LAS VEGAS — For his first 13 professional MMA fights, Dominick Reyes was cool, confident, believed in his plan and let his elite athleticism guide him. It led him to 12 consecutive victories and nearly a 13th. He dropped a split decision to the great Jon Jones in what so far has been the UFC legend’s last bout.
For whatever reason, though, that wasn’t what Reyes brought with him into his fight for the light heavyweight title that Jones vacated. At his bout with Jan Blachowicz in Abu Dhabi at UFC 253 on Sept. 27, Reyes seemed a half-step behind the entire fight.
His issues, he told Yahoo Sports, started long before the bell rang.
“I was questioning everything I was doing and I was hesitating,” Reyes said. “I wasn’t confident in myself and my abilities. I was second-guessing everything. All of a sudden, I didn’t have the secret sauce. All of a sudden, I wasn’t special, I guess you could say. I doubted myself out of the fight before the fight even started.”
That was unlike Reyes, and so was the performance. Blachowicz stopped him in the second round and won the light heavyweight title.
On Saturday at Apex in the main event of UFC Vegas 25, Reyes will return in what should be a compelling bout against fifth-ranked Jiri Prochazka. Jones has moved to light heavyweight and Blachowicz is making his next defense against No. 1 Glover Teixeira, so the Reyes-Prochazka winner will be well-positioned for the next title fight.
“For me, this fight is just going out there and enjoying it again,” Reyes said. “I am who I say I am.”
He’s proven in his 12-1 start that he is one of the best 205-pounders in the UFC. He has names like Jared Cannonier, Ovince Saint Preux, Volkan Oezdemir and Chris Weidman as wins on his résumé.
But he wasn’t the same against Blachowicz that he was against Jones. He conceded it was “a terrible performance” and lamented the fight that he didn’t do all he could do to win.
It was a multitude of things that led to the lethargic TKO loss, but chief among them was his training camp. He only had a six-week camp which isn’t enough for him. That, he said, negatively impacted him and left him ill-prepared.
“To get all your reactions and your central nervous system firing on only six weeks is a tough thing to do,” Reyes said. “No. 2, I had a broken nose. I’d broken my nose in four different places prior to the fight and I tried to just fight on. But I didn’t want to get hit. … You live and you learn. I probably should have backed out.”
The competitor in Reyes didn’t want to pass on a chance to become the world champion, and it’s a decision he regrets now. But he can to some extent right the course by defeating Prochazka.
Prochazka’s only had one fight in the UFC, but it was a vicious second-round KO of Oezdemir, a win that extended his KO streak to nine consecutive fights.
Against Jones and Blachowicz, Reyes knew he had to be ready to fight in nearly every position. The bout with Prochazka is so compelling because both are elite stand-up fighters and the possibility that it’s simply a shootout and that the last man standing is the winner is very high.
He didn’t care to get hit against Blachowicz, and he knows the likelihood is high he’ll get hit more than once by Prochazka.
The change in his attitude, though, has him relishing it. He is eager to get back and show the old Dominick Reyes.
“[I have to] go out there and do my thing, man,” Reyes said. “At the end of the day, don’t worry about the bulls***. He’s going to try to come out and overwhelm me and try to create a brawl. But that’s not what I’m going to do.”
He’s not going to divulge the game plan, but the thing that defined Reyes throughout his career is simple: He’s a winner.
More than anything, he’s ready to get back into the winner’s circle.
Whatever he needs to do that is what he’ll do on Saturday.
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