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Dominick Reyes went to ‘dark place’ to prep for UFC on ESPN 23

Dominick Reyes went dark after suffering the first two losses of his career in consecutive UFC light heavyweight title fights.

It has helped him prepare for his return Saturday at the Apex in the main event of UFC on ESPN 23 against Jiří Procházka with a new perspective. The bout headlines a 7 p.m. main card on ESPN2.

“I really examined myself and everything around me and really took a look at everything from a realistic point of view,” Reyes said. “And I found the light.”

Reyes admits he lost sight of himself after achieving the biggest moment of his career, which ironically went down as a loss on his record.

Though Reyes dropped a controversial razor-thin decision to longtime champion Jon Jones in February 2020, he spent the next six months hearing from everyone he met about how he should have been awarded the win by the judges. It may have cost him his next fight.

Jones eschewed the rematch and vacated the belt to move up to heavyweight, leaving Reyes to fight Jan Blachowicz for the belt in September. Reyes was knocked out in that fight, suffering what he believes was the first true loss of his career.

He knew something was wrong right before the fight. The first 13 fights of his career he felt an excitement when he was told in the locker room it was time to walk to the cage to fight. When that moment happened against Blachowicz, he felt a sense of dread.

“Second loss, first time ever being beaten,” he said Wednesday. “It was tough. It led to a lot of soul-searching and examining myself and my mindset. But it was a blessing because I was able to get back to what makes me get excited about fighting again.”

Reyes insists he will never concede he lost the fight to Jones, but he knows he must move on.

He says he has watched the fight about 10 times and sees something new every time, but still can’t find a way to score the fight against himself.

“It’s not haunting me,” he said. “It’s just a part of my life. It’s a crazy thing for sure, but it’s not something I dwell on. I won the fight period. Everybody saw it and everybody knows, so there’s no going back. There’s no need to.”

He learned quickly in his last fight what happens when he doesn’t focus on his next opponent. Procházka, a kickboxing superstar who made a splash with a knockout of contender Volkan Oezdemir in his UFC debut in July, is more than capable of extending Reyes’ losing streak.

If there are still people trying to remind Reyes of his past fights, he isn’t hearing about it. He’s tried to limit his circle in training and avoid as many of those conversations as he can.

That has included removing Twitter from his phone, a social media app he calls a “toxic place.”

Reyes said the social media environment got even worse for him since the loss to Jones was just about a month before much of the world went into quarantine last year. It led to more time sitting on the couch reading and even responding to negative comments. Eliminating that and as much of the chatter around him as possible has been vital to once again getting focused.

“It’s been a lot of training in the dark with not a lot of eyes on me,” he said. “Everybody kind of wrote me off. It’s good. I’m able to go back to working in the bunker and building these bombs back up.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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Best bets for UFC on ESPN 23 in Las Vegas

Handicapper Lou Finocchiaro is banking on Dominick Reyes (+107) to defeat Jiri Prochazka on Saturday in the main event of UFC on ESPN 23 at the Apex.