• Home
  • First Georgian UFC Champion Presents Belt at Boris Paichadze Dinamo Stadium and Receives Order of Honor

26 March 2024

First Georgian UFC Champion Presents Belt at Boris Paichadze Dinamo Stadium and Receives Order of Honor

Ilia Topuria, the UFC’s new undisputed featherweight champion, returned to Georgia and presented a belt at Boris Paichadze Dinamo Stadium before the match between Georgia and Luxembourg.

Ilia Topuria Salome Zourabichvili

Image: president.ge

Early Childhood and Migration

Topuria, nicknamed El Matador, resides in Spain and is the son of Georgian migrants who initially sought better opportunities in Germany, where Ilia was born. The family returned to Georgia when he was seven, and he joined a Greco-Roman Wrestling club at school. In 2012, the Topuria family migrated to Spain, specifically Alicante, and although the children were still interested in continuing wrestling, they struggled to find a proper gym. Ilia recalls that they discovered a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym called Climent Club. Ilia and his older brother Alexandre fell in love with the sport and decided to pursue a professional career. Currently, Topuria represents both Spain and Georgia.

Career in UFC

Ilia debuted as a professional in 2015 at 18 and has since dominated his opponents. In 2020, he entered the biggest MMA scene, the UFC, with a record of 8-0. Notably, he finished all of his fights with either submission or knockout. Topuria’s first UFC fight against Uyoussef Zalal was taken on short notice. Consequently, El Matador had to fight for the full three rounds but emerged victorious with a unanimous decision. Since then, Ilia finished all opponents but Josh Emmet.

El Matador has shown confidence as a champion and hasn't shied away from verbal confrontations and trash talk with other fighters. One notable incident involves a verbal and physical confrontation with Paddy "The Baddy" Pimblett, an English lightweight. Pimblett's tweet mocking Georgians, referencing the war between Georgia and Russia,was taken sensitively by the Georgian community and fighters, including Topuria, vowed to beat him anywhere—octagon or street.

In 2022, Ilia fulfilled his promise when he met Pimblett in the hotel before UFC Fight Night London. In the altercation, Pimblett threw a bottle towards Topuria while El Matador managed to punch the Englishman. The rivalry continued at UFC 282 when the two were more focused on verbally assaulting each other during the press conference than on their opponents.

Road to the Title

UFC 282 was the night when Ilia was seriously considered as a possible contender to challenge the long-reigning king of the featherweight division, Alexander "The Great" Volkanovski, who had held the belt since December 2019 and defended it five consecutive times, entering the GOAT debates of the division. While still undefeated, Ilia Topuria was matched against another prospect, Bryce Mitchell and dominated him, ending the fight with a submission. In the next fight, El Matador showcased his striking skills against well-respected veteran Josh Emmet, earning him the Fight of the Night award.

Everyone knew that the next opponent for Volkanovski should have been Topuria, and the champ accepted the fight with the new contender, who had a record of 14-0, finishing 12 fights. The stakes were high, Ilia doubled down and first changed his Instagram bio: Featherweight Champion, Record 15-0. Then he started talking about Volkanovski as a former champion. This show of confidence was illustrative, but in the case of an unsuccessful result, El Matador risked becoming the biggest joke in the sport. However, Ilia fulfilled his promise, knocking out arguably the greatest featherweight in the history of MMA.

Return to Spain and Georgia

After defeating Volkanovski, Topuria returned to Spain, where he had been gaining popularity not only among MMA fans but also celebrities such as Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Iker Casillas, and others, who accepted him as one of their own. Furthermore, he presented the belt during a match between Real Madrid and Valencia at the Santiago Bernabeu, symbolically kicking off the game. Shortly after this, the Spain’s Prime Minister met and granted him citizenship. 

Image: Irakli Kobakhidze/FB

On March 21, Georgia’s national football team had a crucial semi-final against Luxembourg to qualify for Euro 2024. In interviews, Topuria announced that he would visit his homeland at the beginning of March, but on social media, a campaign kicked off calling on the Football Federation of Georgia and Ilia Topuria to present the belt at Boris Paichadze Dinamo Stadium. On one of the posts, Topuria commented: “I will be there.” On March 18, El Matador arrived in Tbilisi and was greeted by thousands at the airport. Topuria then held meetings with the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, who, along with the Speaker of the Parliament, addressed President Salome Zourabichvili to grant Ilia the Medal of Honor and emphasized the importance of maintaining Georgian citizenship for him. The President agreed with the proposal and invited El Matador to the Orbeliani Palace, where she awarded him the Medal of Honor and issued a decree to maintain his citizenship. Zourabichvili emphasized that both decisions were very important; firstly, Topuria serves as an example for future generations that hard work can lead to success, and secondly, even while living abroad, he chose to uphold his Georgian citizenship, serving as an inspiration for others to take pride in their heritage.

On March 21, Topuria presented the belt to the 55,000 fans gathered at Paitchadze Dinamo Stadium and predicted that Georgia would win 2-0 in the match against Luxembourg. The prediction was precise. El Matador participated in the national team’s after-match celebration. 

His journey from the streets of Georgia and Spain to becoming a UFC champion and a symbol of national pride exemplifies the resilience and determination of individuals pursuing their dreams. With his charisma, talent, and unwavering dedication, Topuria has not only etched his name in the annals of MMA history but has also become a source of inspiration for countless aspiring athletes in Georgia, Spain and beyond.