On the day Jan Blachowicz arrived in the UFC, he was immediately touted as a potential contender in the light heavyweight division.
With a strong body of work before ever stepping into the Octagon, the Polish fighter deserved the praise he was receiving but ultimately he still had to back up the hype with his fight performances.
He made an impressive debut with a TKO against current top 10 ranked fighter Ilir Latifi, but then unfortunately the wheels fell off.
Following his first win in the UFC, Blachowicz stumbled with a less than remarkable 1-4 run including losses to Alexander Gustafsson, Corey Anderson and Jimi Manuwa.
Whatever anticipation had built up for Blachowicz to be considered a future title contender was virtually wiped away. Instead of talking championships, he was potentially on the chopping block fighting for his job when he was matched up with another prospect in Devin Clark in October 2017.
“I lost a couple of fights and that’s when I had to change a couple of things in my life,” Blachowicz explained ahead of his return to action at UFC Fight Night in Prague on Feb. 23. “I changed gyms, I changed cities where I lived, I changed what I do. That’s the reason that I fought so badly.”
Blachowicz believed that because he was fighting in the UFC, he had to reinvent the wheel in regards to his training and preparation. But there was one major problem. Nothing changed for him except he started losing.
That’s when he went back to his old coach Robert Jocz and asked if he could return to the team that helped build him into such a highly touted commodity when he joined the UFC roster.
The payoff came almost immediately with Blachowicz earning a Performance of the Night bonus for a submission win over Clark and he still hasn’t tasted defeat since then.
As difficult as it was to go through that rough patch in his career, the 35-year old light heavyweight felt like it was necessary because he had to stumble and fall before he could learn to walk again.
“You do something all your life, you try to be the best in the world and you’re doing what you love but then you start losing,”Blachowicz said. “You don’t know what is going on. I felt good and then I don’t feel good. I had to figure out what was wrong, why I’m fighting so bad and what I need to change to be a good fighter again.
“The couple of losses, I realized I had to get back to my old coach and everything will be good again.”
The results since reuniting with his coach have been undeniable.
Blachowicz has gone 4-0 in his past four outings with the real turning point in his recent run happening two fights ago when he avenged a prior loss in the UFC to British slugger Jimi Manuwa.
In their first meeting, Blachowicz was flat and ineffective for three straight rounds as he endured a lopsided loss to Manuwa while competing in front of a home audience in Poland.
Three years later when they met again, Blachowicz knew it was do or die to not only get that win back but also prove that he could hang with the elite light heavyweights in the UFC.
“The fight against Jimi, that was a really hard mental fight for me because he beat me in the first fight,” Blachowicz stated. “Then I beat him in the second. I know when I lost against him and they gave me the rematch, I knew this was where I would find out if I could beat him. I’m either on this level or I’m not on this level.
“I beat him and I knew I could be the better fighter all the time and I’m still learning.”
This weekend, Blachowicz will have another opportunity to showcase his skills while looking for a fifth win in a row as he faces Brazilian knockout artist Thiago Santos.
Since moving up from middleweight, Santos has gone 2-0 with a pair of knockout finishes, including his jaw-dropping performance against Manuwa last December at UFC 231.
“He’s really strong and a really dynamic fighter so I have to be careful all the time,” Blachowicz said about Santos. “My hands are going to be up all the time. I have to keep my hands really high for the whole fight. I have to be careful with his powerful hands and really good kicks, but I will find a way to beat him.
“I’m a smarter fighter than he is. I can fight on the ground, I can out wrestle him. I will find a way to beat him, without a doubt.”
As dangerous as Santos has been, Blachowicz truly believes the key in his main event fight is to survive the early onslaught from the Brazilian and then he can start chipping away at him with each passing minute.
Blachowicz knows he has more ways to win the fight, but he still has to be careful not to stand in front of Santos and extend an invitation to a slugfest.
“I’m a thinking fighter. I’m always thinking about what to do and then what to do next,” Blachowicz said about his strategy. “I know what my opponent will do almost 90-percent of the time. That’s why I’m going to be better in this fight with Thiago.
“I have to be careful in the beginning of the fight. Of course, I have to be careful in the standup but, for sure, I’m not afraid of his standup. In the second round, I think he will start slowing down and my cardio will be better. I think if the fight goes longer, it’s going to be better for me.”
Earning a fifth win in a row during his current career resurgence would be a huge feat for Blachowicz but it would also set the stage for his ultimate goal in the sport.
“If I win and I will win against Thiago, the next fight is only the title shot,” Blachowicz stated. “Nothing else. Nothing different interests me, only the title shot. But first of all, I have to beat Thiago.
“I hope this is going to be the biggest year in my career. It’s going to be my year. It’s going to be Jan’s year in the UFC.”