UFC 298: Ilia Topuria and Merab Dvalishvili’s Dual Citizenships Usher in a New Era

ilia topuria
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The dual coming out party of Georgia natives Ilia Topuria and Merab Dvalishvili will go down in history.

Every so often a fighter’s arrival signals the beginning of a new era. Whether it be the tradition of father time introducing new talent at the expense of the old guard, a region whose fandom was awakened by the right person at the right moment, or fans organically gravitating towards someone on the rise, the MMA Gods let us know when we are drifting into unchartered territory. 

Ilia Topuria: Right on Time

When Ilia Topuria entered the Honda Center Saturday evening, it was clear that he was one of the best featherweights in the world. Between his equally potent hands and submission skills and the near 87% finishing rate he’s carried during his undefeated career, “El Matador” felt destined for greatness.

But against an all-time great champion like Alexander Volkanovski, the question was “would it be enough?” Much like Francis Ngannou’s first attempt at Stipe Miocic or George St. Pierre’s first chance against Matt Hughes, perhaps we were about to witness a future champion get there just a little bit too early.

Ilia Topuria answered those doubts with a show stopping second round knockout forcing the new guard at 145 pounds. Even if Volkanovski gets his wish of an immediate rematch, the writing is on the wall in bold print.

With two consecutive knockout losses at 35 years old, it would be steep uphill battle for Volkanovski to reclaim his position. And even if he did, the 27-year-old with a fraction of the damage and far more room to grow would not go quietly.

If that rematch were to occur in Topuria’s adopted home country of Spain (something both Volkanovski and UFC CEO Dana White were in favor of,) it would only pile another struggle on top of the aging legend in the promotional equivalent of training your replacement. 

If the support from Real Madrid FC is any indication, Ilia Topuria has officially brought Spain to the table along with Georgia.

Also Read: Booking UFC 298 Main Card Winners Including Ilia Topuria

Merab Dvalishvili: Rise of the Machine

merab dvalishvili
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The circumstances for Merab Dvalishvili’s pairing with Henry Cejudo were far from favorable on paper. With his friend and teammate Aljamain Sterling separated from the bantamweight title, there was no personal conflict stopping his forward progress.

But despite Sterling’s dethroning and subsequent move to featherweight, Dvalishvili would be risking it all against the former champ that proved just how dangerous he still was after three year layoff in a split decision loss to Sterling. He would also be entering enemy territory in the greater Los Angeles area against a native with Mexican roots in front of a huge Mexican fanbase.

Instead of either ignoring that potential disadvantage or leaning into the heel role (much like Ian Garry would do the same night,) Dvalishvili turned Anaheim into his hometown and declared himself an honorary Mexican while maintaining the unwavering support of Georgia. 

Between proudly waving the Mexican flag and jokingly attempting to hire Cejudo’s longtime coach Eric Albarricin, Dvalishvili made the best of the circumstances and forced his way into the fans’ good graces. Playing to the crowd and conversing with Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg while dominating “Triple C” didn’t hurt either.

If Dvalishvili can keep the momentum he built this weekend into a title fight with the winner Sean O’Malley and Chito Vera, a star can be born.

Also Read: Ilia Topuria secures featherweight title at UFC 298

Ant Walker is a native of the Washington DC area that now lives in Los Angeles. He has been... More about Anthony Walker

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