Will Ilia Topuria’s blazing ascent continue against Josh Emmett?

UFC Fight Night doesn’t generate the same buzz as the company’s pay-per-view cards, but it has delivered some very exciting main events in 2023. Buckle up and get ready for another one as the promotion returns to Jacksonville, Florida, this Saturday night.

Featherweight contenders Ilia Topuria and Josh Emmett will clash in the five-round headliner with a chance to crack into the top five of the rankings on the line. I will admit, the odds gave me sticker shock at first glance. Emmett is currently a +260 underdog, despite competing for the interim title the last time he was in the Octagon.

Topuria (13-0, 5-0 UFC) is one of the UFC’s young rising stars. He recently put the division on notice when he dominated 11th-ranked Bryce Mitchell at UFC 282. His second-round submission of Mitchell was his fourth straight finish, and his 12th in 13 career fights. His advanced grappling game paired with his explosive striking allows him to fight with confidence, unconcerned of where the fight turns. Considering Topuria’s 92% career takedown defense and eight submission wins, it’s likely Emmett will be more than happy to let this one play out on the feet.

Emmett (18-3, 9-3 UFC) wins with power and durability. He earned a shot at the interim title with a split decision win over Calvin Kattar last year. Emmett wore a considerable amount of damage in the fight, but it was the power behind his strikes that swayed the judges in his favor. That’s his win-button against Topuria, which makes him an intriguing underdog at such a juicy price. The odds indicate Emmett only has a puncher’s chance, but his crumbling power makes the outcome more likely than your typical +260 underdog.

Ilia Topuria stands in his corner before facing Bryce Mitchell in a featherweight fight at UFC 282 on Dec. 10, 2022. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Ilia Topuria stands in his corner before facing Bryce Mitchell in a featherweight fight at UFC 282 on Dec. 10, 2022. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

It’s Dog or Prop

I didn’t say dog or pass since my money will be on Topuria to keep his perfect mixed martial arts record intact. If we are isolating the moneyline odds, the value is on the Emmett side. I can understand why some are betting him. He wins this fight more than the implied odds (27%) are giving him credit for, but I couldn’t back him in this spot.

There is a 12-year age gap between these two fighters. Topuria is still entering his prime at 26, while Emmett blew out 38 candles this past March. He’s an incredible athlete in phenomenal shape, but you can’t run from Father Time. There were also rumors he was battling injuries in his last camp. Now, he finds himself up against another younger, faster, more dynamic opponent. Emmett was never a volume fighter. He recorded a negative striking differential in seven of his past eight fights.

Topuria is going to pour it on early, and provide a real test for Emmett’s iron chin. Emmett only being four months removed from a loss where he took some damage adds another layer of concern regarding his durability. The combination of these factors was enough to move me to the prop market to bet Topuria without laying the moneyline price.

Best Bet: Illia Topuria by KO, TKO, or DQ +150

Topuria is a brutal finisher who is more than capable of turning the lights out on Emmett. I think his speed and explosiveness will be too much. We have all seen fighters drop their opponent, only to lock in a submission rather than trying to finish them off with strikes. Those bad beats are always in play with Topuria since he is highly skilled standing and grappling, but I think there is enough value to cover it with this price.

The submission odds might have a touch of recency bias baked in with both fighters’ last fight ending that way. It’s also Topuria’s most common method of finishing fights throughout his young career. However, the higher the competition, the harder it is to force a tap. It’s telling that his last fight was his only submission win in the UFC, while his three previous fights ended via knockout.

Emmett is not an easy guy to submit due to his size, power and experience. I expect it to take some time to get Emmett out of there. If you aren’t comfortable with how the fight ends, I will also have a small stake on Topuria in rounds 2 (+400) and 3 (+1000). Those bets cover all methods of victory at BetMGM.