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Ilia Topuria, right, defeated featherweight champion  Alexander Volkanovski by knockout in the second round in the UFC 298 main event Saturday Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)
Ilia Topuria, right, defeated featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski by knockout in the second round in the UFC 298 main event Saturday Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)
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The UFC made its 10th show in Anaheim a historic one.

Returning to the Honda Center for the first time in more than two years, UFC 298 proved to be a record-setting night, highlighted by Ilia Topuria dethroning featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski in the main event.

With an attendance of 18,186 and an announced live gate of $7,264,734, which included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sitting front and center cageside, UFC CEO Dana White said UFC 298 was the highest-grossing live event in Honda Center history and the highest-grossing MMA event in California history.

“It’s good to be back. This arena has been very good to us for a long time,” White said. “We like the guys who run this place and we look forward to it. They have big plans for around here too, they’re building a good experience here. So, happy to be back with these guys.”

The UFC has been holding events at the Anaheim arena since April 15, 2006, when UFC 59: Reality Check featured Tim Sylvia winning the heavyweight title from Andrei Arlovski at the then-Arrowhead Pond.

Ilia Topuria has his hand raised, as UFC CEO Dana White puts the featherweight title around his waist, after knocking out champion Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 298 on Saturday Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)
Ilia Topuria has his hand raised, as UFC CEO Dana White puts the featherweight title around his waist, after knocking out champion Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 298 on Saturday Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)

The reign in Spain

Ilia Topuria professed all fight week that Saturday night – a tall task considering Alexander Volkanovski was making his sixth title defense and had never lost at 145 pounds.

And with one punch, it all came true. Topuria, a German native who was raised in Georgia and has lived in Spain most of his life, blitzed the champ in the second round and connected with a right to the body and a left to the head. As Volkanovski backed against the cage, Topuria delivered a picture-perfect right to the jaw, .

“I don’t need the judges,” Topuria, 27, said at a postfight press conference. “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.

“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.”

All week, one statistic loomed over, and was scoffed at by, the 35-year-old Volkanovski: UFC fighters 35 and older fighting for titles at 170 pounds and lighter were a shocking 1-21 against younger fighters.

And now that record is 1-22. Volkanovski made no excuses after the fight and shot down chatter that he had come back too soon after getting knocked out by lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in October.

Alexander Volkanovski reacts after being knocked out and losing his featherweight championship to Ilia Topuria at UFC 298 on Saturday Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)
Alexander Volkanovski reacts after being knocked out and losing his featherweight championship to Ilia Topuria at UFC 298 on Saturday Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)

“You can’t take anything away from Topuria,” said Volkanovski, who won the first round on all three judges’ scorecards. “If he puts a hand on you like that, you’re going to go down. I don’t care, that’s just that. That was a clean right hand and I think no matter who you are, you let one of those land on your chin while you’re caught there, you’re probably going down.”

Topuria says the UFC must now make its debut in Spain, where his popularity is surging as one of the UFC’s brightest European stars. White says Spain will happen and Volkanovski believes it’s where they should have his rematch, which Topuria said he’d acquiesce.

“I’ve been reigning champ for how long? I’ve been a bit of a company man,” Volkanovski said. “Went back up on short notice. I fought Max [Holloway] three times. You name it, I’ve done it individually for a long time, so I think I deserve that and it’s going to be different next time.”

Bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili, right, defeated former two-division champion Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision at UFC 298 on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)
Bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili, right, defeated former two-division champion Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision at UFC 298 on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)

Dvalishvili gets his shine

Topuria was joined in victory by bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili, a Georgian native who fights out of Long Island, New York.

Dvalishvili turned back the comeback quest of former two-division champion Henry Cejudo, dominating the second and third rounds en route to a unanimous decision.

The fight was considered a No. 1 contender bout, with the winner earning a shot at the winner of UFC 299’s headliner between champion Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera on March 9. White confirmed Dvalishvili would be next in line.

“That’s the only goal right now. Fight for the title and win the belt,” Dvalishvili said. “I believe in myself and I’m only getting better, as you guys see. Every fight, it looks so much easier, and really tonight I wasn’t even breathing heavy. I was very comfortable and this is only the beginning.”

Merab Dvalishvili, right, connects with Henry Cejudo during their bantamweight bout at UFC 298 on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Merab Dvalishvili, right, connects with Henry Cejudo during their bantamweight bout at UFC 298 on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Cejudo gets shined

Cejudo said all week if he had his quest for another bantamweight title deterred by Dvalishvili.

At 37, it was title shot or bust for the 2008 Olympic freestyle wrestling gold medalist. After the scores were read – all 29-28 in Dvalishvili’s favor – Cejudo removed his gloves, long a precursor for an in-ring retirement, as Dvalishvili gave his postfight interview.

However, after Dvalishvili’s interview wrapped up, the house music blared and Cejudo wasn’t provided an opportunity to address whether he was calling it quits. As of Sunday morning, the status of his career was still unknown

White on Saturday night said he wasn’t aware of Cejudo’s status and explained why the MMA great wasn’t given a chance to talk.

“Listen, Merab was in a position where he wouldn’t fight his friend. You know how we love that here when you won’t do that. So you know, I haven’t been thrilled with Merab, I don’t like that attitude. You fight everybody, so whatever,” White said in reference to Dvalishvili’s reluctance to fight training partner and former 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling.

“Merab went in there tonight and he beat the former champion, Henry Cejudo. Henry Cejudo already retired, OK? He did the whole ‘drop the gloves’ thing. Tonight was Merab’s night. Merab went in there and he fought the No. 2 guy in the world, former world champion. He won easily, won the fight. Tonight was Merab’s night. And if (Cejudo) wants to retire again, he can do that here or somewhere else. You don’t give the mic to Cejudo tonight. Tonight was Merab’s night.”

It’s safe to say White wasn’t thrilled with Cejudo’s first retirement. After his TKO victory over former titleholder Dominick Cruz to defend the bantamweight title at UFC 249 in May 2020, Cejudo shocked the MMA world and announced he was hanging it up in his postfight interview.

Some speculated it was a contract negotiating ploy. If it was, it played out for three years before Cejudo unretired in May and came up short in a split-decision title-fight loss to Sterling at UFC 288 in May.

Amanda Lemos, left, and Mackenzie Dern react after their Fight of the Night, which Lemos won via unanimous decision, at UFC 298 on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)
Amanda Lemos, left, and Mackenzie Dern react after their Fight of the Night, which Lemos won via unanimous decision, at UFC 298 on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, at Honda Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily ɫ̳/SCNG)

Fight of the Night

Huntington Beach resident Mackenzie Dern and fellow strawweight Amanda Lemos brought the crown to their feet with their entertaining, back-and-forth fight, each scoring at least one knockdown and takedown.

Their efforts, which ended with Lemos , resulted in a Fight of the Night bonus for each to the tune of $50,000.

At one point, Dern got dropped twice in the second round, the second one appearing to break her nose as she grimaced and tried to cover her face.

White says he was convinced Dern, who took the fight on a month’s notice in place of the injured Tatiana Suarez, also had a broken orbital. He said he was “shocked” she didn’t get transported to the hospital Saturday night.

“She’s so (bleeping) tough, man. She’s so tough,” White said. “She’s awesome.”

Performance bonuses, also for $50,000, were handed out to Topuria, Anthony Hernandez for his second-round submission of Roman Kopylov, and Zhang Mingyang for his first-round knockout of Brendson Ribeiro.

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