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The top of Jiri Prochazka’s left eye looked like someone had mistaken his head for a Thanksgiving turkey and had taken a carving knife to dig out a chunk of juicy white meat.
Glover Teixeira’s face looked every one of his 42 years, the grey specks in his whiskers highlighted nicely by the rivulets of blood that trickled down his face.
But these two resilient and courageous men, battered and beaten so badly it would have been hard by the middle of the third round for their families to ID them in a lineup, continued to go savagely beat each other until the most unlikely turn of events in the waning seconds of an epic battle in the main event of UFC 275 at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore.
Prochazka was on his back, trailing on the cards, badly beaten in the fifth, and looking for all the world like the only way he’d be getting back to his feet anytime soon was to have a couple of people help lift him up.
Teixeira, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, was so thoroughly dominating the ground fighting aspect of this bout that midway through it, Prochazka realized it was futile to engage him on the mat. Prochazka would take a couple of steps back and casually wave his hand to signify that Teixeira should get up.
It was that guy who, almost out of energy, bleeding profusely, somehow pushed his feet off the cage and reversed position on Teixeira. With a bit less than a minute to go, it was Prochazka, whose striking had made him a -220 favorite at BetMGM, who had Teixeira’s back.
He made it count. He put on a rear naked choke and even without hooks in and sapped of most of his energy, he squeezed hard enough and forced Teixeira to tap his concession.
It made Prochazka the UFC light heavyweight champion with just 28 ticks remaining on the clock in one of the great fights, and sporting events, you’d ever want to see.
The entire show was tremendous, fight after fight delivering sensational action, but even with that, it was hard to anticipate what was to come.
The back and forth in this fight was only matched in recent times by the final two minutes or so of the NFL playoff game in January between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. The lead changed four times in the final 1:54 of that game and, incredibly, twice in the final 13 seconds. That sent it to overtime where the Chiefs won on the first possession.
There was no overtime awaiting Prochazka, who was trailing on two of the three cards and likely would have lost a decision had Teixeira made it in one piece to the final bell. Ben Cartlidge and Clemens Werner each had Teixeira up after four by scores of 39-37 and 38-37, respectively. Mike Bell had it 38-38.
If all three would have scored the fifth 10-9 for Teixeira, as seemed most likely given Teixeira’s dominance in the round most of the way, he’d have won a unanimous decision by scores of 49-46, 48-46 and 48-47.
It was Prochazka's third win by submission, and his first since March 21, 2014, and was such an afterthought, it paid better than 1,000 to 1.
Asked if he thought he’d win by submission, Prochazka sneered.
“I never thought, and that’s why it’s good not to think in a fight,” Prochazka said.
He probably also didn’t think he’d get pummeled around the cage and struggle so much with Teixeira’s striking as he did. In the early rounds, Prochazka’s edge in hand and foot speed was easily apparent and he was lighting Teixeira up with his strikes.
But Teixeira has been an MMA fighter for 20 years and has learned a thing or two along the way. And on this night, he found a way to make his strikes count. He went hard at Prochazka’s body and was sapping the Czech star of his energy. The longer the fight went, the less pronounced the difference in speed was.
“We knew what he’d do, but he did it and he was successful at it,” Prochazka said.
In the fifth, it was Teixeira who was controlling the fight with his strikes. Eight months after he won the title at 42 years old, he seemed en route to his first successful defense. Prochazka was wobbly from the shots he was taking and when he went down on the last significant shot Teixeira landed on the feet, it seemed like it was a wrap and that Teixeira would put a bow on the victory.
This is why we watch, though. It would have been easy for either of them to check out at any point in the latter half of the fight. Each was taking a beating and each was in perilous positions numerous times.
But they didn’t. They fought for that belt like it was the most important thing in the world which, on this night to these two men, it was.
Prochazka nearly didn’t have the energy to push off the cage. He was struggling to get the energy to squeeze his arms around Teixeira’s neck. Somehow, he did it.
After a series of amazing escapes when he appeared on the verge of being knocked out, Teixeira couldn’t escape that one last bit of danger from Prochazka. And in the cruelest irony of all, he used Teixeira’s move against him.
“I’m satisfied, but there were moments Glover was in control and his pressure was amazing,” said Prochazka, who wore a green silk robe to his first news conference as champion.
The performance of both was amazing. It was a fight for the ages, one that will be talked about for years.
And in this one, it’s not just because of the unlikely ending. It was the ultimate display of heart, desire, bravery and clutch performance, all of the things that makes MMA so great.