If the aftermath of Jon Jones' exit from the UFC's light heavyweight division to move up in weight has proved anything over the past year, it's that the future is wide open at 205 pounds.
Battle-tested veteran Jan Blachowicz upset Dominick Reyes last September via TKO to claim the vacant title. Seven months later, the 38-year-old Blachowicz outpointed reigning middleweight champion Israel Adesanya to retain his crown.
But a storm of young and aggressive hopefuls have taken their place in line behind Polish powerhouse, who will defend his title this fall against Glover Teixeira. Two of them will meet this Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas as top-five contenders Jiri Prochazka (27-3-1) and the aforementioned Reyes (12-2) square off inside the UFC Apex facility.
If it feels like Prochazka, a 28-year-old native of the Czech Republic, is making a fairly quick leap into UFC title contention entering just his second fight with the promotion, that's because it is.
"Yes, it's happening very quick but that's my idea of this way in the UFC," Prochazka told "Morning Kombat" on Tuesday. "I am not surprised, I am going directly just for the title fights."
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Prochazka made quite an impression in his Octagon debut last July at UFC 251 when he rallied back from being hurt early against former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir before delivering a savage second-round knockout.
The frantic and, at times, reckless performance from Prochazka was par for the course for anyone who had followed his nine-year pro career, which included a 13-fight run in Japan under the Rizin banner. In fact, the win over Oezdemir was the 11th straight for the 6-foot-4 striker.
"I think [the frantic style] is naturally in me. I train all my fighting career like that to be able to when the right moment comes, I'm going to throw my opponent [down]," Prochazka said. "That's naturally in me. That's my style and that's my state of fighting so I feel that it will work.
"The fight against Oezdemir was a tough fight. From my side, it was crazy because the first round I catch many punches to face. The second round was the change that was the very important moment in my fighting career because then I started to cooperate with my team much better than ever. It was very helpful for me."
Dating back to 2015, Prochazka is 16-1 with 15 knockouts. In fact, Prochazka has produced a finish in all but one of his 27 career wins, which include stoppages over Satoshi Ishii, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal (in their rematch), Fabio Maldonado, CB Dollaway and current Bellator MMA light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov.
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Yet it was the night of Dec. 31, 2015, that turned out to be a pivotal one in Prochazka's career, sparking the 11-fight win streak that immediately followed it. Two nights after knocking out Ishii to kick off the Rizin World Grand Prix, Prochazka was tasked with competing twice on the same night in order to advance in the tournament.
In the first fight, Prochazka outlasted Nemkov via TKO after the Russian retired in his corner following a physically taxing 10-minute first round. But an exhausted Prochazka was knocked out cold by Lawal later that night in the opening round and it forced him to look inward to prevent such an outcome from happening again.
"After the fight with 'King Mo,' that was for me a big learning in this fight. I learned that the most important thing in the fighting is to be in the present and not just in my mind," Prochazka said. "From this fight, I started to learn how to upgrade this state of the now and here. That was my main target all the time.
"[Nemkov] was also one of the toughest fights in my career. Not because of the punches or anything like that, but because of the physical. It was a very hard fight. But now I am at the next level and I know how to work with that."
Asked for his strategy on how to beat Reyes, who enters on a two-fight losing skid that includes his disputed decision loss to Jones, Prochazka said he prefers to let his fists do the talking this weekend. He did say he hopes the fight, like his victory over Oezdemir, turns into a brawl because that's the style he naturally prefers.
"I think [Reyes] is a very good opponent and a very nice one. He's a very good athlete and I respect him but I need to win so I will show my best and that's all," Prochazka said. "[Fans should expect] something crazy. For me, it's something crazy. Embrace chaos."
This card has quite a few names looking to keep good times rolling with win streaks on the line. Veteran Cub Swanson is back and set to put his two-fight win streak on the line against Giga Chikadze in a featherweight contest. Dustin Jacoby is ready to put his streak on the line against the always dangerous Ion Cutelaba. And a big bantamweight bout is set for the main card when Merab Dvalishvili takes on Cody Stamann. It's going to be a fun on in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Here's the complete main card with the latest odds from William Hill Sportsbook.
Fight card, odds
Jiri Prochazka -125
Dominick Reyes +105
Giga Chikadze -175
Cub Swanson +150
Ion Cutelaba -125
Dustin Jacoby +105
Sean Strickland -280
Krzysztof Jotko +230
Merab Dvalishvili -240
Cody Stamann +200
|Poliana Botelho -260||Luana Carolina +210||Women's flyweight|
Date: May 1 | Start time: 10 p.m. ET (main card) / 7 p.m. ET (prelims)
Location: UFC Apex -- Las Vegas
TV Channel: ESPN+ (main card) | Stream: fuboTV (try for free) (prelims only)
Although Reyes appears to be the more technically sound and poised of the two, the 31-year-old will likely have his hands full dealing with Prochazka's pressure and unpredictable style fresh off of two defeats. That's the main reason why Reyes enters the fight as a slight betting underdog.
The more Reyes can use his footwork and leg strikes to offset Prochazka and constantly keep him chasing should be beneficial. As the better pure boxer, Reyes' defense will be key to his survival. But he may end up being able to use Prochazka's aggression against him as a counter striker should he be smart regarding the length of any two-way exchanges the fighters take part in.
Reyes remains too young and talented to fall to defeat a third consecutive time. Considering how disastrous it would be to his title hopes, it's now or nothing in many ways. That should bring out the best and most focused version of Reyes that's available.
If that turns out to be the case, skills should win out above power and aggression despite Prochazka remaining a dangerous candidate for a finish at all times. This is the deep end of the pool and it's a place Reyes, it must be remembered, proved against Jones that he's very comfortable surviving in.
Pick: Reyes via UD5