The UFC is back in New York City.
On Saturday, Jiri Prochazka and Alex Pereira face off for the vacant light heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 295. The bout is Prochazka’s first in nearly 18 months following a shoulder injury that forced him to vacate his title. Now, he has the chance to reclaim the once-again-vacated belt should he beat the protege of the man who he outlasted to win the 205-pound title in his previous outing, Glover Teixeira. Pereira, meahwhile, can become just the ninth person to win belts in multiple divisions in the UFC if he gets his hand raised this weekend.
How will each man approach this fight, and how do they take home the win? Let’s take a look.
Paths to Victory for Jiri Prochazka at UFC 295
Prochazka is one of the most exciting fighters currently competing in the UFC. Though he’s only had three fights in the promotion, he’s won four performance bonuses, including two “Fight of the Nights,” the most recent of which was his 2022 Fight of the Year battle against Glover Teixeira. In that fight, the full extent of Prochazka the chaos merchant was on display, and there’s little reason to believe we won’t see more of the same on Saturday.
Prochazka is a Muay Thai champion who really is just a lunatic. In lieu of any standard defensive positioning, he sort of just vibes in the cage. He keeps his hands at his waist, switches stances frequently, and relies on athleticism and head movement to avoid the offense that comes his way. And for anything that does land, he relies on a good chin. Thus far, that’s worked out for him in the octagon, but it’s also led to him getting tagged and hurt in multiple of his fights. Against a hitter like Pereira, that is an extremely dangerous proposition.
What’s a less dangerous proposition, and likely Prochazka’s best path forward in this fight, is to pursue takedowns. Prochazka is not the best wrestler or grappler, but he’s a little bit better than Pereira in both phases, and more importantly, he’s an excellent ground-and-pounder. Every time Prochazka ends up in top position on someone, fire and brimstone is in the offing. Against Pereira, that’s going to be the biggest avenue for success.
That being said, you can’t change who you are. Whenever a fighter tries to fundamentally shift away from their style, it almost never works out. As the saying goes, you have to dance with the girl that brought you, and Prochazka is going to have to dance with his chaotic, high-volume striking style. The key thing though is to minimize the spots where Pereira can have the most success and mix in takedowns to constantly keep the former middleweight champion guessing.
Paths to victory for Alex Pereira at UFC 295
Alex Pereira is in the process of breaking everything we know about MMA. In just the 11th fight of his MMA career, Pereira might end up becoming the ninth-ever two-division champion. It was already insane when he became middleweight champion in his eighth fight, and now we’re on the precipice of this. And Pereira gets to break these rules because he has one supreme skill: He bonks people on the head.
At this point, mountains of digital ink have been spilled about Pereira’s career as a GLORY kickboxer and his ability to separate humans from consciousness, so we don’t need to rehash all that. In the simplest terms, he is probably the pound-for-pound biggest puncher in the sport, and he has the requisite skillset to deliver those missiles to his opponent’s head. He needs to do the same on Saturday.
When we’ve seen Pereira struggle in the cage, it’s been when his opponents have taken him down. He’s given up eight takedowns in six fights, with two of those coming against fellow kickboxing savant Israel Adesanya. Prochazka isn’t the best wrestler, but if Adesanya can do it, Jiri can as well, and it’s likely to be part of his game plan. As such, Pereira needs to focus on keeping himself upright, and in particular he needs to stay away from the fence. Pereira sometimes allows fights to come to him, and Prochazka loves to be on the advance. If Pereira allows him free reign to do so, he’ll be backed up to the fence, where Prochazka can shoot takedowns or grab clinches, and that’s not where Pereira makes his money. One of the best ways to do this will be jabbing and double-jabbing. Prochazka advances with his chin in the air, and sticking a thudding left down the center should deter the former champion.
If Pereira can keep his feet, there are a world of opportunities available in the striking. Prochazka puts out so much volume and leaves himself so open as he shifts around, that Pereira will have ample chance to counter with heavy shots. Prochazka in particular loves to throws knees up the middle and jumping knees, and Pereira should be ready to simply knock him out of the sky like Fedor Emelianenko did to Andrei Arlovski all those years ago.
X-Factor Bonus Round!
Normally, this is where we do an “X-Factor” section talking about other variables at play on Saturday. But that’s a little boring for this fight, because the answer is simply: “Prochazka hasn’t fought in 18 months, how does that affect him?”
Instead, I thought we’d look at the biggest X-Factor on Saturday: the co-main event!
Sergei Pavlovich and Tom Aspinall are fighting for the interim heavyweight title on Saturday, and no one has any idea what’s about to happen. In his seven UFC bouts, Pavlovich has a combined 16 minutes and 43 seconds of fight time. In his seven UFC bouts, Aspinall has a combined 16 minutes and 12 seconds of fight time. Both dudes are not paid by the hour. They get in, obliterate their foe, and leave. It’s a sight to behold but it also leaves us knowing almost nothing about either man. Here’s what we do know:
- Pavlovich has the death touch. When he lands on people, they implode. They might not lift off like the way Ngannou starched people, but they simply crumble inside and fall down. Aspinall should avoid getting hit if at all possible.
- Aspinall is lightning-quick. The man has good pop in his hands, but mostly it’s a result of being blindingly fast for a heavyweight. He should use that speed to get in and get out before Pavlovich can hit him back.
- Pavlovich has great timing, so doing the above is going to be really hard.
- Aspinall also is a solid grappler, and the one time we saw Pavlovich on the floor, he got dummied. Takedowns might not be the worst idea.
- That aforementioned “one time” happened five years ago, and Pavlovich currently trains at American Top Team, among the best gyms in the world, with one of the best wrestling coaches in the game. He’s probably gotten a lot better in that regard.
Annnnnd, that’s it! Those are pretty much the only things we can say with confidence about this matchup. Good luck trying to figure out what’s about to happen. It’s a total mystery box, and that’s partly why it’s so compelling.
Ultimately, I think this is a bad matchup for Prochazka. He’s simply too chaotic and too hittable to go up against someone like Pereira and have any confidence in him. Teixeira and Dominick Reyes both had Prochazka in worlds of trouble when they fought, and Pereira is more powerful than both. The man simply bonks people, and Prochazka is going to be the next victim.
Alex Pereira def. Jiri Prochazka via knockout (punches) — 1:04, Round 2.
Who wins the belt on Saturday?
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