UFC Jacksonville: Emmett Seeks Return to Form While Topuria Aims for Breakout Performance

Ilia Topuria UFC
Ilia Topuria, UFC 282 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Perennial featherweight contender Josh Emmett looks to return to form in another high profile fight while rising star Ilia Topuria looks to break into the title picture at UFC Jacksonville.

Josh Emmett has something to prove on Saturday, to the public if not to himself.  The Team Alpha Male standout marched through the competition during a five fight win-streak in the UFC between 2019 and 2022 and became a breath of fresh air in the title picture.  Earlier this year, his hard work materialized into the form of a shot at the interim title against fellow top-contender Yair Rodriguez.  Unfortunately, it would not be his night as a superb performance from “El Pantera” en route to a second-round submission would ruin Emmett’s evening back in February.

Going into another headliner this Saturday, the 38 year-old Emmett is in a precarious position.  While the champion at featherweight is dominant and in need of fresh competition (if he stays at 145), a new wave of contenders has already begun to knock on the door of the established guard.  With his upcoming opponent, Bryce Mitchell, Arnold Allen, and others rising through the ranks, a step back for Emmett would come at an inopportune time.  Further, he already competes against the daunting statistic of fighters over the age of 35 in the lighter weight classes coming up short far more often than not in title fights.  To attempt another long title run at this stage would be a challenge to be certain.

If experience is on the side of Josh Emmett, then time and youth is on the side of Ilia Topuria.  At 26 years-old, the young dynamo fighting out of Spain is widely considered to be one of the top prospects in the entire sport.  A versatile athlete who has proven himself at both featherweight and lightweight in the UFC, “El Matador” is a perfect 16-0 who has only gone the distance once in his career.  It should be noted, the UFC moved this bout from their Apex to a full-size arena and it is no coincidence that Topuria is at the top of the billing for his first Octagon headliner.

While a title shot could be on the line for both men, the fact that Emmett recently lost to Rodriguez makes the bout more important for Topuria.  Coming off a finish of the previously undefeated Bryce Mitchell, an encore performance against the highly ranked Emmett would seemingly position Topuria as the next man up for the current champion.  With the lightweight division in the midst of lining up contenders, the probability of Alexander Volkanovski staying at featherweight should he retain his title in two weeks rather than moving up in weight again is high.  Furthermore, Topuria would be on the perfect timetable to meet him in the latter half of 2023 or early in 2024.

Though Topuria is the one who rides more momentum going into Saturday, both men could see themselves get a title shot as the proverbial next man up in the weight class ruled by Volkanovski’s iron fist.  Volkanovski could meet Saturday’s winner should he triumph over Rodriguez in July, but a loss would likely lead to an instant rematch.  That would likely lead Emmett or Topuria to fight another contender as they wait for the belt to become available with either Brian Ortega or Max Holloway (should he best Chan Sung Jung in August) in the latter part of 2023.