Image Credit: UFC
The most anticipated card of the year, main spot on the prelims, highlight-reel knockout over a top 10 opponent and a $50k performance of the night bonus. Former RIZIN FF light heavyweight champion, Czech Republic’s Jiří Procházka, entered the big stage in style. “I have to say it’s great. I’m happy I could entertain people.“ admits Procházka (27-3-1) in an interview for Lenka Bartáková of Czechfighters.cz.
His second round knockout of #7 ranked Volkan Oezdemir throws Procházka right into the business end of the light heavyweight division. The road to victory was, however, far from being as smooth as the final right hook may suggest.
Being a part of UFC 251 on Fight Island, Procházka’s arrival into the UFC was watched closely and everybody noticed his unorthodox style right away. Suggestions for next possible opponents started coming left and right long before the referee waved off his debut fight. Everybody also noticed one of his biggest tendencies – he likes to keep his hands low, no matter how many times does his corner yells at him to keep them up. The memo of keeping his hands up is just not there, and it was one of the main concerns fans and experts had coming into the fight with a battle-tested knockout artist in Oezdemir.
Unlike others, he was not too intimidated by Oezdemir’s power. “Some of his shots were hard, some of them not. The ones I didn’t expect hit me and caused a little damage, but nothing too serious,” Procházka told Czechfighters.cz.
“The first round was a bit of a brawl,” Procházka admitted and he knew there were some adjustment to be made between the rounds. His coach suggested he was too stiff and needed to loosen up. “We had to switch things up a little bit, the first round was a bit slow. Some things didn’t go exactly as we wanted them to go, so we decided to get a bit lighter and start playing with him more in the second round.“
And he executed the plan perfectly, knocking Oezdemir out 49 seconds into the second round, instantly gaining new fans and – most importantly – making a big statement in his long anticipated UFC debut. This was his 11th win in the row and also his 9th consecutive KO/TKO victory.
When Michael Bisping said Czech Republic was on their feet as Procházka walked out of the Octagon to chat with Jon Anik, he had no idea some fans have already compared Jiří’s victory to the ’98 Nagano Olympics – a legendary ice-hockey tournament where team Czech Republic beat all the odds to get gold in the nation’s favorite sport.
After all, not even ESPN’s Brett Fitzgerald could stop himself from making a little Czech Republic X ice-hockey reference.
Although Procházka claimed he’d be back in the Octagon “very soon“ in the initial post-fight interview, he later decided ‘six to nine months’ would be the ideal turnaround. He doesn’t care who his next opponent is, because he’s on a mission to capture his ultimate goal of becoming the champion.
There might be some opponents asking for him when he wakes up with a number next to his name on Monday morning – or maybe not!