Mixed Martial Arts-Topuria redraws global UFC map with title win

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

(Reuters) - When Ilia Topuria uncorked a thunderous second-round right hook to down Alexander Volkanovski at the Honda Centre on Saturday he not only won the UFC featherweight title but also redrew the global topography of the world's leading fight promotion.

In a moment reminiscent of Conor McGregor's famous 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo in 2015, Topuria seized his chance in the second round against the Australian.

The victory meant the 27-year-old German-born Georgian, who has lived in Spain since he was 15, had suddenly opened up the Iberian peninsula for the world's marquee name in MMA.

The 27-year-old wasted no time in calling for his first title defence to be on Spanish soil and UFC president Dana White beamed at the post-fight press conference in Anaheim, California as he considered the prospect.

"I want to go to Spain too. We're going to Spain ... if there's a venue available for us, we'll be there," White told reporters.

While the UFC is undeniably primarily focused on its core market of North America, the promotion is well aware of the importance of other markets and has previously held big shows in the United Kingdom, Abu Dhabi and Australia, among many others.

Famously dismissed in its infancy by U.S. senator John McCain as "human cockfighting", Europe was initially slow to warm to a sport that mixes virtually every fighting style and allows strikes to a grounded opponent that other combat forms do not permit.

Feted before his seismic knockout victory by Spanish soccer World Cup winners Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos and tennis great Rafael Nadal, Topuria's win could be the impetus the sport needs to break into the mainstream in Spain.

"If the UFC offers me to bring the UFC to Spain and do the rematch with Volkanovski, let's go. Let's do it. I'm in," Topuria told reporters.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; editing by Ken Ferris)

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