It’s easy to get jaded in the fight business. But even the most cynical follower of the sport had to smile after Jan Blachowicz won the UFC light heavyweight title with a second-round TKO of Dominick Reyes on Fight Island.
For the 37-year-old from Cieszyn, Poland, it wasn’t just the culmination of years of hard work, but a testament to the power of persistence, a sign to all fighters (and all people, for that matter), that getting knocked down is the end of the journey only when you refuse to get back up and fight.
“I just want to show kids to never surrender,” Blachowicz said. “They have to always believe in themselves, and this is the most important thing. If you work hard, believe in yourself, dreams come true. You have to work hard and believe in what you do.”
Blachowicz got knocked down a few times over the course of his UFC career, most notably during a stretch from 2015 to 2017 where he lost four of five fights. But after a majority decision loss to Patrick Cummins in 2017, Blachowicz went back to his former coach, Robert Jocz, and kicked off an 8-1 run capped off by his finish of Reyes. It was a night where he had no doubt about the outcome.
“When I came to Fight Island, everything was perfect,” said Blachowicz. “I felt great, my acclimation was good, my last sparring was amazing. My mental training was really good, my visualization was really good, I did a really good job with weight cutting, and I just felt that the night was going to be my night. It was a long journey for me, a couple losses, wins, then again losses, and finally I came back to my old coach and together we got the title shot. I thought, no, I cannot mess up this thing. I worked for this all my life and finally I'm there. So tonight, I'm gonna win this fight. I don't care who's gonna be over there, how good Dominick is gonna be, on the night, I'm gonna be better.”
UFC 253: Jan Blachowicz Post-Fight Interview
UFC 253: Jan Blachowicz Post-Fight Interview
He was, and you could see it in his eyes from the time he left the locker room. When it was all over, Blachowicz had joined Joanna Jedrzejczyk as the only fighters from Poland to win a UFC championship, and his hometown was ready to celebrate, not only meeting him at the airport, but filling the city center to show their appreciation for their favorite son.
“There were a lot of fans that came to the airport, but when I come to my hometown, it was unbelievable,” he said. “I don't know how many people came to see me at the city center. I think there were more than one thousand people. It was something I couldn't imagine. My whole town came to see me. We watched the fight together, we celebrated together, it was an amazing feeling.”
Even rarer than that, Blachowicz’ fellow fighters came out in force to wish the new champion well and congratulate him on his performance, but then again, that shouldn’t be a surprise considering that the man wielding “The Polish Power” has always been a class act.
“It's a nice feeling and I think it's because I have respect for them,” Blachowicz said. “I don't use trash talk and stuff like this, I've got respect for everybody and I think they give me respect also. That's why they were happy that I won the title.”
The good news didn’t stop with his UFC 253 win, though, as he and his fiancée Dorota welcomed a son into the world in mid-December. That’s even better than winning the belt for the proud papa.
“I enjoy it,” said Blachowicz of fatherhood, even if he did have to give up his gaming room for the new arrival. “It's a new experience for me, and it's gonna be great.”
Suffice to say that while so many are wishing 2020 never happened, Blachowicz can mark the year off as one of his best ever. He admits it feels a little strange to feel that way, and his heart is with those who didn’t have the kind of year he did.
“This is a weird situation because, for me, this year was amazing, one of the best,” he said. “I won the title, I have a son, everything is really good. I'm looking at a big home right now, so everything is amazing. But when I watch people around me and see the sad faces, it's not good for me. Even when I won the title, I could not celebrate with 20,000 people in the arena. I can celebrate only with my team and a couple of people on Fight Island. It was a great year for me, but I understand the people who didn't enjoy this year like me so much. I'm with them.”
And though he’s enjoyed 2020, the question is, what will 2021 look like for the 205-pound champ?
“Even better,” he laughs. “Defend my belt, once, twice, maybe three times, and then we will see. Maybe I will go to heavyweight, we will see. But first of all, I have to defend the belt a couple times.”