Ilia Topuria had sports royalty cheering him on cageside at his most recent fight.
Spanish soccer legend Sergio Ramos was in attendance at UFC Jacksonville to watch Topuria’s star-making win over Josh Emmett in a key featherweight contenders’ bout. Not only did Ramos get a firsthand glimpse of Topuria’s performance, he also made sure to visit his fellow Spaniard before and after the main event.
On The MMA Hour, Topuria explained how the former Real Madrid star came to join him in Jacksonville.
“One year ago or something like that, he texted me after one of my fights,” Topuria said. “He started to follow me [on social media], text me, and for this fight he told me I’m going to watch you, to support you.
“I was like, ‘Really? You will come?’ He told me, ‘Yes, I’m on vacation. I didn’t have any football match, soccer match, so I’m going to go to watch you fight.’”
Ramos kept his promise and was treated to a five-round performance from Topuria that may have rocketed him into a No. 1 contender spot. Topuria, a native of Georgia who currently resides in Spain, now waits to see what’s next following Alexander Volkanovski’s victorious unification bout with interim champion Yair Rodriguez at UFC 290 and how he factors into the aftermath of that contest.
It won’t hurt Topuria’s chances to get a social media rub from Ramos, who won the World Cup and a pair of Euro Cups in his international career along with countless trophies during a glorious 16-year run with Real Madrid. Topuria isn’t near that level of notoriety, but he isn’t stressing over his Q-Rating just yet.
“It starts growing little by little,” Topuria said of his fame. “Slow is the fastest way to get where you want to be, I always used to say this. I always saw all this movement in my mind, it was just a question of time to bring all this into reality. That’s it. I just enjoy the process.”
Topuria said it’s impossible to gauge whether he’s been getting more support from Georgia or Spain, describing it as “like having two children, you can’t choose.” Following his win over Emmett, he told the media at the UFC Jacksonville post-fight scrum that the only other bout he is interested in besides challenging for a title is a matchup with former featherweight champion Max Holloway in Spain.
He’s confident that the UFC’s debut in the country would sell out a stadium and he made sure to mention Real Madrid’s world-famous home pitch Santiago Bernabéu Stadium as a possibility.
“Seeing how MMA is growing in Spain, it’s crazy, because I remember when I started, no one knew anything about MMA,” Topuria said. “They were like, ‘Which sport is that?’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘They punch each other?’ Crazy questions.
“Right now, everyone knows everything about MMA. Everyone follows the UFC. I’m pretty sure that if the UFC brings an event to Spain, they’re going to sell out the whole arena in one day.”
“Madrid, Santiago Bernabéu, in that stadium,” he added. “Yeah. They’re going to sell out. I don’t have any doubt about that.”