Words by Carson Rich
UFC Fight Night put on a show in Jacksonville on June 24. This is the fourth consecutive year that Duval County has hosted a UFC fight card, and based on the audience response at this event, it’s likely not the last time. VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena lit up as Ilia Topuria faced off against Josh Emmett for a chance to solidify themselves as a top-ranked featherweight contender.
The prelim fights did not disappoint as they were filled with exciting bouts and finishes from fighters looking to move their way up the rankings. Jack Jenkins vs. Jamall Emmers is worth noting as the two traded blows consistently through all three rounds. Both of their fast-paced fighting styles electrified the crowd as they took it the distance with Jenkins walking away with his 12th victory.
The next fight, Chepe Mariscal vs. Trevor Peek, went 0 to 60 in no time as both corners were throwing haymakers at each other until the very end. The crowd was the edge of their seats during this nail biting clash of two lightweights, waiting for one of them to go down. In impressive fashion, both stood their ground until the decision was made with Mariscal getting his hand raised.
The first bout in the main fight card had the audience in a chokehold, literally, as Brendan Allen defeated Bruno Silva by submission with an aggressive rear-naked choke. Silva would not let up in the first two rounds, but as soon as Allen took him to the ground, it was over. The middleweight contender locked in his fifth straight win in style once again, as this is also his third consecutive win using a rear-naked choke.
Speaking of dominating performances, David Onama captured his kodak moment during his knockout victory in the second round against Gabriel Santos. The finishing uppercut that put Santos on the ground was swift and unexpected, so much so that the crowd took a few seconds to react.
One of the most anticipated fights in the card was definitely Austen Lane in his UFC heavyweight debut against Justin Tafa. Lane has an emotional connection to the city of Jacksonville as he was drafted as a defensive end by the Jaguars in 2010 and remained with the team until 2013 before going on to play for the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
When asked if there were any poetic feelings toward fighting in his old hometown, he commented, “I look at if from the energy of the crowd, and how that is going to be on Saturday … as far as getting poetic about it, nah, not really, man. It could be in the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena. It could be in Georgia in a Waffle House at 2 a.m. in the parking lot. I just really care about the fighting.”
His reminiscent journey into this fight did not last long, however, after an accidental eye poke in the first minute caused it to be called a no contest due to the extremity of Tafa’s injury. This is not the first time a fight has been postponed for him though, as his last bout did not go on due to a torn bicep he experienced earlier this year.
The co-main event was very back and forth between flyweights Maycee Barber and Amanda Ribas. Barber attacked relentlessly at the end as she sent Ribas stumbling, finishing her off with multiple hammerfists before the referee finally called it. This fight continued her win streak to 5 now, making a statement for herself.
The main event between Ilia Topuria and Josh Emmett was a clash of two titans in the featherweight division. Topuria came into this bout undefeated with 13 wins, looking to jump into the top 5 rankings, while Emmett came off a lost title shot, making this his redemption fight. Despite the 12-year age difference, they both stood the test of time and brought it through all five rounds in a very strategic battle between veteran and challenger. In rounds three and four, there were points where it seemed like Emmett was finished, but he stood back up and kept his hands up. In the end, Emmett put on a show, but Topuria demonstrated his calm and collected skill, leading to win No. 14 while remaining undefeated.
After the fight, Topuria was asked what he thought about challenging current title holder Alexander Volkanovski, and he replied “No f*****g problem … If I think I’m the best in the world, I can beat him in Australia, in Las Vegas, in Miami, in Spain, wherever we go, I beat him. Location is no problem.” This would be Topuria’s first title shot, and his chance to prove that he is one of the best fighters in the UFC.