Jan Blachowicz enters UFC 259 in familiar territory. Despite winning eight of his last nine fights, as well as holding the light heavyweight title, he is the once again underdog.
Blachowicz (27-8) defends his belt against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in the main event of UFC 259 this Saturday. The undefeated Adesanya (20-0) is making a big jump by fighting in the light heavyweight division, and a victory would further cement his legacy. Standing in his way is Blachowicz, who had a bleak future after dropping four of five fights, but then went on to win eight of his last nine, including defeating Dominick Reyes this past September to claim the vacant light heavyweight Championship.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Blachowicz discussed his journey to becoming the champion, the challenges Adesanya presents and the enormity of this Saturday’s bout.
Jan Blachowicz: It’s been a long journey. For me, I had to learn why I was losing. Before I signed a contract with UFC, I won almost everything. When I signed a contract, there were changes. I changed gyms, I changed cities, I changed coaches. That was a mistake.
After a few losses, I came back to my old coach [Robert Jocz], back to my roots. Here I am now, champion. Going back to my coach helped, and I never stopped believing in myself. This is a very mental sport, and I never stopped believing in my skills.
SI: So often, the trash talk between competitors builds anticipation for a fight. But it has been different here between you and Adesanya, with a void of boasting adding a silent intensity to this fight.
JB: Everything I have, I’ve earned through hard work. I’m not here because of trash talk. I proved I could be the champion, and I am proud of that. I respect Adesanya. We will see who wins on March 6.
SI: Has your mindset changed at all now that you are the champ? Even slightly, has it altered your approach for the fight?
JB: I am the champion and I want to be the champion for a long time. All I know is I have a fight in the Octagon. I don’t think about anything beyond that. That would only add more pressure. So nothing has changed for me. After the fight, I can focus on other things, but for now, I only think about this fight. That’s how I treat my fights, so that is my focus right now.
SI: History is known to repeat itself. When you fought Luke Rockhold at UFC 239, there was already talk about Rockhold defeating you and then preparing for a fight against Jon Jones. That never happened, as you knocked out Rockhold in the second round. Now there is a possibility that Adesanya will call out Jones if he defeats you. Do you think Adesanya is looking past you?
JB: I only think about right now. I never think about the next one. Maybe other people do it differently, but this is the way I think about it. Right now, my only focus is Izzy on March 6.
SI: There is not a blueprint available on how to beat Adesanya. Is it difficult to train for a fighter like him, one that is so versatile and powerful?
JB: It’s hard to find sparring partners who are similar to him. We found great kickboxers that do some of the things he does. I think we’ve found the way how to beat him, how to stop him. My camp has me prepared, I’ll use my power, and I believe I will be the first one to beat him.
SI: Once again, you are the underdog entering this bout. But you have been betting on yourself for a long time, propelling you from Cieszyn, Poland, to UFC fame. Does it bother you that you’re the underdog here?
JB: My whole life, I am always the underdog. If you look at my fights, I’m always the underdog, too. I’m used to that, it does not bother me. For me, it’s OK. If you want to win some money, put it on me.
SI: Was there a key point during your formative years when you realized that you could become an elite fighter?
JB: For me, it was when I started training. That is when I started to believe I could do something different, something big. First, I won small competitions, then I won bigger competitions, then I got to UFC.
Thinking about my life and what has happened in my life, it has all happened for a reason. I have made mistakes, but I didn’t make them again. Even when I struggled, I promised myself never to submit in life. Believing in myself has been the key, and I never stopped believing in my dreams.
SI: For those who still doubt you, what do you have in store for Adesanya at UFC 259?
JB: After this fight, I will get my respect. After this fight, I will be the big star in UFC, not Adesanya.