How a Czech soccer hooligan became UFC champion, via Japan

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Hong Kong (AFP) – Jiri Prochazka was a football hooligan in his native Czech Republic until martial arts and an ancient Japanese text inspired him to switch from street fighting to cage fighting – and become a UFC world champion.

“The Book of Five Rings” was written in 1645 by Japanese master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, and when Prochazka received a copy about eight years ago, he finally found a way to “become a warrior” after a youthful wildly ill spent.

“You have to look within yourself and you have to follow the rules – be honest, be brave, be calm in difficult situations,” Prochazka, 29, said of what he learned from the book and the stories. “Bushido” Code of discipline of the samurai which he encourages.

Prochazka became the first Czech UFC world champion after a thrilling battle with Brazilian light heavyweight Glover Teixeira deepened into the fifth and final round in Singapore in June.

A beaten Prochazka looked set to lose to Teixeira, but tapped into his reserves of strength to apply a choke hold and force the veteran Brazilian into submission.

“Some people say my style is unpredictable,” Prochazka told AFP.

“But I don’t do unpredictable things. I’m calm and just looking for space to attack – where my opponent’s weak point is – and I attack.”

Spartan environment

Prochazka was speaking via video call from a remote cabin in a forest retreat 30 minutes by car from her birthplace in the city of Brno in the southern Czech Republic.

His spartan surroundings, Prochazka explained, are so he can be alone with his training. The cottage has electricity but no running water, which forces Prochazka to make daily trips to a well.

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Prochazka pointed his phone outside the cabin to show the Dojo, or fighting ring, he dug into the forest floor and the frames of gym equipment he fashioned from local wood .

“You have to find the path that’s best for you and that’s what’s best for me,” said Prochazka, whose hair is styled in the “chonmage” bun favored by Japan’s ancient samurai warriors.

“I meditate, I train, and I live the life I want to live.”

“Never stop learning”

The sense of calm and purpose has not always been with Prochazka.

As a teenager, he encountered the local Ultras – gangs of football hooligans – supporting FC Zbrojovka Brno and took part in over 100 street battles with rival supporters.

“It was part of my life and without it I wouldn’t be who I am today,” Prochazka said of her early life. “I had to be that guy to become the guy I am now.”

At 17, Prochazka discovered Muay Thai kickboxing at a local gym and he could fight legally.

After winning a national title at age 19, he turned to MMA as the sport began to gain popularity around the world.

Prochazka’s talent took him to Japan with the Rizin Fighting Federation where he was advised by a trainer to read Musashi and the history of the ways of the samurai.

Prochazka started winning in Japan and her life changed. A Rizin MMA title was followed by a call from the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2020.

Two straight knockout wins gave him the chance to face Teixeira, 42, for the world title at UFC 275 in Singapore and Prochazka grabbed it.

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Back at his cabin, recovering from a fractured knuckle suffered against Teixeira, Prochazka was preparing for the next phase of his career and a possible rematch with the Brazilian and.

“I always go forward,” Prochazka said.

“In our lives we all have to struggle at some point in different ways. So I’m still learning and I think we should never stop learning.”

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