Much like the UFC 274 headliner of Charles Oliveira vs Justin Gaethje, UFC 275's main event followed the narrative of a champion grappler defending against a creative, capable striker. In this case however, Veteran Glover Teixeira looked to defend his Light Heavyweight title against former Rizin Champion Jiri Prochazka. The fight played as advertised with Jiri winning many of the striking exchanges whilst Glover bested Jiri on the ground for the most part.
Glover Teixeira has managed to work his way to the belt with a few good basics, honed and solidified over the course of his career. Glover’s striking effectively consists of a nicely timed right overhand into left hook combo, with the occasional straight to the body. As a grappler, Glover often looks for single leg takedowns, transitioning into a body lock or double leg if it proves hard to finish . Once securing it, he is one of the best at utilising a dominant mount to throw bombs. Glover’s ground and pound comes with a dual purpose however; he uses it to set up submissions. His punches provoke a shelling up block from his opponents, feeding Glover a raised arm to enter into his trademark arm triangle. In other instances, Glover’s barrage of blows compels the opponent to give up their back to avoid eating the punches and elbows, allowing Glover to work into a rear naked choke that often gives him the finish.
Jiri came into this fight the longer, rangier and more creative striker of the two. His game involves innovation with spinning elbows and flying knees mixed in with a more traditional shot selection. His low guard often sees him eating the occasional punch whilst using his evasive head movement but an iron chin serves Jiri well in making his style work.
With this information Jiri was able to formulate a gameplan to deal with Teixeira's style. Jiri utilised his long reach immediately, peppering out jabs and feints to keep Glover on the end of his range. Indeed, range had a large role to play in this fight, often hand-fighting with Teixeira as a form of distance control. By keeping hold of Glover's hands, Jiri gave the Brazilian an extra step if he wanted to pick up the leg; he had to break free. Jiri's hand traps also provide a meaningful offence on several occasions, being utilised to pull Glover into knees and punches or break his guard to slip through body shots.
Between annoying Glover with these traps and stinging strikes, Jiri was able to consistently land his power shots. Jiri hurt Glover several times with big overhands, straights and hooks, proceeding to crowd and smother Glover in an attempt to finish. Most of Jiri's follow up came at an upwards arc with combinations of flying knees, uppercuts or Yair Rodriguez style 6-12 elbows with the intention of catching Glover ducking for the takedown. Alongside these upward shots came wide hooks as Glover tried to circle and move along. These hooks kept Glover in position to eat the barrage of linear strikes
Whilst Jiri's wide stance fed Glover the single leg, his constant switching between southpaw and orthodox made it difficult for Glover to find the target let alone get deep enough on the leg to secure the takedown. Indeed, the shot only came in the moments where Jiri was southpaw or squared up, his lead leg directly in front of Glover and within easy grasping range. By changing stance so frequently, Glover was denied a consistent target. Whilst almost 15 minutes of the fight was fought on the ground, Glover only managed to land 5 of his 17 attempted takedowns, showing off a legitimately impressive takedown defence from Prochazka against the division's top grappler.
When Glover found his takedowns and planted the striker on the mat, Jiri also found use for his trickiness. When faced with Glover's signature arm triangle, Jiri defended by placing his elbow into the gap of the fence. This prevented Glover from driving it to the other side of Jiri's head in order to complete the choke. Despite Glover's best efforts to dislodge the arm, he was unsuccessful on both attempts and was forced to release the it, returning to ground and pound.
In Round 4 Glover once again tried the arm triangle after scooting Jiri away from the cage, denying Jiri his initial defence. This time Glover is able to secure the choke but fails the submission as Prochazka connected his arms and rolled backwards over his shoulder to free his head. The tired (and likely surprised) Glover is unable to take Jiri's back in transition and Jiri takes the top position.
Jiri's use of the cage doesn't end with his submission defence however. Both fighters found themselves grappling by the cage a great deal, something Prochazka clearly anticipated. Frequently he would place his feet on the cage, catch one of Glover's hands (to deny him a base) before kicking off and reversing position. It was this escape that granted Jiri the top control that fed him his last minute finish, sinking in an admittedly janky rear naked choke over the champion.
However much I'm gushing about Jiri, his performance was far from flawless. We mentioned earlier Jiri's knees (flying or otherwise) to catch Glover leaning for the takedown, but it was these very knees that actually gave Glover his opportunities. Glover would simply eat the knee, catch it and bundle Prochazka to the floor. In one instance Jiri rather comically fell over attempting the knee and Glover, of course, capitalised to hold Jiri on the ground.
Jiri also spent a great deal of the fight head hunting, only throwing two strikes to the legs and thirteen to the body. When he did start working the body in the third round he seemed to be seriously concerning Glover, but strangely didn't return to them a great deal throughout the fight. If he had worked the body consistently we could have seen Glover run out of steam earlier into the fight, lessening the risks Jiri ran into in Round 5 and perhaps granting him an earlier finish.
Jiri's dismissal of a conventional striking guard works for him 90% of the time. However, in Round 5, when both fighters were waning, his ability to slip and weave between Glover's blows lessened. Instead Jiri seemed to slow in his reactions and as a result proceeded to take a great deal of damage in the striking portion of the 5th round. However asinine it is to wonder "but what if..." in MMA, this writer has to question if without Glover's odd choice to take it to the ground after landing such hard punches we might have heard the words "and still".
Despite Jiri's aptitude in escaping, the champ still managed to control Jiri for almost 10 minutes in total and output a great deal of damage in this time. Had Prochazka not found the submission in the final minute, he would have been looking at a clear cut decision loss. This was not an easy win for Jiri. He didn't dismantle Glover and for every way in which Jiri mitigated Glover's game, the then champion was he fed a way to survive.
Ultimately I came away from UFC 275 impressed by the work of Jiri Prochazka in finding a way to win despite the hill he had to climb to secure it. In a potential rematch I'd like to see Jiri work the body more consistently and do away with the clumsy knees entirely. Focus on the swarming barrage of upward strikes more, not waste the energy for a technique which proved to lose him rounds. Without feeding Glover the knee-based takedowns and presuming he could keep a relatively consistent takedown defence, I believe Jiri would be more alert going into Round 5 having saved energy with less defensive grappling.
Whether or not Jiri gets the Glover rematch is a different question entirely. Personally I find the fight with former champion Jan Blachowicz a more compelling bout, whilst the winner of Anthony Smith and Magomed Ankalaev at UFC 277 waits in the wings. Whoever his next opponent, I have confidence Jiri will grow from this fight and close the holes that allowed Glover to work his game with some success.
Whilst I avoid reading other analysis before writing, I initially noticed Jiri's elbow in cage defence as a result of this tweet and felt it noteworthy to source: