On Saturday night, Jan Blachowicz has the chance to become the first Polish man ever to win a UFC title.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk, a former women’s strawweight champion in the UFC, has already secured her place in Poland’s fighting history, but the eyes of the nation have now turned to Blachowicz and Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island.
That’s where the 37-year-old will be taking on Dominick Reyes for the vacant UFC light heavyweight title this weekend, in the co-main event of UFC 253.
“It is [the biggest fight of my life],” Blachowicz admits to The Independent.
“It’s an amazing feeling, but I don’t want to put more pressure in my head, you know. I’m thinking about it like a normal fight. After the fight, I will understand what happened, I will celebrate with the belt around my waist, with my hands up. I will celebrate for two weeks!
“But right now I’m focused only on the fight, on Dominick – I don’t think about the title.”
Blachowicz (26-8) was hoping his first shot at UFC gold would come against the greatest light heavyweight of all time, Jon Jones, but the American vacated his belt in August ahead of a long-anticipated move up to heavyweight.
Although that denied Blachowicz what could have been a monumental victory, the Pole is now firmly focused on Reyes, whose last outing was a controversial unanimous-decision loss to Jones in February. The Californian outstruck ‘Bones’ and showed tremendous takedown defence against the then champion, only to see the judges score the bout in Jones’ favour.
So while beating Reyes might not be the MMA world-stopping moment that defeating Jones would – even if it would have that effect in Poland – a win this weekend would certainly be the next best thing and see Blachowicz become a worthy champion.
“I’ll catch him later, I don’t care,” Blachowicz says dismissively of Jones. “This is not me who has escaped and doesn’t want to fight against me; that’s his problem, not mine. I’ve got a great opponent, I’m gonna fight for the title.
“Maybe in the first moment I was a little bit disappointed. But after one or two days, I don’t care about Jones anymore. He doesn’t exist for me. I focus on Dominick. He’s one of the best in the world, it’s a pleasure for me that I can fight against him. “Jon Jones… he’s in the future. I’ll catch him later.”
Blachowicz expects Jones, who is yet to compete in the heavyweight division, to return to 205lbs in the future, but says: “If I’m wrong, I catch him at heavyweight. It’s not a problem for me. It’s easier to be heavyweight than make 205!"
Reyes (12-1), whose defeat by Jones marked the first and so far only loss of his career, is certainly a stern opponent in ‘Bones’ absence. Of the 30-year-old’s 12 professional wins in MMA, seven have come by KO. All of those have come in the first round.
“He’s a great opponent, really strong,” Blachowicz says. “Really good takedown defence, really good at standing up again if you take him down. His stand-up skills are amazing, you know, the southpaw position is also something that I have to be careful of.
“But I think we’ve found a way how to beat him. I’ve got really good southpaw training partners similar to him, so that position’s not gonna be a problem for me. I know I have to be careful, I have to be really focused, but I think my stand-up is also really good.
“I think it’s gonna be a really good fight to watch. Two guys who like to fight standing up, in small gloves… It could be fun,” Blachowicz laughs. “People are gonna talk about this fight for a long time after the show, I promise you.”
While Reyes has unquestionable knockout power, so does Blachowicz. Known to have a great all-round skillset, the Pole has put together a three-fight win streak with early KO victories over former middleweight champion Chris Weidman and Corey Anderson in two of those bouts. In between those wins was a decision victory over veteran ‘Jacare’ Souza.
And for the third contest in a row, Blachowicz is entering what is scheduled to be a five-round fight.
“I’m ready for 25 minutes,” he says, “but I’m gonna look to finish the fight before that time. When I do my visualisation training, I see that I knock him out in the third round, so that’s what I’m looking for. If I hit him, he will go down for sure. But if there’s gonna be an opportunity to take him down and submit him, of course, why not?”
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there will be no fans in attendance on Yas Island, but that is simply another factor that Blachowicz is trying to tune out.
“We live in crazy times right now, [but] I’ll go and do my job,” he says. “Of course it would be better with the fans, but it is what it is; I cannot change this. I don’t care about the place – the cage is smaller, I don’t think about this.
“I want to have fun inside the Octagon. I just want to enjoy the fight, win the fight, have a nice evening and knock out Dominick Reyes. This is what I want.”