This Saturday marks the culmination of years of hard work for Jan Blachowicz, who will square off against Dominick Reyes for the UFC light heavyweight title in the co-main event of UFC 253. Blachowicz has had a long and arduous path to the belt that has seen him fighting all over the globe for over a decade. But now, he finally gets the opportunity to fight for UFC gold at Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, fitting for a man who embodies the phrase, “any time, any place.”
Blachowicz started his MMA journey in his native country of Poland, competing for KSW, a top European promotion. He amassed a 16-2 record in the promotion, with some of those wins coming on the same night in tournament-style contests. Eventually, he won their light heavyweight title and successfully defended it twice before getting the call from the UFC. This was considered big news at the time, as Jan Blachowicz had established himself as one of the top light heavyweight prospects outside of the UFC. On top of this, the UFC’s respective division was thin on contenders as Jon Jones had been dismantling all of the competition.
At first, Blachowicz seemed to be living up to the hype. He drew the dangerous Ilir Latifi for his promotion debut, a sign that the UFC expected big things from him. In the very first round, Blachowicz caught Latifi with a brutal kick to the liver and followed up with ground and pound to secure the victory. After that impressive showing, the UFC was determined to leapfrog him into the mix of contenders by matching him up against then #9-ranked light heavyweight Jimi Manuwa. In that fight, he looked listless and hesitant to throw punches, which led to him getting outboxed and controlled in grappling positions.
This loss was definitely a setback, but it was understandable as Blachowicz was facing a highly ranked opponent while he himself hadn’t even cracked the top 15. However, he then proceeded to lose three out of his next four fights, making his overall UFC record 2-4. Even though Blachowicz was consistently fighting against stiff competition like Corey Anderson, Alexander Gustafsson, and Pat Cummins, the way in which he lost demonstrated a disturbing trend. In every fight, he would look for the knockout punch and swing for the fences, and when that failed, he would have little else to offer. On the ground, he was happy to be on his back and absorb ground-and-pound. He perhaps relied on his jiu-jitsu blackbelt a little too much, as he was overconfident in his ability to search for submissions that ultimately did not present themselves.
When reflecting back on this time, Blachowicz noted how close he was to being cut from the promotion. He knew he needed to make some drastic changes, some more unconventional than others. When he first joined the UFC, he felt that he needed to upturn everything in order to become a more complete fighter, so he moved to a bigger gym in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. His disappointing start in the UFC led him to link back up with his old coach, Robert Jocz, from his KSW days.
And then there’s the infamous rope story. Blachowicz recently recounted a time shortly after the Cummins loss when he was walking in a Warsaw forest and found a body hanging from a rope on a tree. He reported this to the local authorities, who informed him that keeping the rope of a hanged man was good luck according to old European folklore. While Blachowicz felt uncomfortable keeping the entire rope, he has since gone back to the same forest to touch that rope before every one of his fights.
Since then, Blachowicz has amassed a record of 7-1. Perhaps it was the coaching change or rope touch. But whatever the reason may be, he has certainly looked like a brand new fighter in the cage. For one, he was able to reclaim some submission victories that he was known for in KSW, finishing Devin Clark with a creative, standing rear-naked choke and Nikita Krylov via arm-triangle. His boxing seemed to improve drastically as well during this time, as he was able to crisply pump his jab and throw tighter combinations in the pocket. The revamped striking allowed Blachowicz to control the pace of fights, leading to multiple decision wins as well. The one blip during this run was against Thiago Santos, who clipped Blachowicz while he was rushing in with strikes.
Jan Blachowicz has especially grown into his “Polish Power” nickname in his most recent fights. He brutally knocked out both Luke Rockhold and Corey Anderson, one with each hand. He seems to have hit his stride, and Saturday’s title shot could not have come at a more opportune time.
All these ups and downs have allowed Jan Blachowicz to evolve as a fighter, and he has a chance to showcase his full range of skills this Saturday against an athletic opponent in Reyes. He has also stated several times that he only has a couple years left to fight, so this would be the prime and perhaps only opportunity for him to seize the title. It would certainly put a stamp on a career defined by resilience and dogged determination.