New UFC champ Jan Blachowicz reminds us the good guys can still win in MMA | Opinion

Let’s get the obvious part out of the way from the jump: Yes, Jon Jones lorded over the UFC light heavyweight division for years and years, and the only reason Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes fought for the belt Saturday night was because Jones relinquished the title.

Blachowicz (27-8 MMA, 10-5 UFC) understands, this, too, which is why he immediately turned his attention to Jones after he put on a tremendous performance in finishing Reyes in the second round of their UFC 253 co-main event and claiming the belt.

“Right now we can talk about him because I don’t want to talk before fight, because my opponent was Dominick,” Reyes told MMA Junkie at the post-fight news conference in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. “Now, I don’t have opponent, so Jon Jones, why not? But right now nobody knows what he’s doing. So we will see, but yeah, why not?”

Are we done with the Jones thing for now? Good. Blachowicz’s victory was one of the rarest of things in this mad landscape that is mixed martial arts in 2020: A win for the good guys, and for the good old fashioned belief that hard work without taking shortcuts will get you to your goal.

Every headliner makes sacrifices to get to the biggest fights, of course. Lots of them in this day and age also cut the line by using trash talk, or getting opportunities ahead of people who earned it in the division due to their box-office power, or by having a manager who shamelessly sucks up to the powers-that-be, or for an endless list of reasons other than simply winning a bunch of fights in a row.

Blachowicz did none of that on the road to becoming just the second Poland-born UFC champion, after Joanna Jedrzejczyk, on Saturday night. In fact, he had one of the most improbable runs to a championship in company history.

Rafael dos Anjos won the lightweight belt after losing his first two in the UFC. Robbie Lawler famously won the UFC welterweight title after being cut by the company and gone for years before returning. Blachowicz, for his part, dropped four out of his first six UFC bouts, putting him right up with RDA and Lawler among champions who overcame tough starts to win belts.

Had Blachowicz lost his seventh, at UFC Gdansk in 2017, he likely would have been cut. Instead, he beat Devin Clark, the start of a run which has seen him take eight in out his past nine and four in a row.

The idea of Blachowicz as a legit contender was finally cemented when he knocked out Corey Anderson in Albuquerque in February with Jones watching octagonside. Then came his finest hour, a perfectly executed game plan on Saturday night in which he kicked Reyes’ ribs into raw steak, then picked up the pace and finished Reyes (something Jones didn’t do) in the second round.

“When I kick first time or second time, I see him slowing down a little bit so I know that he feels it,” Blachowicz said. “But later on when I see that I break his nose, I knew the finish would be really soon.”

For someone who’s been doing this since 2007, the evening was all a little surreal.

“You know, it’s a long journey for me, but I’m finally at the top,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling. There are no words. How to describe this how I feel right now. My mind is in different place right now, somewhere into space.”

The natural question to ask from here is a simple “what’s next?” UFC president Dana White made it clear he liked Blachowicz’s Jones callout.

“I like that he wants to fight Jon,” White said. “He could have called out whoever the contender is and whatever the fact they respect Jones enough and that fact they want to beat the guy who beats the guy, I love it.”

Jones is supposedly going up to heavyweight though. If he doesn’t come back to 205, A fight with Thiago Santos, the only man who has defeated Blachowicz during his current run, makes all the sense in the world, assuming Santos defeats Glover Teixeira in their scheduled bout.

For now, though, Blachowicz wants to take a minute to enjoy things.

“Now I want to celebrate a little bit,” he said with a laugh. “First celebrating, soon I’m going to be a father, so I’d like to focus on that also. And after that we can talk about next opponent and first defense. But now I just want to celebrate. I have to come back to Poland, hug my mom, see my father and drink some beer with him.”

Sometimes, the dude you’d want to have a beer with wins in the end. Cheers to the new champ, to one of the sport’s good guys for proving you can still get to the top on your merits alone in a world where it seems like the bad guys win all the time.

 

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