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Ilia Topuria picked up a win in his UFC debut while going to the third round for the first time in his career.
The featherweight prospect showcased his signature wrestling while engaging in a grueling battle with Youssef Zalal before earning a unanimous decision victory. All three judges scored the contest 29-28 with Topuria getting the win.
“When you got eight days’ notice, you’ve got to be ready,” Topuria said about his win at UFC Fight Island 5. “I didn’t have the time I would like but it is what it is. He was very tough. I had a very close submission but he’s a tough guy.”
Following a few exchanges on the feet, Topuria turned back to his Greco-Roman wrestling roots by latching on the body and tossing Zalal down the ground. Once the fight hit the floor, Topuria was on the attack with a variety of submission attempts including a nasty arm-in guillotine choke and then transitioning to an anaconda choke.
Despite being in a bad spot, Zalal stayed patience and eventually worked his way free before the opening round came to an end.
As the fight continued, Zalal actually attempted to grapple Topuria but he didn’t find nearly as much success while his conditioning started to suffer. In return, Topuria was more than happy to use his wrestling to control the action after the fights went back down to the ground.
Even as the third round began and Zalal attempted to stop Topuria’s takedown with a knee straight up the middle, he just couldn’t connect before the UFC newcomer was on his legs.
While Topuria was also showing signs of slowing down, his ability to use his wrestling both offensively and defensively was the difference in the fight. Whenever Zalal would either get back to his feet or manage a brief reversal, Topuria would ultimately find a away to regain control and that helped lead him to victory.
As he moves to 9-0 in his career, Topuria appears to be a name to watch now that he’s arrived in the UFC with a victory in his first appearance inside the octagon.