LAS VEGAS — Jiri Prochazka waited a long time to finally make the UFC roster. And when he did, he wasn’t too thrilled with his performance in his first five minutes as a UFC fighter.
Prochazka went toe-to-toe with Volkan Oezdemir in the first round of a bout in July that drew praise from announcers Jon Anik and Michael Bisping.
But Prochazka was anything but pleased.
“I asked my coaches what I needed to change,” Prochazka told Yahoo Sports.
There could have been any number of things. Prochazka, a noted striker, has long fought with his hands at his side like the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.
Bisping, the former UFC middleweight champion doing analysis for the ESPN broadcast of UFC 251, noted that led to Prochazka being hit often in the first. And against high-level strikers, that’s a path to a KO defeat.
“He’s very exciting, but he does leave himself open to counters a lot of the time,” Bisping said.
It was a different Prochazka in the 49 seconds that the second round lasted. He caught Oezdemir with a kick to the head, then after faking a flying knee, hit Oezdemir with a perfect 1-2. The right hand landed on Oezdemir's chin and Prochazka walked away a KO winner in his debut.
That victory over a one-time title challenger was so impressive that Prochazka entered the UFC's light heavyweight rankings at No. 5 and on Saturday at Apex, will meet third-ranked Dominick Reyes in the main event.
He’s looking to continue his nine-fight knockout streak against Reyes, but there will be, he said, a significant change.
The hands won’t be dangling so easily at his side, he vows. He walked the tightrope and got away with it against Oezdemir, but he’s not going to try the same thing against Reyes.
But the change is nothing new, since he said he loves studying technique and immersed himself in it. He’s worked on making what he said were positive changes for Reyes.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always worked at upgrading my style,” Prochazka told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve done that all the time. When I first started and took my first fight, that was the style I had [with my hands down]. That was the style that came natural to me at the time.
“I like to watch my fights and try to determine how to be better at what I do. I saw many mistakes and I have worked on them. After the [Oezdemir] fight, yes it was a win and yes it was in the UFC, but I saw many mistakes. Many. I knew I needed to upgrade things very much. You won’t see my hands down so much now.”
Prochazka is a -135 favorite at BetMGM, while Reyes is +115. The winner will be in prime position to challenge the winner of the title fight between champion Jan Blachowicz and No. 1 contender Glover Teixeira.
Prochazka wants the title shot, of course, but said he’s not going to make any demands. He wants to let his work speak for itself.
He’s got the natural power in his hands that speaks volumes, though he said he’s spent years developing it.
“I have always focused on my power and it’s something you can [enhance] if you work on it,” he said. “It’s the technical training you have to do to be successful. And I have done that and feel like I’ve got it. It may look like I’m aggressive and violent at times, but you do the technical training and it comes more natural.”
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