Inside Jiri Prochazka’s warrior path from soccer hooligan to UFC title contender


JIRI PROCHAZKA PUT his arms at his facet and curled his lanky, 6-foot-4 body right into a bow. In entrance of him was a Shinto priest, carrying a white gown and conventional black cap, referred to as a tate-eboshi.

It was October 2019, simply days after Prochazka had knocked out Fabio Maldonado on a Rizin Preventing Federation blended martial arts card in Osaka, Japan. Following the battle, Prochazka and his coaches took a practice north to Kyoto to go to Sanjusangendo, the location of one in every of famend Japanese swordsman and thinker Miyamoto Musashi’s most well-known duels.

There, in entrance of a shrine, the Shinto priest provided Prochazka, a follower of Musashi’s rules, a blessing. He spoke solely in Japanese. Prochazka’s coach, Jaroslav Hovezak, referred to as the transferring ceremony one other landmark on Prochazka’s warrior path.

“It strengthened him on his method,” Hovezak mentioned. “It was a robust expertise for our workforce.”

Eight years in the past, Hovezak gave Prochazka a replica of Musashi’s “The E book of the 5 Rings,” a textual content about martial arts and a information for all times. Since then, Prochazka has adopted Musashi’s beliefs nearly religiously. His evolution has taken him from a self-professed “very wild man” who engaged in over 100 road fights, was in a soccer hooligan membership again dwelling within the Czech Republic and as soon as chugged vodka out of a motorbike gasoline line, to somebody who patterns his life after Bushido, a Japanese ethical code courting again to the samurais. And that self-discipline has led him to the cusp of UFC glory.

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“I believe Jiri was extra Japanese than many people over right here in Japan,” Rizin matchmaker Shingo Kashiwagi mentioned.

Prochazka’s purpose is “mastery in each a part of life,” and his subsequent step to attain that in martial arts comes Saturday when he challenges Glover Teixeira for the UFC mild heavyweight title in the primary occasion of UFC 275 in Singapore (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV).

Whereas a sought-after purpose, the UFC championship will not be the top level for Prochazka, who carries his worn, dog-eared copy of “The E book of the 5 Rings” with him in every single place he goes — even the locker room. Prochazka (28-3-1), one of the vital thrilling fighters on the planet with 10 straight KO/TKO finishes, considers incomes the gold belt simply one other a part of his “method of [the] warrior.”

“For me, it is extra vital to win the battle and the right way to win the battle,” the 29-year-old former Rizin champion mentioned. “How I’ll present my expertise, my [evolution] from my final battle to this battle, that, to me, is an important. All this preventing is about evolving. All the pieces for me, on this life, is about evolution. To be higher, to grasp higher, to precise higher.”

PROCHAZKA’S POSTFIGHT CELEBRATIONS was legendary, in line with the fighter’s shut good friend and enterprise accomplice, Michal Sauer. Within the early days of his profession, Prochazka would throw wild events following his bouts, full with loud music, dancing and heavy consuming. Prochazka was on the heart of the jubilation.

“He was wild at these events,” Sauer mentioned. “Not solely dancing, however everybody was watching him. He is a little bit bit like Conor McGregor. Everyone is aware of that he is within the room. He was very noisy. He likes consideration. Not solely events, however he preferred consideration in every single place he went. He was a really humorous man and everyone preferred it, as a result of he made some enjoyable.”

At a type of events, Prochazka, then in his early 20s, drank champagne from a used vacuum hose. At one other, he guzzled vodka out of the gasoline line of a good friend’s bike, which had its engine on.

Two titles are on the road at UFC 275. Glover Teixeira defends his mild heavyweight championship towards fast-rising Jiri Prochazka, and Valentina Shevchenko goals to maintain her flyweight dominance going when she faces Taila Santos. Plus, strawweights Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk meet in a rematch of the 2020 battle of the 12 months.

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UFC 275: Teixeira vs. Prochazka
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“I believe he was informed he is immortal,” Sauer mentioned with amusing. “Possibly he nonetheless thinks that.”

When he was youthful, Prochazka attacked life a lot in the way in which he assaults MMA opponents now: recklessly, with little concern for his security and well-being. Prochazka mentioned as a teen he sought out road fights nearly weekly, stepping into greater than 100 of them in his life. When that wasn’t sufficient, he joined a hooligan membership tied to Prochazka’s native soccer workforce, FC Zbrojovak Brno. The membership would arrange group road fights with golf equipment that adopted different groups.

Prochazka mentioned though he as soon as participated in 30-on-30 brawls with the hooligan group, he regrets collaborating in these scraps now. As a baby, Prochazka grew up with unbridled vitality — a nightmare for his dad and mom and lecturers — and consistently appeared for an outlet. Whereas preventing within the streets as a teen, he fell in love with changing into the most effective fighter and developing with strategies to win via trial and error. Being a hooligan was only a barely extra regulated iteration of that.

“That was the subsequent step on this preventing way of life,” Prochazka mentioned. “I used to be nearly searching for myself, on a regular basis. On a regular basis. The person, we’re nonetheless searching for ourselves. That is all.”

When he was 17 years outdated, Prochazka began coaching in Muay Thai, with a little bit of karate and judo blended in. It was the construction he wanted. He did not must battle on the street anymore to enhance his expertise to be the most effective. This was an opportunity to coach and compete in an much more managed setting.

Prochazka ultimately obtained into MMA and made his professional debut in 2012. He was way more disciplined than earlier than, however there was nonetheless one thing lacking. Not lengthy after Prochazka misplaced to Abdul-Kerim Edilov in 2013, Hovezak introduced his fighter a replica of “The E book of the 5 Rings.” Hovezak was a coach on his Jetsaam workforce, which is led by Martin Karaivanov.

Hovezak mentioned a martial arts coach gave him the guide at age 15, and he thought it may unlock a door for Prochazka in the way in which it had for him. The guide is common amongst enterprise folks in Japan as a result of its philosophies on successful may be utilized to enterprise and life, despite the fact that Musashi was writing about preventing — not not like “The Artwork of Conflict” by Solar Tzu.

Jiri Prochazka carries ‘The E book of 5 Rings’ with him always. Written by the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi round 1645, the textual content is a manifesto on swordsmanship, technique, and successful. Jiri Prochazka

“There may be a variety of reality within the guide and there’s a clear order,” Hovezak mentioned. “It may be used for each preventing and on a regular basis life.”

After studying the guide and digesting Musashi’s phrases, Prochazka mentioned he started to change his life nearly instantly. As soon as a self-professed “very, very, very wild man,” Prochazka began to undertake Musashi’s Bushido rules. The textual content, written within the 1640s, incorporates 5 books — Earth, Water, Fireplace, Wind and Void — and Musashi writes about concepts on martial arts, management, life rules and mindset.

Prochazka mentioned he doesn’t observe an organized faith. As a substitute, he has adopted “The E book of the 5 Rings” as his Bible, Torah or Koran.

“For me, it is one thing like that,” Prochazka mentioned. “However faith, I do not imagine in faith, as a result of the trendy human has to know there is no such thing as a faith. There may be simply vitality — vitality of perception. What you imagine, that is your faith. And it may be no matter. That is my angle of view.”

Sauer mentioned he first noticed a change in Prochazka when the fighter started sermonizing to him and different folks near him about life philosophies.

“He began to speak to me and different mates about how we must always stay,” Sauer mentioned. “Now, he was a intelligent man and began to inform us how we must always do that and why this. That was the largest change. It was like zero to 100, a change of 180 levels. We did not know what was the matter with him.

“He is dwelling the Bushido method and all the things and he needed his private mates to stay the identical or comparable. He needed the folks round him to be the identical method.”

The man who as soon as drank booze from a automobile’s gasoline line was now preaching a greater technique to conduct oneself. Prochazka had lastly discovered what he was searching for in life — a method and motive to channel all of his vitality into one thing constructive and civilized. He now reserves all of that internal turmoil for the UFC Octagon, a lot to the chagrin of opponents. Since that loss to Edilov, Prochazka is 22-1-1 with an unbelievable 21 finishes.

“It was a full change of myself as a result of I used to be one other particular person,” Prochazka mentioned. “I am glad for that. I am maintaining that chaos from the youngest time in myself nonetheless. However I need to present it simply within the cage. Simply to the cage, straight to the victory.”

PROCHAZKA WAS IN the nook of the Rizin ring, waving his arms back-and-forth. It was a couple of hours earlier than Rizin 20 in December 2019. Different fighters had been within the ring, warming up or going via their walk-throughs earlier than competing. The Asakura brothers — Kai and Mikuru — had been performing some mild sparring. Behind them, Prochazka, the reigning mild heavyweight champion on the time, was standing within the nook, motioning like he was operating in place with out transferring his legs.

Kashiwagi, the Rizin matchmaker, mentioned Prochazka would normally do “bizarre issues” like that in battle week, together with meditating within the locker room earlier than strolling to the ring.

“I as soon as requested him what he was doing in the course of the ring examine and he mentioned, ‘I am feeling at present’s ambiance and the way the ring feels via my physique — do you perceive?'” Kashiwagi mentioned. “I had no thought how to reply to that.”

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Prochazka is quirky, however none of it’s with out motive. He wears his hair in a novel, excessive ponytail that has develop into a signature look. Prochazka mentioned his coiffure is an homage to a mongkhon, the headpiece that Muay Thai fighters put on throughout their prefight Wai Kru ritual.

Since 2017, Prochazka has lived in a cottage about half-hour exterior of his hometown of Brno, close to a reservoir. Sauer described it as “the center of nowhere,” in a forest with no entry street. Sauer mentioned he lives solely 5 minutes away from Prochazka, but when it is snowing, he cannot drive to his good friend’s dwelling because of the lack of roadway. The cottage has electrical energy and different facilities, together with a spot to work out and practice — which Prochazka calls a “playground” — however no gasoline. He will get his water from a effectively.

“I am simply doing what is important to be the most effective,” Prochazka mentioned. “If I’ve to stay like that, suppose like that and eat like that, I’ll simply do this. As a result of I would like that — that is all.”

Coaching has introduced some challenges for Prochazka, Sauer mentioned. Regardless of all these years of preventing on the street, Prochazka has misplaced any need to harm somebody who will not be his UFC opponent. Sauer mentioned Prochazka has injured his fingers and wrists on a number of events as a result of he does not need to tightly ball his fists throughout sparring so he will not inflict any undue harm on teammates.

“It is a little bit bit bizarre,” Sauer mentioned. “He does not need to harm folks, however he is preventing in probably the most harmful sport on the planet. That is the change in him.”

Prochazka’s preventing type runs counter to that, and it is the outlet for his internal chaos, primarily based on this perspective: “assault, not defend — each transfer should be attacking.” He obtained caught by a number of huge punches in his final battle towards Dominick Reyes in Could 2021, however saved transferring ahead till he landed a spinning again elbow at 4:29 of the second spherical that knocked Reyes unconscious.

“Some guys, they take that prefer it’s enjoying — like MMA is enjoying,” Prochazka mentioned. “No. For me, I am taking that like method of [the] warrior. It is about life and dying…. You need to be 100% profitable if you wish to win. If you wish to win, which means you may stay. If you happen to [do] not, you die.”

However Prochazka can also be not afraid of shedding. He mentioned he launched himself from these fears as a result of that is all a part of his journey, whatever the outcomes. He plans on practising martial arts — and making use of Bushido rules — lengthy after his preventing profession is over. The thoughts, Prochazka mentioned, must be like a weapon. Throughout a battle, the purpose is for the thoughts to be free and have concepts spring into it, resulting in assaults. Prochazka acknowledges he has not gotten to that time but.

“It is not easy,” he mentioned. “It is very laborious to attain that, to be on that stage. To be so free and see the issues like that…. That is the way in which. That is the way in which to the mastery. I am nonetheless rising. I am nonetheless working.”

If he beats Teixeira on Saturday, the UFC title could be the subsequent milestone in what has develop into a lifelong voyage, one formed by martial arts however one which additionally incorporates larger which means. Hovezak mentioned Prochazka does not need simply the belt however “an ideal battle, an ideal martial artwork — that is our method.”

“He needed to succeed in some mastership or be a grasp of martial arts,” Sauer mentioned. “Be a grasp in his life, in his thoughts. It is not concerning the belt, as a result of that is just one factor. It is the journey, it is the way in which. I do not know if I need to say a samurai journey, however that is his method of being a grasp of what he does. The belt is among the targets. Not the primary and solely goal, however one of many targets.”

And people targets, these objectives are pushed by the phrases of Musashi, written almost 4 centuries in the past.

“The guide is a information for us and we create our personal technique,” Hovezak mentioned. “I imagine that after years Jiri will write an identical guide in line with which the brand new fighters will observe.”

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