After defeating Mauricio Shogun Rua in 2011 to become the youngest champion in UFC history at the age of 23, Jon “Bones” Jones dominated the promotion’s Light Heavyweight division for nearly a decade. But with Jones’s decision to vacate the Light Heavyweight title in August 2020 to pursue a new challenge at Heavyweight, the UFC’s 205-pound weight class saw its door get kicked wide open.
Enter Jiri Prochazka, who is 28-3-1 as a professional fighter and just knocked out fellow Light Heavyweight contender Dominick Reyes in impressive fashion with a spinning elbow on Saturday’s UFC Fight Night at the APEX Center in Las Vegas.
— UFC (@ufc) May 2, 2021
As sure as “Denisa” Prochazka’s spinning elbow landed flush on Reyes’s head, the Czech Republic product is rising rapidly up the UFC’s Light Heavyweight rankings. For those who didn’t know Prochazka’s talent and knockout power before (25 KOs in 28 professional victories), they’re certainly aware after he accomplished just the third spinning elbow knockout in UFC history — against what was the weight class’s No. 3-ranked fighter, nonetheless.
But that spinning attack wasn’t the only thing the 28-year-old timed well. Jiri Prochazka has seemingly (and likely strategically) timed his UFC breakthrough perfectly.
Although he started training Muay Thai at the age of 16 and has been a professional fighter since 2012, Prochazka cut his teeth in MMA by starting in the Czech Republic’s biggest promotion — Gladiator Fighting Championship — and then transitioning into a four-year run of dominance with one of Japan’s biggest promotions — RIZIN Fighting Federation.
Despite reports that the UFC (and Bellator) tried to lure Prochazka away from RIZIN in the past, he honored his contract with RIZIN until its end but left the promotion and vacated his Light Heavyweight Championship after defending his title against C.B. Dollaway in 2019.
After building a name for himself as a fighter internationally and crafting his skill set until it was UFC-ready, Prochazka made the jump to the sport’s biggest promotion at what appears to be the best time.
Now, Prochazka doesn’t have to deal with Jones or really even entertain the idea of fighting the G.O.A.T. — at least not in the near future. He also should benefit from an array of aging talent atop the division, including Glover Teixeira (41 years old), Thiago Santos (37), and Anthony Smith (32 but with 51 pro fights). Both of these things could lead to a very quick rise to the top for “Denisa.”
That meteoric rise has already begun for Jiri Prochazka, who won his UFC debut via a second-round knockout of Volkan Oezdemir, who was and remains ranked within the division’s top 10. He was the first man to ever knock out Oezdemir.
That was Prochazka’s first of two consecutive Performance of the Night bonuses earned, as he took home that $50,000 bonus on top of a $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus for his knockout of Reyes.
With just two UFC fights under his belt, there is now talk that Prochazka could get the winner of Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Blachowicz and No. 1 contender Glover Teixeira, which is set to headline UFC 266 on Sept. 4.
It’s hard to argue after watching his dominant performance over Reyes on Saturday. Prochazka’s power and explosiveness seem to be second-to-none right now for the Light Heavyweight division.
What do you think? Has Prochazka done enough already to earn a title shot?
Pat Donohue has been covering sports for more than 10 years. He is a former Washington Redskins beat reporter and has been covering the University of Maryland football and basketball recruiting and daily beats for Rivals.com since 2013. Pat graduated from Maryland with his master’s degree in journalism and has received bylines in publications such as USA TODAY Sports, The Philadelphia Inquirer, SB Nation, and Yahoo! Sports. As a wrestler for 13 years in Pennsylvania, Pat has a deep appreciation for MMA and a keen understanding of the sport.