UFC champion Jiri Prochazka on samurai, spirituality, and weathering storms in and out of the Octagon

With waves swirling around him, and his motor flickering and faltering, Jiri Prochazka was caught in a storm and staring into the darkness.

That’s no metaphor, even if it conveys the tempestuous nature of the Czech’s title fight with Glover Teixeira at UFC 275. Instead, it is the very real scene of a recent incident that saw Prochazka, 29, stranded at sea with his friends after their boat’s engine died.

“That was a weird situation,” Prochazka recalls. “The boat’s engine stopped, and there was a storm which came to us. The sea... there were some big waves, and the night was starting so it was totally black everywhere. It was a little bit of a dangerous situation. We had to use the wind as an engine to sail somewhere safe.”

Prochazka and his friends were able to escape the danger in time, and while the stakes were higher than in the light heavyweight champion’s dethroning of Teixeira in June, the feeling of relief will have been similar. With 28 seconds remaining in the pair’s main event in Singapore, after nearly five full rounds of purely distilled brutalism, Prochazka finally shackled Poseidon, submitting Teixeira the submission specialist to take the Brazilian’s title.

The contest had not so much ebbed and flowed as rocked turbulently, but it was Prochazka who seized the moment and the gold. There is no doubt in the Czech’s mind that, had he not secured the rear naked choke that sealed victory, he would have left Singapore with his spirit unfulfilled and his waist bare of the UFC light heavyweight title.

“I knew that, I knew that,” Prochazka insists, acknowledging that Teixeira had likely done just enough before the finishing sequence to be headed for a decision win. “I knew I didn’t do enough for a win before the end of the fight. I showed a horrible performance, but still I won.”

An exhausted but relieved Jiri Prochazka is congratulated by his team after beating Glover Teixeira (Getty Images)
An exhausted but relieved Jiri Prochazka is congratulated by his team after beating Glover Teixeira (Getty Images)

The last thing most adventurers would wish to do after having escaped a storm is seek out its eye once again, but that is Prochazka’s intention as he continues to call for a rematch with Teixeira.

“The one and only reason I sent him the offer is because I want to show why I’m the champion, show my best performance. That’s all,” Prochazka says. “Now it’s up to the UFC, but I spoke with the organisation, and the best way will be to defend the title against Glover, because everybody wants that fight. Everybody saw that Glover deserves that fight, because I won 20 seconds before the end of our fight. I think that will be the best case right now. For me it doesn’t matter; I know I’m at the top. But I said Glover, and I want to keep my word.”

Prochazka’s desire to prove his worthiness as champion is no surprise to followers of his career, who know that the Czech Republic’s first ever UFC champion follows a strict code of morals, largely inspired by Japanese philosopher and samurai Miyamoto Musashi.

“I don’t know a lot of samurais, just a few true warriors, but I think the most important in my life is Musashi,” Prochazka says. “His book [The Book Of Five Rings], his life... for me it was a big inspiration. That’s why everybody’s talking about me like I’m watching the samurais, and it’s nothing more than I just read the book,” he laughs, “and I started to include these rules in my life, because I know it’s functional, it’s simple, and it’s strong. That’s the paradox, because the simplest things are the strongest.”

Prochazka became the Czech Republic’s first UFC champion by submitting Teixeira (AFP via Getty Images)
Prochazka became the Czech Republic’s first UFC champion by submitting Teixeira (AFP via Getty Images)

Prochazka’s emphasis on “honour” is also tied to his dream fight in the Octagon: a clash with the light heavyweight division’s greatest champion, Jon Jones. Prochazka admits to being “curious” over the American’s apparently impending heavyweight debut and deems Jones the “best fighter I ever saw”.

As Jones evolves his phyqisue in a bid to capture gold in a second division, Prochazka is undergoing his own changes, having shaved his captivating, “Muay Thai warrior”-inspired haircut ahead of his next in-ring challenge. But the 29-year-old addresses the matter hesitantly, saying: “I don’t want to speak about the reason or what the meaning was; that’s for me something spiritual, something I don’t want to talk about. But I know I don’t need it right now – maybe later, but it’s just my personal thing and my way is now to have a [shaved] head and challenge another [fighter].”

There will always be something engimatic about Prochazka, the UFC’s resident samurai and sailor of stormy seas.

Yet as far as the Czech is concerned, his next venture must provide clarity – clarity over his worthiness as the UFC’s finest light heavyweight warrior.