LAS VEGAS — Fighting for or defending the world title is always a huge night in any athlete’s life. Jan Blachowicz knew full well the euphoria of success in a title fight.
He won the vacant light heavyweight title by knocking out Dominick Reyes at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Sept. 27, 2020. He successfully defended it against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 259 on March 6, 2021.
But when he prepared to fight Glover Teixeira, and then when he got to Etihad Arena on Oct. 30, 2021, at UFC 267, he had a much different feeling. It wasn’t the same feeling nor was he the same guy.
“I couldn’t find my motivation during gym in my training and it was the same thing [on the day of] the fight,” Blachowicz said. “Sparring was bad. Something was off. At the fight, I didn’t want to be there.”
And he performed that way. Teixeira unexpectedly dominated and ended Blachowicz’s five-fight winning streak and 13-month title reign by submitting him with a rear naked choke.
He returns on Saturday as the No. 1 contender, and will fight No. 3-ranked Aleksandar Rakic at Apex with a potential title shot going to the winner. Things, he said, are much different this time around.
Blachowicz has a wry sense of humor and laughs easily. He hired a sports psychologist who has helped him sort out his issues and improve his approach to the game. She has enabled him to rediscover his love for his job.
She worked on helping him to concentrate and gave him breathing exercises he says have made a big difference. Training is vastly different than it was when he was preparing for Teixeira.
“She did a good job getting into my head and helping me find the joy again,” Blachowicz said. “There’s a fire inside of me right now and I’ll fight with the joy I used to have. Before, it was like something bad had happened. I can’t really explain it but at the end of the day, I didn’t want to be there.
“Now, I feel excited every day and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to this fight.”
Certainly, the chance at redemption is a big part of it. Blachowicz has been on a roll going into the Teixeira fight and not only had won five in a row but was 9-1 in his previous 10. Along the way, he scored impressive wins over Adesanya, Reyes, Corey Anderson, Jacare Souza, Luke Rockhold and Jared Cannonier, among others.
During that span, he won five Performance of the Night bonuses and a Fight of the Night bonus.
Rakic’s striking is dangerous and Blachowicz knows it. But instead of dreading having to find a way to neutralize it, he’s eager to get in and show the world what he’s been working on.
It’s been quite the journey and though he’s now 39, there is still a lot more to come.
“My story is completely different from others, I guess,” Blachowicz said. “It’s different. It’s been like a roller coaster, a lot of highs and a few lows along the way. It hurts to lose and I am more motivated than ever, but perspective is important. It took a bad loss to find my way again and get myself back on the good track.”
Teixeira will make the first defense of his title next month in Singapore against No. 2 Jiri Prochazka. Blachowicz praised Prochazka as a fighter and said he has nothing personal against him, but will be rooting for Teixeira to win.
Blachowicz believes that if he defeats Rakic, he’ll be in line to fight the Teixeira-Prochazka winner. And for selfish reasons, he wants that to be Teixeira.
“Obviously, whoever has the belt is the one you have to fight, but of course I’d like to avenge that loss and take the belt back from Glover, so I will pull for him,” Blachowicz said. “He’s a great fighter and a great guy and he fought so well against me that night. But that wasn’t me in there. That happens sometimes and for me, that was a bad time to have that.
“I feel now, I understand what I need to do and how to use these techniques I’ve been taught [by my sports psychologist]. And so I’d like to get the chance to fight Glover for the title and try to win it back from him.”