Champ Ilia Topuria lukewarm on Alexander Volkanovski rematch

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ANAHEIM, Calif. – Ilia Topuria has mixed feelings on granting Alexander Volkanovski an immediate rematch after claiming gold in the UFC 298 main event.

Topuria (15-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) became the fifth undisputed featherweight champion in company history on Saturday when he scored a violent second-round knockout of Volkanovski (26-4 MMA, 13-3 UFC) at Honda Center. The result was almost exactly what Topuria predicted coming in, and although some may have doubted him, he knew he would eventually land a big shot and take home the belt.

“I don’t need the judges,” Topuria told MMA Junkie and other reporters post-fight at UFC 298. “When I’m fighting, they can go and take their time to break and rest a little bit. The guy was really fast – very fast jabs. His movements, his kicks – he surprised me a little bit. It took me a little bit of time to study him and I had to knock him out in the second round (instead of the first).

“I was just waiting to find my timing. He caught me with a couple of punches and he was celebrating, like ‘Ha ha ha.’ I was waiting for my turn for that. The game plan since the first moment was to do long combinations, not just one or two punches – combinations of three, four, five punches because it’s more difficult to read. … We did a great job. I became a world champion. I’m very happy.”

After putting together a title reign that included five successful defenses, Volkanovski said in the aftermath of UFC 298 that he thinks an immediate rematch with Topuria is warranted. It certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented for him to get it, but Topuria isn’t thrilled about the idea.

Topuria, 27, thinks the same names have occupied the top of the 145-pound division for the past several years, and part of him wants to see some fresh blood, but he also acknowledges Volkanovski’s case to run it back.

“He’s such a good person,” Topuria said. “To be honest, at this point, I’m like, OK, I’m going to give him the rematch because he’s a good person. But at the same time, it’s time to move on. It’s time to clean up the division a little bit. It’s time for the new generation to have new challengers, new faces, and I think I will be looking for that. But to honest, my job is to fight. Whoever they tell me I’m going to have to face and fight next, I will be there. That’s it.”

Topuria said prior to UFC 298 that he wasn’t interested in fighting the likes of Max Holloway, Brian Ortega or Yair Rodriguez. He largely doubled down on that sentiment now that the belt is in his possession.

“Max Holloway and them, no – they don’t make any sense for me right now,” Topuria said. “I need new challengers – new ones. There are some upcoming fights. We’ll see how they’re going to play out. You’re going to see ‘El Matador’ for a while.”

Given the state of the division, Topuria ultimately will leave himself open to another encounter with Volkanovski. He’s fresh off winning the belt, though, and said he intends to keep options open moving forward.

“At this point, I think that’s the fight in the division which makes more sense than any fight,” Topuria said. “So we’ll see. I don’t know. I have to sit down with my management team (and) the UFC and see what the future is holding for me.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 298.

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