You could point to a few other possibilities. Alexander Gustafsson giving Jon Jones all he could handle in 2013. Randy Couture shocking Chuck Liddell in 2003. Lyoto Machida capturing the title from Shogun Rua in 2009.
But for my money, what happened Saturday in the main event of UFC 275 tops them all. When Jiri Prochazka choked out Glover Teixeira with 28 seconds remaining to win a bout he was losing on the scorecards, we all had not just a new light heavyweight champion, but the best title fight in 205-pound division history and a short-lister for the best title tilt in any weight class. It's certainly the clubhouse leader for 2022 Fight of the Year, and I don't even know what it would take for a different leader to emerge.
"In the hard moments I will do whatever—everything—whatever it takes to win the fight,” the new champ said afterward.
Light heavyweight has fallen on hard times in recent years, but no division has historically featured more action, intrigue or glamor than this one. It's the division of Ortiz and Rampage and Jonny Bones and Iceman and Wanderlei and Griffin-Bonnar. Both of these men wrote their names in this division's voluminous history books with a wild, whiplashing instant classic that saw a new star take shape in the personage of Prochazka, the 29-year-old Czech Republic native with the hair antenna, the unquenchable spirit and a flair for the dramatic.
After Machida defeated Rua to win the title 13 years ago—has it really been that long?— broadcaster Joe Rogan famously told viewers: "Welcome to the Machida era." That era didn't last very long in retrospect, but the one that dawned at UFC 275 appears to have the staying power.
That's right. Welcome, one and all, to the Prochazka era.
How do you sum up a fight like this one? In a way, unsummable is its best description. It was action all the way, pure unadulterated thrills, with momentum shifting on a dime. In general, the book on this fight was that Prochazka, who came into the bout having won 12 straight and with 25 knockouts to his name, would be the berserker, looking to separate the 42-year-old Teixeira—the oldest first-time champion in UFC history—from his consciousness. Meanwhile, Teixeira's best path to victory would be to get the action to the ground, grind the proceedings to a crawl, land takedowns and keep Prochazka from swinging his big hammers in space.
The first round actually went pretty close to that script, with Teixeira landing two takedowns for nearly three minutes of control time, per UFC stats, taking advantage of Prochazka's wild (and failed) escape attempts, one of which saw him wind up on the wrong end of full mount. Maybe the underdog champion had enough after all.
The second round saw more redlining action. Prochazka began to open up on the feet, hurting the champ and then stuffing Teixeira's circuit-breaker takedown attempts. But Glover still wound up in mount at the end of the round, slicing open Prochazka with a hellacious elbow from the top as time ran out.
The third round was a striking clinic from Prochazka, with the challenger landing 43 of 59 significant strikes, including eight-of-eight shots to the body. Teixeira did not enjoy those.
"He was hitting me with some body shots that took my gas away," he told broadcaster Daniel Cormier after the fight. "I was gassed out, to be honest."
Both men were exhausted and bleeding at this point. Prochazka would walk Teixeira back to the fence and pour it on from all angles. And just when it seemed like Prochazka might take full control, there they were on the mat again, with the old man in a dominant position and raining ground-and-pound.
Teixeira racked up 2:33 of control time in Round 4, including an extended bid for an arm-triangle choke. Although Prochazka ultimately dug deep and escaped, Teixeira again took his back, only for Prochazka to reverse him. And the horn sounds!
The most fateful sequence of the fight came early in the fifth, when Teixeira rocked Prochazka with a right hook and then another right hand. The knockout was there, with Prochazka clearly hurt and exhausted. But instead of swarming with punches, Texeira's instincts took him in another direction, and he jumped for a guillotine choke, only to slide off before he could make it a real threat.
A few minutes later, Teixeira was again dishing out punishment from mount, only for Prochazka to again power out. This time, he got on the champ's back and went for a rear-naked choke without bothering to get his hooks in. The tap was sudden and shocking. If you had Prochazka winning this by submission over a decorated jiu-jitsu black belt in Teixeira, you won a lot of money.
Prochazka, indomitable, hair antenna flapping around and receiving who-knows-what kind of signals from who-knows-where, walked away bleeding but eerily calm, a new UFC champion. When the judges' scorecards later emerged, it showed that Teixeira would have won had he hung on for just a half-minute more.
Adam Martin @MMAdamMartin
I had the same scorecard as judge Ben Cartlidge up until the stoppage. Not sure what Clemens Werner was thinking. 10-8 Jiri in the third round? He's on an island with that one. Same judge that had 49-46 Shevchenko. Jiri needed a finish to win the belt and he got it. Wow. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UFC275?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#UFC275</a> <a href="https://t.co/dy76mcHwy1">https://t.co/dy76mcHwy1</a>
Instead, Prochazka found a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
"It's like I said before the fight: I'm ready to end it first round, or fifth round, it doesn't matter. And it doesn't matter what technique," the new champ told Cormier. "That choke came naturally. I just watched the moment. What opportunity is before me?"
Now? Plenty of them.
For starters, how about a rematch with Teixeira? The Brazilian called for it, and no reasonable person would be mad at that.
But there are other options. I'd personally like to see him branch out and face someone else first. Former champ Jan Blachowicz was cageside and is certainly in the mix. Anthony Smith and Magomed Ankalaev square off in July at UFC 277; UFC prez Dana White previously said the winner here would get the next title shot. We shall see.
But more generally, Prochazka is more than a new champ, more than a fresh face, more than the victor in the kind of fight that drives people to order pay-per-views time after time after time. MMA is an individual pursuit and one that has always straddled the line between sport and spectacle. As such, it is one that thrives on characters.
Prochazka, with his samurai obsession and his bushido and his quiet boiling intensity, is just such a one. A star was born at UFC 275. The kind of star only MMA can produce. The kind of star that can prop up the whole dang circus tent.