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‘The UFC was always my dream’ - Jiri Prochazka had a Bellator offer for a Ryan Bader fight

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The European light heavyweight signed with the UFC in January and expects to make his promotional debut in the next three months.

One of Europe’s hottest prospects at light heavyweight is on the verge of his UFC debut.

Jiri Prochazka last competed in December at RIZIN’s traditional New Years Eve show. There he dispatched Octagon veteran CB Dollaway in just under two minutes, by spectacular knockout. That victory was his tenth in a row, with the last eight of those wins all finishes due to strikes—another demonstration of the devastating power Prochazka (26-3-1) has in his hands. After that performance, many fans speculated how the 27-year-old would get on against the best light heavyweights in the world.

Due to Bellator’s close working relationship with RIZIN, it seemed natural that the two promotions might team up to co-promote a champion vs. champion showdown between Prochazka and Bellator champ Ryan Bader. Speaking to Bloody Elbow Prochazka acknowledged that discussions did take place to book the fight, however it never came together. A big part of why? Around that time, the Czech fighter also received an offer from the UFC—a chance too good to pass up.

“Yes, we talked to Bellator about the Ryan Bader fight but the UFC was always a bigger target of mine, so we signed with them instead,” revealed Prochazka. “The UFC approached me after my fight against Dollaway and the talks were completed very quickly. They made us a really good offer so we took it right away. Since I began my MMA career eight years ago, being in the UFC was always my dream.”

Prochazka has spent his entire life living in the Czech Republic and started combat sports with Thai-boxing, before progressing to MMA when he was in middle school. He believes it is important to train in all of the singular martial arts disciplines so that the fundamental skills needed to succeed are embedded in his overall game. As a result of that philosophy, Prochazka feels he’s in the best possible position to achieve his athletic potential in mixed martial arts. He fought professionally for years on the regional scene before making the long trip to Japan to sign with Rizin, where he made his name on the international stage.

‘Denisa’ made his debut with the Sakakibara-led promotion in December 2015, as part of a heavyweight tournament spread over three days. Prochazka made an immediate impact by knocking out Japanese veteran Satoshi Ishii in under two minutes, and overcoming current Bellator title challenger Vadim Nemkov—who quit on the stool at the end of the first round of their fight. In the final round of the tournament, however, Prochazka was stopped by Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal in the opening stanza. It’s the last time he tasted defeat.

In the time since, Prochazka has avenged the loss to ‘King Mo,’ finishing the former Strikeforce champ last April to claim the Rizin Light Heavyweight belt—as well as adding Brandon Halsey and Fabio Maldonado to his resume. Prochazka made it clear that he’s thankful to Rizin for giving him his big break, and believes he improved exponentially during his time with them.

“I really enjoyed competing for Rizin, because I like the idea of the samurai and the Bushido spirit,” Prochazka explained. “They also enjoyed having me because I had good fights with lots of action. I love Japan as a country and Rizin helped prepare me for taking on the best in the world. So now is the time to win it all!”

“I’ve changed so much since my first fights in Rizin and I am a totally different fighter now,” he continued. “After every fight, I grew and improved in some way. I’m still trying to be better every day, and my aim is to be the absolute best. I train with this goal in mind all of the time.”

As of this moment, the Czech fighter doesn’t have his UFC debut date set, but he expects to fight in the next three months. So an announcement may not be too far away. The man who has finished 23 of his 26 victories due to strikes doesn’t have a particular fighter in mind that he would like to step into the octagon against first—and says he has respect for everyone in the division. However, he believes that the light heavyweight division in the UFC has grown a little stale and knows that he can make an immediate impact to reinvigorate the weight class.

“I think the light heavyweight division in the UFC needs new and fresh guys who can look to challenge the top five,” stated Prochazka. “At this point in my career, I don’t want to hang around and build myself up; I want to jump into the top ten right away. When I know who my opponent will be, I’ll be ready. My next goal is to win my first fight in the UFC with one of my best performances ever. I want to show the world what I am capable of!”