Prochazka vs. Teixeira classic leaves questions about future of UFC light heavyweight division

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Glover Teixeira passed into mount with 15 seconds left in the second round. Jiri Prochazka had been picking Teixeira apart on the feet, but the durable champion got Prochazka down, took his back and then worked his way into the most dominant position in MMA.

In response, as Teixeira attempted to rain down blows, Prochazka congratulated his opponent from the bottom. Right as Prochazka smiled, Teixeira sliced him with an elbow that opened a gaping cut over Prochazka’s right eye.

“I said to him, ‘Very nice, very nice — but still nothing,'” Prochazka said. “I wanted to show him his ground-and-pound — he had no power to end me in that. But he does have the power enough to open me. That was very bad.”

Prochazka would come back to win the fight, submitting Teixeira with an unorthodox rear-naked choke at 4:32 of the fifth round on Saturday in the main event of UFC 275 in Singapore. It was a bloody, brutal, grueling fight — and one of the greatest bouts in UFC history. Both men took an inordinate amount of punishment and came back to dish out more punishment to the other.

In the end, Prochazka beat Teixeira to become the UFC light heavyweight champion in just his third fight in the UFC. But as exciting and entertaining as the fight was to the audience, Prochazka blasted his performance. He and Teixeira made major lapses in decision-making when seemingly en route to finishing the fight.

As a result, there are real questions about whether Prochazka can sustain his position at the top of the division with his reckless fighting style.

Anthony Smith, a UFC light heavyweight contender, watched the fight from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, where he was an analyst for the broadcast. While he couldn’t help “jumping up” in excitement during the fight, Smith said he — and likely other 205-pound fighters who could be in line for a future title shot — were given a lot of hope Saturday night.

“These guys had the worst fight of their lives on the same night, and it just turned into a show of guts and I guess who’s tougher,” Smith said. “The only thing left to show is just their toughness and their resolve and their just bravery. And that s— is hard, man. Those kinds of fights are miserable [to be in].”

Prochazka described it in the postfight news conference as a “horrible performance” and that he just barely “survived some moments.”

“I don’t want to fight like that,” Prochazka said. “It’s tough. It’s full of blood. It’s not beautiful. Maybe for you, it’s beautiful. You like to be entertained. But for a fighter, I like to fight clean.”

Teixeira had Prochazka in big trouble in the fifth round, rocking him with punches. But then, with Prochazka hurt, Teixeira jumped up for a guillotine choke attempt. Prochazka’s head easily slipped out of the choke, and Prochazka ended up in top position. Teixeira was able to get back to his feet, hurt Prochazka again and then take mount. But Prochazka used his legs to kick off the cage and reverse the position. Soon after, Prochazka slapped a choke on an exhausted Teixeira — without the traditional body lock or “hooks” around the legs — for the finish.

Teixeira, a grappling specialist, had never been submitted in 41 career pro fights. Prochazka had not earned a submission since 2014.

There were several other instances of tactical errors, including Prochazka trying an arm-triangle choke in the third round against the superior jiu-jitsu practitioner when he had Teixeira hurt with punches from the top already. Teixeira was able to counter, get on top and finish the round with ground-and-pound.

“Neither one of those guys make those bad decisions often,” Smith said. “So, for them to make so many in the same fight was surprising to me.”

Smith, who lost to Teixeira in May 2020, has won three straight fights and has what could be a No. 1 contender bout next against Magomed Ankalaev at UFC 277 on July 30 in Dallas. Even though he was watching Prochazka vs. Teixeira as a potential future opponent for one or both of them, Smith said he couldn’t help but get caught up in the drama.

“I was losing my s—,” Smith said. “I was jumping up. There were a couple time where I was like, ‘That’s it, Glover has got him.’ A couple times. Then there were a few times like, ‘No way Glover gets out of this one.’ Which is what made it such a fantastic f—ing fight. There were so many position changes. I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen Glover lose a dominant position.”

Teixeira, at 42, became the oldest first-time champion in UFC history when he beat Jan Blachowicz for the title at UFC 267 in October. The 29-year-old Prochazka, meanwhile, has a proverbial rocket strapped to him and is a potential future star; he is the first fighter since Brock Lesnar in 2008 to win a UFC title within his first three UFC fights.

Prochazka, the UFC’s first Czech Republic-born titleholder, is a former champion of Japan’s Rizin promotion, follows the Japanese Bushido code and patterns himself after traditional martial artists from the East. As he has described it himself, his style is all about moving forward and attacking. Defense is very much secondary.

Smith said one of the biggest questions for Prochazka and the light heavyweight division is whether Prochazka can sustain his success by fighting as freely, with his hands down and willing to take his opponent’s best blows.

In his previous bout against Dominick Reyes in May 2021, Prochazka walked through huge Reyes punches, some of which hurt him, before landing a highlight-reel spinning back elbow knockout. There were signs of that against Teixeira too, as Prochazka took almost everything Teixeira had before finishing him late. Smith said Prochazka has to worry about “burning” his chin and that it’s concerning Prochazka’s success has been based on “his ability to take damage.”

“You start getting at the top of the division and you start fighting with your hands down and you dart in and you fight so free, you leave a lot of opportunities to get countered,” Smith said. “Glover Teixeira is a shorter, stockier fighter who hasn’t been much of a striker recently in his career. So, he’s a little safer to do it [with]. But you get to the point where [Prochazka’s fights are] going to start being 50-50 coin flips. Like he’s gonna knock somebody out or get knocked out.”

With that said, Smith added a word of caution to the rest of the light heavyweight division, including himself. Teixeira, Smith said, is the toughest stylistic matchup for Prochazka at 205 pounds because of Teixeira’s commitment to wrestling and grappling. Smith expects a better version of Prochazka next time.

“I would like to think that everyone would understand that that [version of] Jiri Prochazka probably won’t show up again for a while,” Smith said. “I think he would have an easier time fighting a guy like me or even Ankalaev or even Blachowicz. I think those matchups are more in his wheelhouse, because we’ll fight with him everywhere. We’re not tied to one specific style of fight.”

Smith could be next for Prochazka, who said he wants to fight before the end of the year after the lacerations on his face heal. Ankalaev could get the nod if he beats Smith. Blachowicz, the former champion, was in attendance in Singapore and had a half-friendly, half-contentious meeting with Prochazka immediately following the bout, laying his claim as a top contender. Prochazka blew Blachowicz a kiss on his way out of Singapore Indoor Stadium.

“I said to him, ‘I love you,’ because he was so aggressive,” Prochazka said of Blachowicz. “First, he was smiling to me, everything. And it was good. After the fight, it was aggressive: ‘I want to fight, I want to fight.’ So I said, ‘I love you, Jan. Let’s talk in the cage like that.'”

Teixeira also called for a rematch in a tweet following the fight. He vowed to continue with his career.

Prochazka said he doesn’t care who his first title defense will come against or where it will be. The focus, he said, will remain on himself. And perhaps avoiding future situations where he is complimenting his opponent mid-fight.

“My highest motivation is the mastery — mastery in every kind of my life,” Prochazka said. “I want to show the clear fight. … But in a clear fight, you have to be ready to show the tough war. It doesn’t matter. And that’s two different things. But you have to be ready for both.”

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