Ilia Topuria has arrived.
If there was any doubt that the undefeated Topuria (14-0) belongs at the top of the featherweight rankings, he erased it in Saturday’s UFC Jacksonville main event with a one-sided striking display against recent interim title challenger Josh Emmett (18-4). After five impressive rounds, Topuria ran away with a unanimous decision with scores of 50-44, a rare 50-42, and 49-45.
In his post-fight interview, Topuria was asked if he felt he’d done enough to earn a title shot. Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is currently scheduled to defend against interim champion Yair Rodriguez at UFC 290 on July 8.
“I’m the next guy without any doubt,” Topuria said. “[I want what I deserve,] which is to be No. 1, because I want that UFC belt. I want Alex to defend that belt and show to him and the whole world when his run is going to end and mine is going to start.”
Should Volkanovski successfully defend his title against Rodriguez, it’s unclear if he plans to once again move up to 155 pounds to pursue a rematch against lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. There’s no shortage of challengers for Volkanovski at 145 pounds, with Topuria now at the front of the pack.
For 25 minutes, Topuria showed next-level boxing and incredible poise as he completely outclassed Emmett on the feet. The power-punching Emmett came out swinging to start and never gave up on trying to find a home for one of his left-hand bombs, but Topuria found the range early and was always just out of reach. At the same time, he was always close enough to connect with counters and combinations to punish Emmett.
“I showed once again that no one can match my level of skill inside the cage,” Topuria said post-fight. “I prove it all the time I step inside the cage and I proved it once again tonight.”
Topuria’s punches had Emmett hurt badly at the end of Round 2 and he went for the finish to start Round 3, but Emmett’s chin held strong. Still, there was little Emmett could do as every advance was met with either a stiff counter or a precision jab right down the middle.
By Round 4, blood was forming around Emmett’s left eye and Topuria’s advantage only became more pronounced. A sneaky left hand wobbled Emmett, forcing him into survival mode once more, and a clubbing right later sent Emmett retreating at the close of the round.
Unquestionably down on the cards, Emmett somehow came out with spring in his step and his left hand still loaded up in hopes of a comeback. Those hopes were snuffed out quickly as Topuria used a well-timed takedown to stifle Emmett before cruising the rest of the way for the clear-cut decision victory.
Topuria, now 6-0 in the UFC, later said nothing surprised him about the fight other than the fact that he didn’t end it much earlier.
“Really, no, I was expecting to knock him out in the first round, but the guy is really, really tough,” Topuria said. “I want to say thank you to Josh for bringing so much energy inside the cage.”