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Czech MMA Slow to the Starting Line, but Making Great Strides

Cover photo by Jiří Procházka

Last year was huge for the mixed martial arts (MMA) scene in the Czech Republic. In February 2019, the world’s biggest MMA promotion, the UFC, brought its production to the nation for the first time ever, with local Czech fighter Lucie Pudilová competing on the event’s main card. The past year has also seen the rise of other fighters, including Jiří Procházka in the RIZIN promotion and Makhmud Muradov in the UFC. The future looks bright for Czech MMA. What can we expect from our small country this year and who will be flying the flag for the Czech Republic on the international MMA scene?

Despite the rise of MMA stars in our corner of the world, such as Poland’s Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Slovakia’s Attila Végh, only recently have we seen Czech competitors in the sphere of combat sports shine under the bright lights of the international stage and at an elite level. 

This is not to say that the country is without successful combat competitors in the past, however. Lukáš Konečný is probably the country’s most decorated professional boxer, with a record of 51-5 (23 KOs). Konečný is a former Olympian, holds a plethora of European titles, and, in 2008, fought for the WBO light middleweight title. Petr Vondráček is a former super heavyweight WKA (World Kickboxing Association) world champion and K1-Grand Prix competitor, while Lukáš Krpálek is an Olympic gold medallist in judo (+100kg division).

All are champions, and compete at the highest level in each of their respective fields, but MMA requires a mastery of many if not all of these practices to compete at the very top of the division. Boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling and Muay Thai kickboxing are just some of many fighting disciplines that need to be mastered in order to reach the pedigree status held by some of the sport’s most recognised fighters, such as Jon “Bones” Jones, Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes and The Notorious Conor McGregor.

The world’s fastest-growing sport is becoming increasingly popular here and throughout the Czech Republic, a string of MMA gyms hoping to develop the next Georges St-Pierre or Israel Adesanya are opening up.

The Atom Gym in Plzeň, led by MMA coaches Jan Piontek and Petr Kníže, recently received the Best Organising Club award at the Czech MMA Association awards night.

In Brno, Jetsaam Gym, led by former wrestler and mixed martial artist Martin Karaivanov, has brought home 24 domestic and international titles in both kickboxing and MMA, including the RIZIN light heavyweight championship, won by resident fighter Jiří Procházka.

However, it is in Prague where the most gyms dedicated to MMA have surfaced. This includes the MMA Monster gym in Holešovice, led by Kníže, who as recently as 2018 competed in the Czech-Slovak XFN promotion. 

Through this rise of specialist MMA gyms and the platform offered by local and national MMA promotions (such as the XFN and OKTAGON), we are now starting to see a number of talented Czech combatants reach the upper echelons of the sport.

Procházka captured his RIZIN light heavyweight title with a third-round knockout victory over Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. Procházka defended his belt with a first round KO victory over Fabio Maldonado at RIZIN 19 and later repeated that feat against former UFC fighter C.B. Dollaway in Japan on New Year’s Eve. As a result, he is set to make his UFC debut later this year.

In the UFC women’s flyweight division is Příbram native Lucie Pudilová. Dubbed “‘The Bullet,” she has already made historical achievements in the sport by becoming the first-ever Czech female to compete in the UFC and being the sole home-nation representative at the first UFC event in Prague. Unfortunately, Pudilová is on a four-fight losing streak in the UFC, with her most recent loss coming against Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 166 in late January.

Also carrying the torch for MMA in the Czech Republic is the Tajikistan-born Uzbek-Czech fighter Makhmud “Mach” Muradov. The Prague-based Muradov enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2019, including a 13-fight winning streak in the XFN and OKTAGON before making his UFC debut last September. His last fight resulted in a brutal knockout-of-the-year-candidate win against Trevor Smith, and his next bout is scheduled to take place in the United States against Karl “Baby K” Roberson later this year.

The future is bright for Muradov, who was endorsed by undefeated boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. in an August 2019 tweet naming him “the best MMA fighter in the world.” Following a meeting between the two in Prague, Muradov officially joined the “Money Team,” a stable of international fighters across all combat sports, including boxing and MMA.

The Czech Republic may have arrived a little late to the party, but its MMA development is accelerating at a rapid pace. A benefit of the close historical relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia is that local promotions such as OKTAGON and the  XFN are thriving, with a plethora of talent from both nations able to shine.

Outside of the US, local and national promotions are sometimes hit-and-miss, but OKTAGON and XFN in particular have provided a high-quality platform for fighters aspiring to the lofty heights of major international promotions such as the ONE Championship, Bellator, and the UFC.

 

 

In 2018, OKTAGON 10 set an attendance record at the O2 arena in Prague, while in July 2019, the promotion made international news with its stunning choice of outdoor venue at the Štvanice Tennis Arena. This was also Muradov’s last competitive fight for the national promotion.

If you’re new to the sport and interested in seeing the future stars of Czech mixed martial arts, then heading to OKTAGON, XFN, or the local Czech promotion IAF is a fantastic way to get up to speed.

We are only just seeing the birth of MMA here in the Czech Republic. For a nation of ten million people, the country has always punched above its weight on the international sports stage. Mixed martial arts appears to be no different, with the current crop of rising stars already reaching new heights and making waves in the world’s largest promotions, like the UFC.

Muradov and Procházka seem the likeliest to achieve the most immediate success and potentially inspire a new generation of fighters to continue the sport’s evolution in the country; exciting times are ahead.