Ilia Topuria put on the performance of a lifetime, dominating Josh Emmett and making Emmett’s face barely recognizable in a one-sided beatdown Saturday in the main event of UFC on ABC 5 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
Topuria won by scores of 50-42, 50-44 and 49-45 and the outcome was never really in doubt. Yahoo Sports scored it 50-44 for Topuria.
The only thing that marred what is clearly a star-making turn for the 14-0 Topuria was the failure of either Topuria’s corner or referee Marc Godard to stop the fight. They could have stopped it after the third when Emmett’s left eye was closed by Topuria’s piston-like jab.
But there was no reason for it to go on after four, with Emmett having taken a terrible beating and Topuria far ahead on the cards. The only chance Emmett had in the fifth was landing a huge punch and knocking Topuria out.
No one in the UFC has more heart or is tougher than Emmett, but he took a beating that will stay with him for a long time. That wasn’t necessary.
Topuria was dominant in every aspect and midway through the fifth, as Emmett was looking for the home run, he showed his ring IQ was high, too. He took Emmett down and basically kept the fight on the ground in the last 2:30 of the fifth to prevent Emmett from getting that out-of-nowhere KO.
Topuria entered the fight with 12 finishes in 13 bouts and had eight of them in the first. He had predicted another one and said he was surprised Emmett lasted as long as he did.
“In reality, I was expecting to knock him out in the first round, but the guy is really, really tough,” Topuria said. “I want to say thank you to Josh, who brings so much energy inside the cage. … So I showed once again that no one can match my level of skill inside the cage. I prove it every time I step inside the cage and I proved it once again tonight.
Topuria was clearly quicker than Emmett and demonstrated that in the first few seconds of the fight. He had him lumped up midway through the second and on the verge of going out in the third.
Topuria’s blazing hand-speed was complemented by precise punching, and Emmett was helpless to do anything about it.
Before the fight, he said he would prove he deserves the next title shot, and it’s hard to argue with the performance he gave. He’ll be in Las Vegas cheering on champion Alex Volkanovski on July 8 when Volkanovski defends against interim champion Yair Rodriguez.
Topuria told Yahoo Sports before the fight he wanted Volkanovski to win over Rodriguez because Volkanovski had so many successful title defenses and is still ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound in some places. Topuria gave what appeared to be a performance that could — though it probably won’t — get him into the pound-for-pound Top 10.
It’s hard to say, though, that he doesn’t deserve a shot against the July 8 winner based on what he just did.
“I’m the next guy, without any doubt,” he said. “I’m coming [for what I deserve], which is to be No. 1 and [to take] that UFC belt. … I want Alex to defend that belt and show to him and the whole world where his world’s going to end and mine’s going to start.”
It’s not right to say we’ve entered the Ilia Topuria Era based on the Emmett fight alone. There is still work to do and guys like Volkanovski, Rodriguez, Max Holloway and Brian Ortega out there, among others.
But if no one realized it before, it’s obvious now: Ilia Topuria clearly belongs at or near the top. Ask Josh Emmett if you don’t agree.
Barber finishes Ribas
In the co-main event, Maycee Barber scored perhaps the most significant win of her career as she stopped No. 9 flyweight Amanda Ribas with strikes at 3:42 of the second.
Ribas took control of the fight early in the first, but Barber changed the course of the bout when she caught Ribas with vicious left cross. That opened up a river of blood pouring from Ribas’ nose, which basically didn’t stop the rest of the fight.
Barber’s only real mistake was getting a lot of Ribas’ blood on UFC television analyst Daniel Cormier during her post-fight interview in the cage.
“Oh, you got blood all over me,” Cormier said, disgustedly, briefly interrupting Barber.
That was pretty much the only thing that went wrong for Barber, who attacked when she got Ribas in trouble.
“I feel like I’m Tabatha Ricci; I’m going to come for that blood,” said Barber, who referred to a strawweight nicknamed ‘Baby Shark’ who defeated Gillian Robertson on Saturday’s prelims. “When I see it, I’m coming for it.”
Barber overwhelmed Ribas for long stretches in the first round, but Ribas began to turn the fight in her direction when the second began. Ribas was getting off quickly with her strikes and had Barber reeling a bit.
Barber, who won her fifth bout in a row, didn’t panic and recalled some advice she received in training from coach Danny Castillo, who told her the kick to the head would be there.
She heeded Castillo’s advice and landed the head kick perfectly, sending Ribas wobbling. She followed it up with a series of hard punches that dropped the Brazilian into a heap. Barber followed her to the floor and rained punches on Ribas, forcing referee Keith Peterson to stop it.
Barber will likely move into the Top 10 following the win, which came as a sizable underdog. Ribas was slightly better than a 2-1 favorite over Barber.
She said she’d continue to pressure matchmaker Mick Maynard, UFC president Dana White and Hunter Campbell, its chief business officer, for big matches against women ahead of her in the rankings.