Mixed Martial Arts-Topuria KOs Volkanovski to win UFC featherweight crown

Feb 17, 2024; Anaheim, California, USA; Ilia Topuria celebrates his championship victory against Alexander Volkanovski during UFC 298 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

ANAHEIM, United States (Reuters) - Ilia Topuria pulled off a brilliant second-round knockout to dethrone Alexander Volkanovski and claim the UFC featherweight belt at Saturday's UFC 298 event at the Honda Centre, handing the Australian his first loss in the division in the process.

In a fight billed as the youth of Topuria, who was born in Germany and grew up there and in Georgia before moving to Spain, against the veteran know-how of the 35-year-old Volkanovski, Topuria's ground-shaking power proved the difference.

Carrying the Australian flag as the pop classic "Down Under" by Men At Work blared from the speakers, Volkanovski was accompanied on his walk to the cage by Facebook/Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg in his corner, but there was little the tech mogul could do to help once the cage door closed.

Early low kicks to his left calf slowed Volkanovski down as Topuria stalked him, picking his shots and doing his best to stay out of trouble, but the Aussie was able to leverage his vast experience to adjust and get through the first frame.

The second offered more of the same until Topuria clipped Volkanovski with a left hook to back his opponent up before unleashing a thunderous right hook to send him crashing to the canvas, ending the fight at the 3:32 mark of the second round.

"The only person you need to achieve anything in this life is yourself, just trust yourself, work tirelessly, have faith and everything is possible," the 27-year-old said in an emotional post-fight interview before calling on the UFC to stage an event in Spain.

Humble in defeat, Volkanovski echoed that call, saying he would like a rematch on what is now home soil for Topuria.

In the evening's co-main event, former middleweight champ Robert Whittaker survived a head kick that rocked him late in the first round to battle back and score a decision victory over Brazil's Paulo Costa.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Michael Perry)

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