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Ilia Topuria stops Volkanovski in 2nd round, claims featherweight title at UFC 298

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Unbeaten Ilia Topuria stopped Alexander Volkanovski in the second round to claim the featherweight title at UFC 298 on Saturday night, ending the Australian champion’s four-year reign.

Topuria (15-0), a Georgian who lives and trains in Spain, controlled the first round of his first UFC title fight with sharp striking before he sensationally finished off Volkanovski with more of the same.

Topuria staggered the 35-year-old Volkanovski to the cage with a left-right combination before putting him on the canvas with a perfect right hand followed by a big left. Topuria finished the stunned champion on the ground with 1:28 left, improving to 7-0 since joining the UFC in late 2020.

“I feel so happy right now,” Topuria said. “They told me I couldn’t do it. ... Just trust yourself, and anything is possible. Just look at me now.”

Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker won a unanimous decision over Paulo Costa in the penultimate bout of the UFC’s first pay-per-view show in Southern California in more than two years.

Volkanovski (26-4) had made five consecutive successful title defenses since winning his belt in late 2019, but his reign ended with his first featherweight loss in UFC competition. Volkanovski also lost twice in the past year to lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in a failed bid to become a two-division champ, and he didn’t show his usual relentless work rate against Topuria before the fight abruptly ended.

Topuria perfectly seized a moment several years in the making. He had stormed to the top of the list contenders for Volkanovski’s belt with six consecutive UFC victories in less than three years, capped by a blowout decision over Josh Emmett last summer.

Topuria didn’t lack for confidence during the promotion of this fight. He repeatedly spoke of Volkanovski’s reign in the past tense, and he even swiped the title belt off the table in front of Volkanovski at their news conference Thursday.

Volkanovski showed up to that event dressed like an old man, lampooning the notion he was too old to compete with the 27-year-old Topuria.

Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg walked out with Volkanovski and wore the champ’s cornermen’s gear in his front-row seat at the sold-out Honda Center.

Whittaker (25-7) rebounded from a loss to future middleweight champ Dricus De Plessis last summer with a comeback victory over Costa (14-3), who staggered Whittaker with a brilliant spinning head kick in the final seconds of the first round.

Whittaker was left with a bloody face, but he largely controlled the next two rounds on his feet against Costa, whose conditioning deficiencies might have limited his ability to deliver any significant volume of strikes.

Earlier, former two-division UFC champion Henry Cejudo dropped to 0-2 in his comeback bid with a unanimous-decision loss to Merab Dvalishvili. Cejudo had previously said he would retire again if he lost the bout.

Cejudo, the former U.S. Olympic wrestling gold medalist and UFC champ at flyweight and bantamweight, curiously retired at the height of his MMA reign in 2020. Now 37, he began his comeback last May with a loss to Aljamain Sterling.

Cejudo got carried across the cage at one embarrassing point against Dvalishvili, a Georgian who trains on Long Island. Dvalishvili won his 10th consecutive fight overall and his ninth at bantamweight.

Chinese light heavyweight Zhang Mingyang had the most spectacular finish on the undercard, knocking out Brendson Ribeiro with a dynamite combination in the first round of his UFC debut.


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