The Bottom Line: Jiri Shines

By: Todd Martin
May 4, 2021


Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Jiri Prochazka shouldn’t have been able to sneak up on us. Yes, Japanese MMA is a shell of its former self but Prochazka left a trail of unconscious bodies in his wake on his way to winning the Rizin Fighting Federation light heavyweight title. He remains the only fighter to stop Bellator MMA kingpin Vadim Nemkov. The Ultimate Fighting Championship knew it might have something in him, as evidenced by his debut against a former title challenger on the ESPN prelim headliner before a major pay-per-view event. That ended via another clean knockout and earned Prochazka a main event against another former title challenger. Prochazka didn’t wander in from obscurity to his fight with Dominick Reyes Saturday night, yet so impressive was his performance that it almost felt that way.

Prochazka announced his presence in the top mix of the UFC light heavyweight division with 569 seconds of violence so visceral and brutal that they stand a good chance of being the first thing we think of when his career is over. Reyes was skilled and courageous; he fell short in his previous efforts to become champion and badly wanted to work his way back. Reyes landed some major shots and didn’t back down in the face of Prochazka’s aggression. In the end, however, he could only survive so many thudding shots before a spinning back elbow put him to sleep for the first time in his professional career.

Predators like Prochazka have long captured the imagination of MMA fans. Chuck Liddell broke through to the mainstream in a way no MMA fighter in the United States had before by walking down opponents and being able to take shots in order to dish out even harder ones. Wanderlei Silva didn’t have the same chin but showcased a similar brand of hard-hitting aggression in Pride Fighting Championships at the same time. Even less successful versions of the same mold like "Kimbo Slice," David "Tank" Abbott and Houston Alexander have captured the public imagination.

If Prochazka fights for the light heavyweight title next time out, the speed of that title shot in an established division will be nearly unprecedented in modern UFC history. However, it’s hard to imagine many complaints will be raised. Prochazka is exactly what the 205-pound division has been missing: a fighter so impressive he has the potential to escape the daunting shadow of Jon Jones. Jan Blachowicz’s rise has been noteworthy in its own right but the memories of earlier losses still linger. That isn’t the case with Prochazka, whose only losses came years ago thousands of miles away from North American audiences.

The other attribute that gives Prochazka the potential to escape from Jones’ shadow is his wildly different fighting style. Jones is distinguished by his diverse skill set while Prochazka is a powerful steamroller. Neither man is going to remind fans of the other, making it easier to evaluate each on his own merits. That’s particularly important at light heavyweight because Jones never lost to someone in the division to signal a changing of the guard. It’s been over seven years since Georges St. Pierre vacated the UFC welterweight title and only now is Kamaru Usman finally moving past the memory of GSP’s accolades.

The emergence of Prochazka is also another sign of the way MMA is flourishing throughout the world. The UFC rankings, once dominated by Americans and Brazilians, have become more and more geographically diverse. Remarkably, there are now 18 different nations represented just among UFC champions and top five contenders, covering every continent except Antarctica. There are now three Eastern Europeans at the top of the light heavyweight division alone. It demonstrates a global appeal few sports can match and so many different regions now have their own local MMA hero to root for. Or quite a few, if you’re from Dagestan.

It remains to be seen what type of longevity Prochazka can attain with such a brutal style, particularly in a division with large, powerful opposition. His chin will need to hold up and even that’s no easy feat with the combatants he’ll be taking on. However, it’s a good bet that his fights are quickly going to become must-see events for MMA fans whether he wins or loses. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who watched Prochazka-Reyes won’t be pumped up to see Prochazka again next time out and those who missed it are going to hear about it from friends.

Blachowicz can’t be feeling too badly about this development either. His light heavyweight title win was likely the lowest-profile UFC light heavyweight title fight in over 15 years, leaving him in a weak position to start his reign. He then got some luck. The first bit of luck was Israel Adesanya wanting to move up to fight him, giving him a high-profile fight that greatly enhanced his notoriety. Winning that fight helped him further. Now, a new intriguing challenger has emerged. There is of course danger in the matchup but a victory offers substantial upside. Like so many others, he was surely struck by what he witnessed from the new Czech contender this weekend.

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