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LAS VEGAS – While he picked up a “Performance of the Night” bonus in his UFC debut, Jiri Prochazka says it’s important he fights differently in his return to the cage.
The former Rizin FF light heavyweight champion isn’t satisfied with the danger in which he put himself in the opening round of his UFC 251 clash with Volkan Oezdemir and says he’s worked hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“My first round in my first fight was a little bit dangerous,” Prochazka told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at Wednesday’s media day at the UFC Apex.
But whatever you think about the first round, it’s kind of hard to deny how fantastic he was in the second frame of that July 2020 matchup, scoring a knockout of the former UFC title challenger 49 seconds into the round. That’s the type of performance Prochazka (27-3-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) hopes to replicate at Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 23, when he takes on Dominick Reyes (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) in the night’s ESPN2-televised main event.
Still relatively new to the promotion, Prochazka said he doesn’t know a ton about Reyes but does know that his own preparation has been sound.
“I don’t know (Reyes) personally, but he looks like a good man,” Prochazka said. “He’s a very good athlete, very good striker, and that’s how I’m taking him: seriously, not like I was in the first fight, in the first round. I was a little bit – I took it a little bit easier, and now I want to keep it most professionally how I can.”
It’s a big matchup for both fighters, with Reyes ranked No. 4 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie light heavyweight rankings, and Prochazka at No. 13. Both men are certainly capable of vicious knockouts, as well, but Prochazka said he’s prepared for any scenario that might arise in the cage.
“I think I’m ready for the fighting in the standup because that’s my state of fighting,” Prochazka said. “I think maybe he will change the strategy to me, and he wants to take me down, and I’m ready for that, to wrestle with him and to fight on the ground. That was my preparation.”
While Reyes has already twice challenged for the UFC light heavyweight title, the winner of the fight will certainly find themselves in an enviable position in the division. But the 28-year-old Prochazka said he’s not trying to rush himself into a title fight and will happily prove his worth in a rise up the ranks.
“For me, it’s not important right now,” Prochazka said. “I don’t think about it right now because I’m enjoying the journey in the UFC. If this title will be after one fight, two fights, for me it’s not so important. I want to just show my best on this event.”
Another impressive win, and Prochazka might not be the one in control of the speed of his journey. But the Czech import insists he’s ready for any challenges that await. If you need proof, he says, just look at his fight week haircut – a bold style that has become quite the conversation point, which he says was inspired by the traditional mongkon headgear worn by muay Thai athletes when they perform the wai kru.
“I’m enjoying this hair because it’s giving me the power of this week and of this fight,” Prochazka said. “It’s how I’m taking this moment, this fight: importantly and seriously. This is the hair just for this moment.”