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Georgians are uprising in the sports industry

Ana+Karataseva%2C+9%2C+%28Macedonian%29+pointing+to+the+Georgian+flag.
Lile Bekaia
Ana Karataseva, 9, (Macedonian) pointing to the Georgian flag.

Georgia. The Peach Country. The home of Coca-Cola and one of the thirteen original colonies. That’s probably what you first thought of as soon as you read the word. 

What usually doesn’t come to mind for most is the small European country north of Armenia and Turkey.  

Georgia, the country, is not well known and is usually recognized through power sports such as rugby, wrestling, heavy weight lifting, and football.

Recently, Georgia has made advancements in UFC and soccer industry.

Georgian Fighters Take Over in UFC

Two months ago, in UFC 298, on February 17, 2024, history happened. 

Ilia “El Matador” Topuria, a Georgian-Spanish fighter, fought Alex “The Great” Volkanovski, an Australian. 

This fight was huge and highly anticipated. During UFC 298, you could even see Mark Zuckerberg, the inventor of Facebook and friend of Volanovski’s for a few years, supporting Volanovski enthusiastically.

Volanovski held the UFC Featherweight Champion belt and people were wondering if Topuria had what it takes to dethrone him. 

Volanovski was the 8th longest-reigning champion and had defended his belt five times since 2019.  

Topuria fights in the featherweight division and has a record of 15 wins in a row. This is incredible in the UFC world; he currently holds the No. 3 position in the featherweight division rankings. 

The fight between these two professionals was relatively short and ended smoothly and quickly.

Topuria won the match by knockout about halfway through the second round. He is now the current Featherweight Champion of the world.

He is the first Georgian to become a UFC Champion. He is also the first Spanish fighter to become a UFC Champion.

It was a night of cultural significance for people all across the globe.

“I was happy when Ilia knocked out Volkanavski and called out Conor McGregor which would mean a lot for my country (Georgia) and would be a good fight to watch.

— Luka Gogilashvili, 9

Topuria already got his first challenger, Max “Blessed” Holloway. Holloway has recently won against Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje in UFC 300 on Saturday, April 13th, 2024. 

Holloway calls Topuria “questionable” and Topuria says that Holloway is not worth his time and hasn’t done enough to earn the title.

Topuria said that without Holloway’s BMF (Baddest Motherf*****) belt on the line, he wouldn’t even consider fighting him.

The fight will be legendary. The date is to be determined.

Another Georgian fighter who found success at UFC 298 was Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili. He won against Henry “Triple C” Cejudo.

In this fight, the win was by decision; Meaning, the victor was decided by the three judges. It was entertaining to watch the two fighters overpower each other. 

Mark Zuckerburg was in Dvalishvili’s corner and was seen grinning ear-to-ear when Merab won. During the fight, Merab was showing off his skills for Zuckerberg. 

The two friends were even seen talking as Merab had Cejudo in the choke hold that gave Merab his 10th consecutive win. Merab was seen running cage-side immediately after the fight ended to fist bump Zuckerberg.

Post-fight, Dvalishvili revealed that Zuckerberg was mouthing the amount of time left in each round of his fight.

Merab is now set to go against Sean “Suga” O’Malley current holder of the UFC Bantamweight Champion title. The date is to be determined.

UFC is only one of many areas in sports that Georgia has advanced in this past year. Another thing Georgians succeeded in was soccer, or what’s known as football in Europe.

Georgia’s Influence in Soccer Rises

On March 26, 2024, Georgia went against Greece in a battle of swinging feet and flying goals. 

Georgia won 4-2 against them. 

This is the first time in Georgian history that they have qualified for the UEFA European Championship, more commonly known as Euros.

As soon as Nika Kvekveskiri made the winning shot, Georgian fans were seen running out onto the field out of happiness, and enthusiastically cheering on their soccer team with hugs and pats of acknowledgment.

Next, they are set to play at the Euros against Turkey (June 18), Czechia (June 22), and Portugal (June 26).

Georgians everywhere will be tuning in to support the national team and even if they don’t win, they will have still made history.

Willy Sagnol, the team manager for the Georgian football team, said that this win was a way for Georgians to say, “Hey, Georgia does exist.”

“I think (representation) is cool and it allows people from all around the world to show their talent and compete to be the best.

— Uyiosa Aguebor, 9

The Marshall Islands is not a well-known place either. It’s a small country, with a population of a little more than 42,000 people, located halfway between Hawaii and Australia.

It’s the only country in the world that doesn’t have a national football team. Imagine what it would mean to all 42,000 of those people if they had a national football team and they won the World Cup one day, or even just got to take part in the tournament at all. 

The whole country is getting invested in playing football: men, women, kids, teenagers, etc. The schools are pushing kids to take an interest in the sport and it’s working.

Robert Bodigai Leo, secretary of the Marshall Islands Soccer Federation, said, “The Marshallese are physically suited to the game, and we will develop good players. We don’t just want one or two teams, we want full age groups and senior teams for both men and women.”

Sports have the power to unify the world when no matter where you’re from, you can compete with people who do the same thing you do. No person or country should be limited to where they’re from to play what they want to.

Why Representation Matters

Other places have been made proud too, for example, China had Yao Ming and Sun Mingming who were gigantic basketball players.

When you picture a Chinese person, they’re usually not seven feet tall. And they didn’t just play basketball because they were freakishly tall; they were also very good at it.

They made all of China proud every time they played on a court. Grace Gao, 9, of Chinese descent says “Even though I don’t watch sports, I still feel proud that my country is given a good reputation through them.”

People are connected through sports and it’s more beautiful when it connects people from all around the world no matter where you’re from. 

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