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Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of
Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company,
Evolve Media.

* * *


Jiri
Prochazka
shouldn’t have been able to sneak up on us. Yes,
Japanese MMA is a shell of its former self but Prochazka left a
trail of unconscious bodies in his wake on his way to winning the
Rizin Fighting Federation light heavyweight
title. He remains the only fighter to stop Bellator MMA kingpin Vadim
Nemkov
. The Ultimate Fighting Championship knew it might
have something in him, as evidenced by his debut against a former
title challenger on the ESPN prelim headliner before a major
pay-per-view event. That ended via another clean knockout and
earned Prochazka a main event against another former title
challenger. Prochazka didn’t wander in from obscurity to his fight
with Dominick
Reyes
Saturday night, yet so impressive was his performance
that it almost felt that way.

Prochazka announced his presence in the top mix of the UFC light
heavyweight division with 569 seconds of violence so visceral and
brutal that they stand a good chance of being the first thing we
think of when his career is over. Reyes was skilled and courageous;
he fell short in his previous efforts to become champion and badly
wanted to work his way back. Reyes landed some major shots and
didn’t back down in the face of Prochazka’s aggression. In the end,
however, he could only survive so many thudding shots before a
spinning back elbow put him to sleep for the first time in his
professional career.

Predators like Prochazka have long captured the imagination of MMA
fans. Chuck
Liddell
broke through to the mainstream in a way no MMA fighter
in the United States had before by walking down opponents and being
able to take shots in order to dish out even harder ones. Wanderlei
Silva
didn’t have the same chin but showcased a similar brand
of hard-hitting aggression in Pride Fighting Championships at the same time.
Even less successful versions of the same mold like “Kimbo
Slice,”
David “Tank”
Abbott
and Houston
Alexander
have captured the public imagination.

If Prochazka fights for the light heavyweight title next time out,
the speed of that title shot in an established division will be
nearly unprecedented in modern UFC history. However, it’s hard to
imagine many complaints will be raised. Prochazka is exactly what
the 205-pound division has been missing: a fighter so impressive he
has the potential to escape the daunting shadow of Jon Jones.
Jan
Blachowicz
’s rise has been noteworthy in its own right but the
memories of earlier losses still linger. That isn’t the case with
Prochazka, whose only losses came years ago thousands of miles away
from North American audiences.

The other attribute that gives Prochazka the potential to escape
from Jones’ shadow is his wildly different fighting style. Jones is
distinguished by his diverse skill set while Prochazka is a
powerful steamroller. Neither man is going to remind fans of the
other, making it easier to evaluate each on his own merits. That’s
particularly important at light heavyweight because Jones never
lost to someone in the division to signal a changing of the guard.
It’s been over seven years since Georges St.
Pierre
vacated the UFC welterweight title and only now is
Kamaru
Usman
finally moving past the memory of GSP’s accolades.

The emergence of Prochazka is also another sign of the way MMA is
flourishing throughout the world. The UFC rankings, once dominated
by Americans and Brazilians, have become more and more
geographically diverse. Remarkably, there are now 18 different
nations represented just among UFC champions and top five
contenders, covering every continent except Antarctica. There are
now three Eastern Europeans at the top of the light heavyweight
division alone. It demonstrates a global appeal few sports can
match and so many different regions now have their own local MMA
hero to root for. Or quite a few, if you’re from Dagestan.

It remains to be seen what type of longevity Prochazka can attain
with such a brutal style, particularly in a division with large,
powerful opposition. His chin will need to hold up and even that’s
no easy feat with the combatants he’ll be taking on. However, it’s
a good bet that his fights are quickly going to become must-see
events for MMA fans whether he wins or loses. It’s hard to imagine
that anyone who watched Prochazka-Reyes won’t be pumped up to see
Prochazka again next time out and those who missed it are going to
hear about it from friends.

Blachowicz can’t be feeling too badly about this development
either. His light heavyweight title win was likely the
lowest-profile UFC light heavyweight title fight in over 15 years,
leaving him in a weak position to start his reign. He then got some
luck. The first bit of luck was Israel
Adesanya
wanting to move up to fight him, giving him a
high-profile fight that greatly enhanced his notoriety. Winning
that fight helped him further. Now, a new intriguing challenger has
emerged. There is of course danger in the matchup but a victory
offers substantial upside. Like so many others, he was surely
struck by what he witnessed from the new Czech contender this
weekend.


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