Monday, June 21, 2021

Jiří Procházka: Mad Monk or Fighter/Philosopher?

On Saturday, May 1st, UFC Vegas 25 viewers were introduced to an exciting new talent in Jiří Procházka as he defeated Dominick Reyes in epic fashion in the second round via spinning elbow.

In a single octagon appearance, Procházka managed to capture the imagination and interest of the entire MMA community at large with a virtuoso performance. Procházka walked down Reyes the entire fight, throwing strikes from offbeat angles, securing the knockout in the second round.

Reyes was no punching bag, managing to land several counters and an up-kick that may or may not have put Procházka’s lights out for a split second. Even so, the fight was notably one-sided, which came as a shock to even the most well-versed MMA enthusiasts. Now Procházka seems to be on a collision course with UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz.

Procházka appears to be on a collision course with Blachowicz.

The fight itself was a beautiful chaos. What was clear in the aftermath is that the Czech professional mixed martial artist, former amateur Muay Thai kickboxer and current UFC title contender, is blazing a new trail in the light heavyweight division.

Procházka: A Brief History Lesson

For Procházka to carry so much attention after only two UFC fights (2-0) is a pretty big deal, although not totally unprecedented. He carries a 28-3-1 record in MMA overall.

Before his fight with Reyes, Procházka had been a very active fighter, just outside of the public eye. Over the course of his unusual career in violence that started in 2012, Procházka would rise to become a Rizin FF Light Heavyweight Champion as well as a Czech GCF Light Heavyweight Champion.

Prior to his UFC career, Procházka’s run and reign was tested more than a few times. Perhaps Procházka’s most notable victory thus far (besides Reyes, of course) is when he defeated current Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov via TKO (retirement). The fact that Procházka took a guy like Nemkov into such deep waters that he could no longer go on should tell you something right off the bat.

Procházka has been through a few losses, too. The man is human. He was knocked out in the first round via punch by Muhammed Lawal, who he would later defeat in a third-round TKO (via punches). His other two losses came to Abdul-Kerim Edilov and Bojan Velickovic.

Those losses to Edilov and Velickovic came early in his career and his loss to Muhammed Lawal came in December of 2015. Procházka has not suffered a loss since that time, stringing together a dozen consecutive victories in the process.

Reyes vs. Procházka

Heading into the Procházka bout, Dominick Reyes was on a two-loss skid — his perfect record fell victim to both Jon Jones and Jan Blachowicz. Reyes was anxious to turn things around, agreeing to a fight with a then virtually unknown Jiří Procházka. Now, looking back, it might be possible that Dominick Reyes has had the most difficult last three opponents imaginable.

Procházka was an intriguing presence starting from his walkout, where he performed gestures and motions that looked like a kata — he was warming up but also setting the tone for his performance. He came out with his hair put up in a samurai-style topknot, making an already 6’4” Procházka appear taller. He was in a strangely off-kilter meditative/berserker state.

Big paws on a puppy…

Of course, it’s always tempting to assume that who you see in front of you is who that person has always been, but Procházka does indeed have an origin story.

When you look at photos of Procházka as a teen, growing up on what he describes as the edge of morality (fighting, mugging, and perhaps a few things that are better left out of the narrative), he has this sort of puppy with big paws thing going on. It’s easy to see from those early photos that Procházka was on his way to becoming a beast of a man.

Although Procházka qualifies as a handsome dude, he doesn’t appear to be enamored with himself, like, say, a Luke Rockhold type character. He might even hold his good looks in disdain, which might be why he dangles his face out to his opponents, never afraid to take a shot in order to give one.

Nerd Alert…

His approach to martial arts is sort of like that of a nerd. You can tell that what this man is after is mastery, getting 1% better each day or each training session. He holds Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings in the same regard that a neckbearded incel holds The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Most of Procházka’s wins come via KO (25) with only two submissions and one decision. His stance is listed as orthodox, but his style is much to the contrary. He switches stances and flows in his movements, throwing strikes from awkward angles, often holding his hands down near his waist.

In a YouTube video posted by Elite Fight Club, Procházka revealed that he “[Holds his wrist] so that the drive inside [him] stays Focused. Pressured.  So [he] can let loose. And hit hard anytime.”

Even though he might sound like a kid who wears ankle weights pretending to be a Dragon Ball Z character, his body is a perfect weapon. Despite this fact, Procházka is not out to hurt people. He is out to master his craft. He calls his body the perfect weapon.

Freedom Through Martial Arts

Martial arts is an avenue for Procházka to learn more about himself and to better himself. He takes comfort in the endless pursuit of mastery, much like the samurai who follow the Bushido code, which he views as a path to get away from self, from people, and from property. Through martial arts, Procházka sees a path to freedom.

Growing up and living on the edge—fighting, brawling, perhaps even mugging, Procházka started training in MMA to learn how to fight better but quickly saw it as a new vessel for personal redemption and self-mastery.

Since English is not his first language, Procházka speaks plainly and simply, which, again, is pretty refreshing with all the talk that goes on around the sport. His zeal and enthusiasm for battle are also strangely refreshing in a time where many fighters seem to revel in the lead-up to the actual fight and the Twitter beefs instead of the moments actually spent in combat. He relishes the combat part more than any of the trappings, it seems.

There is also this fascinating dualism going on in Procházka, a part of him that wants to buy a fast, expensive car and crash it after a thrilling victory. Another part of him wants to retreat to a cabin in the woods to practice his art.

Even with all this new attention, Procházka remains a philosophical, thoughtful fighter. He uses gestures to throw off his opponents during combat. He adopts a fighting style where his hands are often held low yet still ready to strike at any moment, often with uppercuts and hooks thrown from unexpected angles at unexpected times.

Undeniably Pure

There is something undeniably pure about him. Sometimes he looks like a kid practicing karate moves in his living room—except he’s in the Octagon opposite a trained killer. To have that sort of sandbox mentality where anything is possible while being in such a precarious environment, it’s what makes his art so dynamic. To have that peace of mind and lack of fear is half the battle for Procházka.

This ability to live totally in the moment in a combat setting is something he’s cultivated, which gives Procházka an improvisational ability that few fighters have been able to achieve. These improvisational skills he possesses perhaps contributed to his spinning elbow knockout victory over Reyes.

Procházka himself has described his early fights as nerve-stricken ordeals where he “felt like [he] was drowning.” As he got more comfortable in the ring, he began to explore the art form and become more experimental—less married to particular forms.

Procházka has the ability to remove men from consciousness at a moment’s notice, much like he did with Dominic Reyes. Even though he has a way of vanquishing those who stand in front of him, he brings no anger into the ring, which is what he also applauded Reyes for doing. He was only complimentary about Reyes after his victory, giving the man nothing but respect for stepping into the Octagon with him and wishing him a speedy recovery from one of the nastier knockouts in recent memory.

In the Elite Fight Club video, Procházka says that “The principle of fighting is craftsmanship… discovering what works and what doesn’t.”

Although Procházka is certainly a stylist as a fighter, he describes his style now as different from what it was during his last fight, meaning he is constantly evolving. Even after his virtuoso performance against Reyes, Jiri was mostly talking about the areas where he looks to improve.

Infinite Patience

Although folks might think him being in talks for title contention a bit premature, Jiří Procházka took his time coming to the UFC. He could have joined the organization earlier, but he wanted to wait until he felt more ready—a very mature move for someone relatively young in age.

Fighting a man like Jan Błachowicz might be a good next stress test for Procházka, who will have to get more than 1% better at not taking shots to the dome if he expects to snag the strap from the active light heavyweight king.

Procházka himself has said that he considers Jon Jones to still be the king of the division, which is unclear whether or not Procházka meant the statement as a way of expressing respect for Jones, less respect for Błachowicz (which is unlikely), or opening up the possibility to face Jones down the road.

Whatever ends up happening, it will be fun to witness. Jiří Procházka is the real deal, and he will continue to explore the art form on the most elevated stage.

Where do you see Jiří Procházka’s career progressing to in the UFC?