Jiri Prochazka and Alex Pereira are two meteors on a collision course at UFC 295. Prochazka and Pereira will fight for their second UFC championships in four and seven UFC fights, respectively, on Saturday. They are tearing through divisions at light speed, but their trajectories are fueled by knowledge formed over long periods. In the modern era of “Dana White’s Contender Series,” Prochazka and Pereira defend the old adage, “Nothing beats experience.”
Prochazka’s rise from UFC debutant to champion is one of the shortest in company history. He defeated Glover Teixeira to capture the light heavyweight title in just his third UFC appearance. Come Saturday, half of Prochazka’s UFC fights will have been for a world title. It’s easy to mistake Prochazka’s unique dynamism as natural acumen. The Czech native spent nearly a decade fighting on the regional scene and lower levels of MMA sharpening his tools before making his debut in 2020.
“I’m the type that was not too talented,” Prochazka told CBS Sports. “I am a hard worker. I need to spend a lot of time in the gym training. A lot of time on the fights step-by-step to build the man I am now, a warrior who can face the guys at the top level. That’s my type. I need to build myself from the amateurs to the normal league, then to Rizin, and finally to the UFC. I built myself over many years.”
Check out the full interview with Jiri Prochazka.
Prochazka (29-3-1) took a more traditional escalation of competition after his pro debut in 2012, albeit absurdly active. These days, UFC cards are more and more populated with “Contender Series” alumni, where many competitors only have a handful of professional fights under their belt. The show acts as a feeder league for the company to help fill out the robust calendar of events each year.
Pereira (8-2) is early into his mixed martial arts journey yet on the verge of becoming a two-division champion in two separate sports. Pereira and longtime rival Israel Adesanya are both Glory kickboxing veterans. Their striking quality is arguably the best in UFC history, but it’s not only value acquired from their time there. Pereira credits his kickboxing days for giving him the psychological edge necessary to become UFC middleweight champion in just eight MMA fights.
“It’s very fortunate that I was able to get so much experience. It makes a big difference,” Pereira told CBS Sports. “You have a young guy and you throw him into an arena with a lot of people watching a big show. There are so many things involved. It plays a part.
“But the fact I had Glory for venues with so many people. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Sometimes people cheered for me. Sometimes people cheered against me. That actually broke me down a little bit in a good way for me to come in and do what I did.”
Check out the full interview with Alex Pereira.
Pereira’s immediate success in MMA is evidence that Bo Nickal, who is among the most successful collegiate wrestlers in history, is not a “Contender Series” success story but a marketing device. Much like Pereira, it’s the experience that Nickal accrued elsewhere that would have ultimately led him to the UFC.
The betting odds for Prochazka vs. Pereira are understandably close. Pereira’s power and technical acumen could cripple Prochazka’s wild style. Prochazka has the athleticism and creativity to knock out Pereira, who was hurt in both Adesanya fights. Interestingly, both fighters highlighted their opponent’s experience — not specific skills — as their most dangerous weapon.
“It’s what we talked about before, skills and experience,” Prochazka said. “He has high-level experience in kickboxing. The specialty is that he turns his kickboxing to an MMA style. He found a way to do that. Everybody has some style that they fight with. I have my style. For this fight with Alex, I had to change a little bit. Especially after my last fight with Glover. There were a lot of mistakes that I had to change.”
“The thing that makes him dangerous is all the experience he has,” Pereira said. “He’s a seasoned fighter. He’s dangerous, but that helps to keep me aware and not overlook the guy. I’m actually preparing to go over there and get it done.”
The UFC often boasts the success of the “Contender Series.” But for every champion like Sean O’Malley and Jamahal Hill, there are more failed experiments like Greg Hardy and Boston Salmon. The show has produced the full spectrum of talent: champs, contenders, faceless preliminary fighters and flops. It’s too early to determine if “Contender Series” is in MMA’s best interest. Prochazka, Pereira and the majority of today’s UFC champions suggest that, for now, experience is still king.