a company man. Went back up on short notice, I fought Max [Holloway] three times, you name it, I’ve done it individually for a long time, so I think I deserve that and it’s going to be different next time.”

When asked at the post-fight presser whether or not Volk would get an immediate rematch, UFC President Dana White said, “I don’t know yet. It just happened. I’m not even thinking about that right now.”

However, White did say that he’d be happy to have Toporia defend his belt for the first time in Spain. “As long as there’s a venue available, we’re going to Spain.”

In the co-main event, Robert Whittaker defeated Paulo Costa via UD (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) in a crucial middleweight clash as a favorite in the -200 to -240 range.

According to MMADecisions, 26 of 29 media members scored the contest 29-28 for Whittaker. One had it 30-27 for ‘Bobby Knuckles,’ while two others scored it 29-28 in favor of Costa.

White praised both Whittaker and Costa for their performances. “Both guys looked solid. Costa’s leg was basically disfigured from taking so many kicks, but he kept coming forward and stayed in the fight.”

In a back-and-forth welterweight showdown, Ian Garry remained undefeated with a split-decision win (30-27, 28-29, 30-27) over Geoff Neal as a -240 to -290 ‘chalk.’

The 26-year-old Garry improved to 14-0 overall and 7-0 in the UFC, while Neal has now lost four of his past six scraps.

In a bantamweight bout, Merab Dvalishvili defeated Henry Cejudo by UD (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) as a -300 favorite. The 33-year-old Dvalishvili has won 10 fights in a row and should be in line to get the next crack at the 135-pound belt (against the winner of Vera-O’Malley 2 at UFC 299 in Miami).

Cejudo made it adamantly clear in recent days that he would retire if he lost to Dvalishvili. When he left the Octagon, Cejudo had taken his gloves off.

However, he wasn’t given the microphone to make that announcement, and White explained why at the post-fight presser.

“Henry Cejudo already retired. He already did the whole drop the gloves thing. This was Merab’s night. You don’t give the mic to Cejudo tonight.”

In the pay-per-view opener, Anthony ‘Fluffy’ Hernandez scored a second-round submission win over Roman Kopylov as a 190 to -235 favorite.

Hernandez extended his winning streak to five fights and produced his eighth career submission, while Kopylov saw his four-fight winning streak snapped. The props for Hernandez to win by submission (+180) and in Round 2 (+420) hooked up gamblers with generous payouts.

Fight of the Night bonuses went to Amanda Lemos and Mackenzie Dern for their performances in the Prelims headliner. Lemos won the women’s strawweight contest via UD (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) as a -150 to -160 ‘chalk.’

Hernandez and Zhang Mingyang joined Toporia in collecting an extra 50K for Performance of the Night honors. Mingyang needed only 101 seconds to beat Brendson Ribeiro by first-round KO (punches) in a 205-pound affair that started the Prelims broadcast on ESPN.