Fighting is a mind game for Jiri Prochazka, the UFC’s No. 2-ranked light heavyweight contender who throws strikes as if he’s a character in a video game.
Prochazka, challenges Glover Teixeira on Saturday in the main event of UFC 275 in Singapore for the light heavyweight title, is one of only three men to end a fight in the UFC with a spinning back elbow.
He finished Dominick Reyes in the second round on May 1 at Apex with precisely that move. It was shockingly quick and amazingly brutal and the elbow landed with a thud that sounded like a home run hitter connecting on the barrel.
There was an audible gasp from the small crowd in attendance when it landed.
Prochazka is difficult to prepare for because of moves like that, but more precisely because he doesn’t know what he’s going to do until he does it. He formulates a game plan, but he operates by instinct in the cage and has learned to react when he sees an opening.
“In that fight, [the spinning back elbow] came to my mind and then I just did that,” Prochazka told Yahoo Sports of the brutal finish of Reyes. “That’s why I started to train like that, not focused on something [in specific] but I let the technique come to my mind and I will do it.”
It’s worked pretty well for him. He’s won 12 in a row, 16 of his last 17 and in his last 24 bouts, he’s 22-1-1.
He didn’t make it to the UFC until 2020 and Saturday’s bout against Teixeira will only be his third in the promotion. Clearly, he was ready for the biggest stage in MMA far earlier, but his team wanted him to gain more experience. He said he had a chance to move to the UFC in 2016 or 2017 but his coaches convinced him to be patient.
That was easy for Prochazka, who relies heavily on the mental aspect of his game. He said in his early career, he was not as knowledgeable as he is now and would go out to attack recklessly. It wasn’t nearly as efficient and effective as he is now, and while he won most of those early fights, he knew he couldn’t do it against the elite opposition he hoped to be facing.
He said he needed to understand himself before he was able to become the fighter he hoped he could be.
“You need to be in control of the mind, the soul and the physical body,” he said. “ … For me, this is really important because when you realize your mind is your main weapon, everything is clear. Then you can start to know how to use these weapons in the right way.”
He is very much into Zen and the traditional martial arts lifestyle. So as a young and inexperienced fighter, he didn’t know what to expect and was unable to control his mind.
But as he learned to control his mind, he said things opened up for him and made him better.
“If you are a fighter, especially an MMA fighter, and you understand the way of the warrior, then you naturally realize what is your main weapon,” he said. “That’s my mission, to learn these things.”
One of the things he’s learned in his growth as a martial artist is that he doesn’t need to spar for long periods of time. Sparring hard and efficiently against elite training partners and working on what he needs to do in a fight is what he found works for him. He doesn’t care about the volume of round, opting more for quality work.
He’s fighting one of the most well-rounded opponents of his career. Teixeira, 42, won the title in October when he defeated Jan Blachowicz, completing a career revival that had much of the MMA world celebrating with him.
Teixeira is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but he has 18 knockouts and 10 submissions among his 33 professional victories.
Prochazka understands how dangerous Teixeira is, but hopes his power, endurance, quickness and understanding of the movements required to be successful will lead him to victory.
“I believe I have put myself in the position I need to be in to be successful,” he said. “I have done the work and now it’s a matter of execution.”