Inside Jan Blachowicz’s outstanding journey from almost reduce to UFC elite

Editor’s word: Jan Blachowicz defeated Israel Adesanya to retain the UFC mild heavyweight title at UFC 259, however misplaced the title to Glover Teixeira at UFC 267. Blachowicz faces Aleksandar Rakic at UFC Fight Night on May 14.

DOROTA JURKOWSKA WAS sitting in her house in Warsaw, Poland, in the course of the evening on April 8, 2017, her face illuminated by the glow of a pc display screen. She was nervous, almost to the purpose of feeling ailing, and would not sleep in any respect till the next day.

She had simply watched her boyfriend (now fiancé), Jan Blachowicz, undergo one other defeat within the UFC. The bulk determination loss to Patrick Cummins, on the undercard of an occasion in Buffalo, New York, marked Blachowicz’s fourth defeat in his final 5 appearances and dropped his UFC document to 2-4.

Jurkowska was devastated however wanted to focus. Along with their private relationship, Jurkowska has been Blachowicz’s supervisor since earlier than his UFC days, and she or he had a vital, very tough activity forward of her that evening. She wanted to avoid wasting Blachowicz’s job.

“Oh my God, I believed he was going to get fired. Severely,” Jurkowska says. “I used to be anticipating that e mail to say he was gone. I used to be emailing [UFC matchmaker] Mick Maynard instantly. We had numerous emails trip that evening. That was a really robust evening.”

There have been numerous good nights since for Blachowicz (27-8), who’s now the reigning UFC mild heavyweight champion. At UFC 259 on Saturday in Las Vegas, he’ll make his first title protection in opposition to Israel Adesanya, the middleweight champion, who’s arising in weight in an try to grow to be the eighth fighter in UFC historical past to win titles in a number of weight lessons, the fifth to carry two belts concurrently.

In fact, Jurkowska did not know what would come to go for Blachowicz as she made her case to the UFC almost 4 years in the past to easily hold him on the roster. Wanting again, she acknowledges that her case wasn’t terribly robust. Blachowicz hadn’t been overwhelmed within the UFC — his fights had been aggressive — however a 2-4 document is a 2-4 document.

“I had this hearth in me. I knew, ‘This isn’t the top. I can not end this journey like this.'” –Jan Blachowicz

“I pushed them so laborious to provide Jan yet another probability,” Jurkowska recollects. “I informed them that Jan is a large star in Poland, and I knew they wished to carry an occasion in Poland. I informed them, ‘He must be on this card!’ That was my final argument for him to not be fired.”

Jurkowska’s efforts got here by means of. The UFC held an occasion on October 2017 within the northern Polish metropolis of Gdansk. The promotion matched Blachowicz in opposition to a promising American prospect, Devin Clark, who was 8-1 on the time. Blachowicz went into the battle realizing he’d be gone from the UFC with a loss.

However strolling to the Octagon that evening, he’d by no means been extra assured.

“Earlier than that battle, I began to imagine good issues would occur once more,” Blachowicz says. “I had this hearth in me. I knew, ‘This isn’t the top. I can not end this journey like this.’ I knew I needed to win the battle and show to myself that I might nonetheless be significantly better.”

Eight wins and one UFC title later, Blachowicz has confirmed to himself what he already knew: He can beat anybody. The remainder of the world, nonetheless, has been gradual to study.

WHEN UFC PRESIDENT Dana White was requested by BT Sport in late 2020, “Should you might make one battle in 2021, what wouldn’t it be?” his reply was Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya.

White has made it clear in interviews since then that there are “large hurdles” in the way in which of creating that battle. The primary of them, in fact, is Blachowicz. There are a number of paths the UFC might take to reach at an excellent battle between Jones and Adesanya, however all of them begin with Adesanya beating Blachowicz at UFC 259.

So the narrative surrounding the UFC’s mild heavyweight champion just isn’t about his resurgence. It is that he’s an impediment.

The world of blended martial arts does not outright disrespect Blachowicz, per se — individuals acknowledge that he is good — nevertheless it’s fairly potential he isn’t proven sufficient respect. Jones, essentially the most dominant mild heavyweight of all time, willingly vacated the title in 2020, partly, as a result of a title protection in opposition to Blachowicz just wasn’t super motivating. As of final month, Blachowicz was the one UFC champion to not obtain at the least one vote in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings. And though Saturday’s battle is for his belt, and will likely be fought at his weight, he is a 2-1 betting underdog.

“This battle is superb, as a result of after this battle, each single particular person will know Jan, and he’ll lastly earn the respect he wants,” Jurkowska says. “Even after being a champion, he is nonetheless the darkish horse. That is extra my factor, however Jan can be beginning to assume this manner. He wants to provide Adesanya the primary loss on his document, then we’ll see what they are saying.”

Blachowicz does not have essentially the most supporters, however the ones he has are fiercely vocal about him. When Polish MMA group KSW, one of many prime promotions in Europe, signed him in 2007, he had minimal MMA expertise. However KSW CEO Martin Lewandowski had heard his title so regularly, he gave him a shot.

“He was a very massive word-of-mouth signing for us,” Lewandowski says. “He was a Muay Thai novice champion, however he did not have a clue about MMA in any way. From Day 1, you can inform he was a singular fighter.

“He by no means ascended to grow to be our largest star. His expertise made him a prime man, however recognition, no. He was within the circle of our prime stars, the highest 5 or seven, however he wasn’t No. 1. He wasn’t the highest PPV draw. That is most likely what he is lacking immediately. He isn’t a giant media man. He does not speak an excessive amount of. He isn’t a showman.”

The issue for Blachowicz — and possibly the rationale he’s nonetheless regularly ignored immediately — is that he coupled his quiet, gentlemanly method with a horrendous begin to his UFC profession. You do not have to speak trash to make headlines in fight sports activities, however you may’t not speak trash and go 2-4 in your first six UFC appearances.

The primary wrongdoer behind Blachowicz’s gradual begin was that, for the primary time, he felt doubt. Not in himself, however in his environment.

“After I signed with the UFC in 2014, it was like, ‘OK, I am within the UFC, I would like to coach tougher and have one thing completely different now,'” Blachowicz says. “Everybody stated, ‘Oh, they’ve good wrestling within the UFC. It’s important to have good wrestling to be the perfect on the earth.’ So, I modified my camp. I modified all the pieces.”

Instantly previous to his UFC debut, Blachowicz left his longtime coach in Warsaw, Robert Jocz, and moved 200 miles west to coach with a brand new crew in Poznan, Poland. It wasn’t a very good match.

“I feel they only modified my type there, and it was a giant mistake,” Blachowicz says. “I do not know learn how to clarify it, however I’ve good type, good wrestling. It won’t be a pure type of wrestling, however they tried to take my takedowns and my punches and switch it into pure wrestling. And eventually I used to be like, ‘OK, that is working for you, however not for me.'”

It took time for Blachowicz to acknowledge that the teaching change wasn’t working for him, and for him to desert the transfer and reunite with Jocz. That occurred in 2017, simply forward of the Clark battle that saved his profession.

Since returning to his outdated coach, Blachowicz is 8-1. He is crushed among the prime names within the sport, together with Jared Cannonier, Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Corey Anderson and Dominick Reyes. However regardless of all of that success, he is nonetheless a perennial underdog. Blachowicz has been favored to win solely twice in his final 10 bouts.

Not that he minds.

“Oh, he is truly very glad about that, as a result of he is aware of these are solely numbers for somebody to earn cash,” Jurkowska says. “Should you simply put cash on Jan, you are going to be wealthy. After the Luke Rockhold battle [in 2019], a fan was ready for him at our lodge and stated, ‘You made me wealthy. I made $50,000 on this battle.’

“Severely, he does not give a s— about being an underdog. It truly offers him extra confidence.”

EVER SINCE BLACHOWICZ gained the championship by knocking out Reyes at UFC 253, his inventory has soared — in Poland.

His small city of Cieszyn threw a large celebration upon his return house. He obtained an invite to meet Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. He was included in a outstanding checklist of 2020’s hottest Polish athletes.

“He is being acknowledged in every single place, locations you would not anticipate, it is loopy,” Jurkowska says. “Strolling within the woods, he will get stopped by individuals calling, ‘Hey, champ!’ Once we went to his hometown, town was stuffed with followers. Jan was anticipating perhaps some family and friends, however what occurred, oh my God, it was wonderful.”

The identical recognition has not but come from throughout the game. Blachowicz continues to be extra usually considered as one of many “large hurdles” blocking a Jones-Adesanya matchup than he’s as a must-see champion. However beating Adesanya, one of many UFC’s prime stars, might change that.

For Blachowicz, although, a win over Adesanya is much less about recognition, cash and fame than it’s about competitors. When he made his skilled MMA debut in 2007, he did so in quest of a problem. That remained his supply of motivation all through his time in KSW and, finally, into his tenure with the UFC. When his UFC roster spot was in jeopardy in 2017, that is what was on the road greater than something. Blachowicz didn’t need to lose his alternative to face the best possible.

“That was Jan from the start,” Lewandowski says. “We could not pay him a lot initially of his profession, however he did not give a s—. He was the one who wished the problem. He wished to battle the perfect. He wished to battle the fellows who have been good on the bottom; he did not keep away from them. He stated, ‘That is what MMA is all about.'” Lewandowski recollects two cases by which Blachowicz got here to him and stated he wished to signal with the UFC. As a promoter himself, Lewandowski needs to retain his expertise, and at first he was capable of persuade Blachowicz there have been challenges for him in KSW, which has a status for pulling worldwide, not simply Polish, expertise. When Blachowicz approached him a second time, nonetheless, the dialog was temporary.

“I noticed it in his eyes: That was his dream,” Lewandowski recollects. “I did not even attempt to persuade him to remain. I used to be even glad to see him go there. And that is the one time I can say that a couple of fighter leaving. I knew he may very well be a UFC champion as a result of he’d fought worldwide fighters in KSW and smashed them.”

On Saturday, Blachowicz will face a fighter who’s undeniably among the best on the earth. If he defeats Adesanya, his profile will definitely rise. And do not assume for one second it hasn’t crossed Blachowicz’s thoughts {that a} win might clear his personal path to Jones, the best problem to ever exist at 205 kilos.

“I imagine sooner or later I’ll get that battle,” Blachowicz says. “If not within the UFC, I’ll go to Albuquerque and battle him in his fitness center. We’ll do that. However I am not excited about Jon proper now. Sooner or later, sure, however not now.

“Adesanya is a very completely different fighter. I’ve by no means fought anybody like him. However I feel me and my crew have discovered holes in his recreation, and we are going to use all of our instruments like we at all times do. I’ll take him down or knock him out and win this battle.”


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