In just his third fight under the organization’s banner, Jiří Procházka has become the UFC’s Light Heavyweight Champion. The man he dethroned, Glover Teixeira, competed in the organization for nearly a decade before finally becoming champion. Nevertheless the two men, who are part of two distinctly different generations of fighters, staged an instant classic at UFC 275 that won’t soon be forgotten. Time will tell if Procházka becomes an octagon legend worthy of a Hall of Fame induction, but the honor will certainly be bestowed upon Teixeira one day. Whenever that day comes, this epic battle between a 42-year-old champion and a 29-year-old challenger will be included in the narrative of a man who has given his life to the sport.
When Glover Teixeira made his way to the UFC in 2012, he was already a respected veteran of the sport who’d competed in many organizations across the world and was formerly the Shooto 220 pound champion. As an athlete with championship experience, he was expected to be an immediate contender for the light heavyweight title, and eventually win the belt. Although Teixeira performed admirably and participated in some of the organization’s classic bouts, he was never able to get over the hump, losing his lone title shot to Jon Jones in 2014.
As time passed, the narrative surrounding Teixeira began to change. In the minds of the public, he transitioned from a future champion, to an ambassador of the sport. However, while the rest of the world anticipated his retirement, Teixeira continued to believe he could win the championship. Finally, at the age of 42, he was given a second chance to win the belt. Although he entered the fight as an overwhelming underdog, Teixeira was able to emerge victorious, winning by a rear naked chokehold submission in the second round. The legend from Brazil had finally done it; he was the UFC champion and the oldest athlete to accomplish the feat for the first time.
Jiří Procházka’s journey to the top was vastly different than Teixeira’s. Hailing from the Czech Republic, he was seen as an athletic prodigy. At the age of 19, he determined that his athletic talents were best suited for mixed martial arts. Fighting in multiple organizations throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, Procházka eventually became the Rizin Light Heavyweight champion. After two successful title defenses, he made his way to the world’s premiere mixed martial arts organization, the UFC.
After winning the Light Heavyweight title, Glover Teixeira took somewhat of a victory lap. His story of becoming a first time UFC champion at the age of 42 was the stuff of legend and he basked in the moment. While some champions choose to defend their belt right away, to stay fresh in the minds of the public, Teixeira spoke of the journey to the top with an air of nostalgia. He had gone from humble beginnings in Brazil, to a respected world champion. It was his moment to bask in the glory of his achievement; and it was well deserved.
A few weeks before his title defense against Procházka, Teixeira’s old rival, Jan Blachowicz climbed back into the octagon for the first time since losing the belt. Teixeira sent a message during the buildup to Blachowicz’s bout: “win your next fight and we’ll engage in a rematch after I take care of Procházka.” It was a stunning show of bravado from a man who’d been known to be less vocal and more diplomatic. Many saw it as a subliminal message aimed at rattling Procházka. On the surface, it looked as if Teixeira was so sure of the win that he was already looking forward to his next opponent.
For his part, Procházka was very diplomatic leading up to the fight. He stated that Glover Teixeira had done a lot for mixed martial arts and that it would be an honor to fight him. While appearing grateful for the opportunity to compete for the championship, Procházka never appeared unsettled or unnerved. He seemed fully capable of handling the moment and performing under the bright lights. If Teixeira had made an attempt to rattle him, it clearly had not worked.
Throughout his career, Glover Teixeira has built a reputation as one of the best grapplers in the history of the light heavyweight division. All of his opponents have been advised by their corners to stay on their feet if at all possible. If the fight goes to the mat, Teixeira is thought to have the clear advantage. His ability to use his vast wrestling skills to force other fighters into submission is renowned throughout the sport.
Procházka on the other hand, gained a well-earned reputation as a devastating striker. His emphatic spinning backfist against Dominick Reyes in May of last year, circulated on all of the major highlight shows. Opponents were told to stay out of range of his jab, take the fight to the mat, and apply pressure to engage in grappling and submissions. Due to his explosive power, defeating Procházka on his feet seemed nearly impossible.
Throughout the fight, both men tried to execute the game plan given to them by their corners. The fact that Teixeira wanted to wrestle and Procházka wanted to box had become the worst kept secret in the sport. However, each man was able to surprise the viewing audience by excelling at the other man’s strength at different points throughout the fight. Teixeira was able to land a brilliant strike that opened a cut over Procházka’s eye. Meanwhile, Procházka was able to turn the tide on the mat, and actually gained control after a few of Teixeira’s takedowns.
Entering the final round, the outcome of the fight hung in the balance. Both men had enjoyed moments of success; it was clear that this battle of old versus new would come down to the final moments. The fifth and final round was a back and forth battle for four and a half minutes with each man prevailing during select exchanges. However, in the final minute of the fight, the two men found themselves in a familiar position, grappling on the mat for dominance and supremacy. Finding the strength to overcome his weakness and outmaneuver one of the best grapplers in the division, Procházka executed a rear naked chokehold that forced Teixeira to tap out with just 30 seconds remaining in the fight. It was an amazing turn of events that capped off an incredible fight that won’t soon be forgotten.Embed from Getty Images
At just 29-years-old, Jiří Procházka has the makings of a champion that could rule the Light Heavyweight division with an iron fist. His ability to grapple with an aficionado like Teixeira surprised everyone who witnessed it. Clearly, his camp has emphasized the need to become a well rounded fighter, and to his credit, Procházka has accepted their advice. The intimidating factor for the rest of the division is that Procházka has become the champion, while still improving at the sport. He is a very good fighter who is on his way to becoming a great fighter. Dethroning him will not be an easy task.
Glover Teixeira fought admirably against a man 13 years younger than him, who also happens to be a gifted athlete. While his reign as champion only lasted one fight, his determination to make it to the top will never be forgotten by those who love the sport. Years after it looked like his championship window was closed, he was given one last shot and he made the best of it. That is a the kind of story that can inspire grit and determination in anyone, not just athletes. During his post fight interview, Teixeira vowed not to retire, saying he had a lot left as an athlete and he plans to continue fighting. Fans all over the world will continue to enjoy the brilliance of the Brazilian legend.
Women’s Flyweight Champion, Valentina Shevchenko narrowly defeated challenger Taila Santos to retain her title. Shevchenko’s win streak has now been extended to nine consecutive fights. Santos gave her the biggest test of her tenure as champion; this is the first of her title defenses that she did not win by stoppage or unanimous decision. It would not be surprising if these two warriors engaged in a rematch at some point down the line.
Overall, UFC 275 did not disappoint. Both of the co-main events were vastly entertaining fights. Shevchenko’s reign as champion is now at three and a half years. In the world of combat sports, that is very impressive. Jiří Procházka looks to be the kind of champion who could embark on an equally dominant reign. As long as there are elite athletes like Shevchenko and Procházka, the sport will be in a very good place. Champions who establish themselves as formidable and compelling become big draws who can sell out arenas and do great pay-per-view numbers. Each of these fighters fit that description to a tee.
Next week, UFC Fight Night will take the show on the road when Calvin Kattar faces Josh Emmett from Austin Texas. As always, we’ll have all the latest updates about the outcomes of the fights, as well as in depth analysis available right here at World in Sport!