Ilia Topuria: UFC protecting Paddy Pimblett from me

The UFC could do far worse than cut clips from the UFC 282 press conference to promote a fight between Ilia Topuria and Paddy Pimblett. But Topuria is skeptical he’ll face the U.K. star any time soon.

Although the rivals have now been booked on the same fight cards on two occasions, Topuria isn’t sure that’s on purpose. He believes his run-ins with Pimblett may be incidental rather than on purpose.

“Maybe yes, maybe no,” he said Monday on The MMA Hour. “But at the same time, I feel like the UFC’s protecting him me. I don’t know why. In reality, that’s the fight to make right now, because it’s one of the biggest fights in the UFC. We can perfectly sell a pay-per-view. That fight makes more excitement for people than [many] championship fights.”

In addition to cutting a great sizzle reel at the presser, Pimblett and Topuria both emerged from this past Saturday’s pay-per-view with another win on their respective records. A large portion of the MMA audience would disagree on that fact, arguing Pimblett lost to Jared Gordon in the co-main event. Topuria would not disagree.

“He lost the fight,” Topuria said. “They gave him a Christmas gift. Everyone [thought] he lost. When I hear 29-28. I think that Jared won the fight. Who cares. He wins his last fight with a decision – this is the time I’ve spent in my last four fights.”

Where Topuria does see design is in the next step of Pimblett’s career. While he’s unsure whether or not the UFC had a hand in the UFC 282 co-main’s result, he believes the promotion is going to take full advantage of it for the next UFC event in London, where Pimblett has been a primary driver of ticket sales in two events this year.

“If he has a loss, it’s not the same,” Topuria said. “He’s coming from a win, and normally, fans don’t watch the whole fight – they watch just highlights. They’re going to right now make good highlights for him about his last fight, and they’re going to make him look good.”

“Maybe yes, maybe not [that the UFC is responsible for the result]. But look, I want to be honest. The guy is good at promoting himself. As a fighter, he sucks. He doesn’t have any skills. He’s so boring to watch. But promoting himself, he’s good, so the UFC’s supporting him, of course.”

Critics pointed to Pimblett’s press conference as another example of why the UFC shouldn’t support him. Language with racist overtones marred the standard back-and-forth trash talk between the fighters, with Pimblett at one point calling Topuria a “mongrel” and demanding he speak English during their bickering. For Topuria, the episode wasn’t a big deal – he’d made up his mind about Pimblett.

“He already crossed the line, so right now, what he’s saying, I don’t care,” Topuria said. “The people think that he’s the best from Europe. I’m from Europe. So let’s fight for the European crown. I know what’s going to happen. I know that I’m going to put him to sleep in the first round. Everyone knows that. That’s why they are [keeping him away] from me.”

If Topuria is wrong, he’ll happily accept a fight with Pimblett. But he doesn’t want to go to London without extra concessions.

“If it’s against Paddy, the money’s right – because I have to go in his home and fight against the whole crowd,” he said. “It’s very tough when you walk inside the cage and the crowd is against you. I would love to make that fight happen in Spain.”

A fight on home soil would of course be Topuria’s dream – and likely Pimblett’s nightmare. Topuria is also a weight division below the U.K. star, so he’s not demanding the matchup immediately.

“In reality, I would love to focus on my weight class,” Topuria said. “I would love to face Brian Ortega. He never turned down the fight, so now I want my managers to make an offer to his team. I know he has injury now to his shoulder, so we’re going to ask him how much time he needs to get healthy. I think that he’s a warrior and he’s going to accept the fight.”

A fight against a two-time title challenger would get Topuria much closer to the thing every UFC fighter ultimately desires: a title. A fight against Pimblett, meanwhile, would offer a reward to his ego, and maybe to his wallet. At this point, the Spaniard seems more intent on choosing the former. The promotion can cash in on the grudge whenever it wants. Championship fights are harder to pin down.

“I know that I’m going to knock him out,” Topuria said. “I’m way better than him everywhere. So right now, you have a fight against Paddy against who cares, I don’t think people are very excited about watching him fight. Because he talks well, he’s a great promoter, but as a fighter, he sucks. Right now, I’m the guy. Everyone wants to watch me fight. You put me against anyone, they’re going to watch.

“In reality, [the UFC] never made an official offer to Paddy to fight against me. I don’t think he’s going to turn down the fight. Maybe yes, I don’t know, but the UFC didn’t want the fight, yet. I know that one day it’s going to happen.”

And Topuria is willing to give up some weight when it does.

“I promise you, he won’t get a win against me for three or five kilos,” he said. “He can come and even not make the weight. I don’t care about the weight.”