In just two weeks Michael Chandler will be fighting for the vacant UFC lightweight title in just his second fight in the UFC. The promotion pushing Chandler towards the belt should come as no surprise for the former Bellator champ as the free agent signing shook up MMA circles since the announcement was made back on Fight Island as had the red-carpet treatment as was paraded on broadcasts and promos alike. However, it was a fighter who was debuted during that same Fight Island run that is on just as meteoric of a rise as Chandler’s and his name is Jiri Procházka.
Procházka improved to 2-0 since joining the UFC by delivering a knockout of the year candidate by stopping Dominick Reyes with a vicious spinning elbow 4:29 into round two in their main event on Saturday at the UFC Apex. Procházka has now defeated two former UFC title challengers in Reyes and Oezdemir in his first two fights and in the post-fight press conference was said to be up next for the winner of Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira, which is slated for September’s UFC 266. The 29-year-old has propelled himself into the top five of the division and has given the UFC a much-needed fresh face at light heavyweight since Jon Jones has moved on from the weight class, but it did not come out of nowhere.
Before his hot start stateside, Jiri Prochazka knocked out his final seven opponents before taking the plunge into the UFC, defeating the likes of C.B Dollaway, King Moh, and current Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov all before signing with the UFC in January of 2020. Procházka’s name is no secret to the hardcore MMA fan, but it was his exposure to the American fan base is what has the UFC excited to have him in title contention and at the age of 29, he could star in a division that historically helped carry the promotion into the mainstream. His flashes of stardom have been on full display in his first two outings, Jiri’s relentless forward pressure, paired with his heavy hands and elusiveness has made fellow fighters and broadcasters alike marveling at his chaotic fighting style.
That was a BEAUTIFUL spinning elbow!! WOW!! Speechless on this one! Entertaining fight from beginning to end!! I hope Reyes is ok after that one 🙏🏾 #UFCVegas25— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) May 2, 2021
This dude Prochazka is like a avalanche going downhill. He just blitzes these dudes. He uses his cardio as a weapon , has a fantastic chin and great finishing instincts. I’m very excited about this dude!— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) May 2, 2021
The only gripe about Jiri Procházka’s game is that he is often found with his hands low, but although getting hit with some big punches Saturday both he, and his samurai-styled ponytail have been putting on performances that are nothing short of must see tv, leading him to an additional $100,000 in bonus money earning both Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night honors Saturday.
It takes a back-and-forth performance to earn Fight of the Night honors, and Dominick Reyes did his part in earning his bonus Saturday. The former two-time UFC title challenger was finding the mark with his left hand and even had moments where he had Procházka retreating, and the 10 minutes it lasted was one of the better bouts of the calendar year. Although Reyes had his moments of success in the fight, it was yet another losing effort for Reyes as he now has now dropped his two straight since his controversial split decision loss to Jon Jones in February of 2020. The one-time Stony Brook defensive back had twelve straight wins to kick off his pro fighting career before losing to Jones, and went from one-time uncrowned champ of 205, to many wanting him to take some time off coming from two straight finishes. Just fifteen fights into his pro career there is no doubt that Reyes is still amongst the world’s best light heavyweights, in the current state of the light heavyweight division he is just a couple fights away to getting back in the title picture. At just 31 years old, Reyes has time to grow his game, and in a division where the upcoming title bout between a 41-year-old challenger is going to face a 39-year-old champ this fall this is a division in which you can age gracefully. As for future matchmaking, a decision by the UFC has to be made regarding the quality of opponent Reyes sees next. In a promotion in which there are rarely tune-up fights booked, there might be an exception made to get Reyes back on track. Regardless of the next opponent, this fight birthed another contender in Procházka, and put the world on notice that Reyes will never back down from a scrap.
(Cover Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)