EXCLUSIVE: 'Czech Samurai' Jiri Prochazka on all things UFC 295
EXCLUSIVE: ‘The Czech Samurai’ Jiri Prochazka opens up on why ‘proving mastery’ is more important than titles, facing the power of Alex Pereira at UFC 295 and how he ‘never had a Plan B to becoming a warrior’
- Jiri Prochazka is one of the UFC’s most fascinating and complex characters
- Czech star spoke exclusively to Mail Sport about his philosophy and UFC 295
- Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk fight details out THIS WEEK: Listen to The Hook
At times, Jiri Prochazka seems more like a philosopher than a fighter.
The UFC is packed with unique individuals but the deep-thinking Czech star is among the most fascinating.
Prochazka lives by the strict code of Budisho – the rules by which ancient Japanese warriors held themselves to, has three days in darkness and even uses trees as punching bags on occasion.
This Saturday, he’ll attempt to win back the same UFC belt he humbly vacated after suffering one of the worst shoulder injuries his employers had ever seen.
A year in the wilderness would be a nightmare for most athletes but the 31-year-old is cut from a different cloth and exclusively spoke to Mail Sport about how he has reassessed his motivation to fight ahead of UFC 295.
Jiri Prochazka (right) knocked out Dominick Reyes (left) and is an unpredictable fighter
Prochazka is a physical specimen and aims to win his belt back at UFC 295
‘I want to enjoy the present moment in the cage,’ he explained. ‘That’s something I never, never, never did and it is possible to do that. When you do that, your performance is much better, being in a flow state. To be the performance, not just to do it, but to be the “doing”.
‘To find the right tactic to use against my opponent, find the right space, find the weak point.
‘And that’s why I love this game. I’ve overcome some hard moments and want to show I am the champion.
‘My drive has changed. Because I think it’s that’s how humans evolve naturally to see another target, one more important than before.
Where before he was motivated by the prospect of UFC gold and ticking opponents off his list, now it is about fulfillment through performance.
‘I have to handle any situation in the cage,’ he adds. ‘To prove my mastery in the cage and enjoy the moment.’
Prochazka has spoken in the past about growing up and the ‘pushing the limits of morality’, fighting in the street and losing his way until his course was altered when his coach Jaroslav Hovezak give him a book.
Written by the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi in the 17th century, The Book of Five Rings has been claimed to help martial artists in a variety of disciplines through a mixture of technical teachings and approaches to combat.
Prochazka (top) shocked Glover Teixeira with just 30 seconds left to win the title last year
It can be hard to marry the two worlds for Prochazka, who often spends time isolated in the woods by a lake in his homeland.
The contrast between that calm and the frenzied, money-spinning world of fame and success of the UFC is stark.
It seems at odds with Prochazka’s life but he is adamant that once he committed to this path there was no deviating.
‘First, I thought, in high school I felt like I would be a sportsman,’ he said
‘Then I started martial arts, then I put everything into being a warrior. In a few years it will change, but not now.
‘Right now, I’m in the way of the fighter and the warrior. You have to put everything into following the life you want and believe the way you are right now.
‘There is only Plan A for me, there was never Plan B.’
Having already become the light-heavyweight champion by beating Glover Teixeira in thrilling fashion last year, Prochazka has reached the top.
So what keeps him hungry and how does success look now he’s reached a summit few fighters ever manage?
Prochazka has previously lived in darkness in the cabin pictured for three days without food
‘Consistency, consistency of training, consistency of discipline and belief, total belief,’ he says. ‘And maybe, I don’t know how to say, not meditation, but spiritual work. For me that’s one of the main points.’
Prochazka is instantly recognisable with his ‘war hair’, and as considered as he is away from the cage, his style can at times seem completely instinctive, even rash.
He bounces with his hands low and uses unpredictability as a weapon.
It is a risky strategy against Pereira, the kickboxing supremo, who won the middleweight title by beating Israel Adesanya only to lose it again against the same man.
The Brazilian has incredible power and accuracy so Prochazka will be walking a tightrope in the octagon.
How does he curb his natural instincts?
‘That’s my style to take a risk,’ he explains. ‘Because I just see the target and nothing else. And I will connect my fist with his head. And that’s all what I see.
‘But preparation about strategy and tactics can teach me. I learned how to protect myself too because sometimes it’s not good to take a lot of punches and it’s, like you said, “a big risk”, especially with the guy like Alex Pereira, who has precise punches.
‘And he has power so that’s that’s something I worked on. I just want to show that on Saturday.
Prochazka lives his life like a modern day Samurai and adheres to traditional values
The light-heavyweight is aiming to regain the belt he vacated after suffering a bad injury
‘I’m looking to do whatever is necessary to win the battle and that’s connected with that to be unpredictable. Because I want to keep him in a certain state where he doesn’t know what I’m attacking.
‘That’s with wrestling, or in the stand up with the right movements. I see Alex Pereira, his movement, his mindset, I need to solve it.
‘I need to solve him and that’s why I’m happy to get an opponent like him. His performance, his style, his spirit pushed me in my preparation to show my best.’
Prochazka’s fight for the light-heavyweight title has been elevated to the top of the card at Madison Square Garden.
Of course, Jon Jones’ injury derailing his scheduled headliner with Stipe Miocic was a blow to the event, but the new showpiece is more than worthy of a spot at the top.
In Prochazka, there is a genuinely interesting protagonist. A Czech Samurai against a Brazilian warrior… the New York crowd should be royally entertained.
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