The left hook landed to the chin, and Glover Teixeira’s legs gave way. The Brazilian was a heavy favorite, but now it looked like he was about to lose so much. On the line was a ridiculous 19-fight win streak, his No. 2 light-heavyweight divisional ranking, and possibly a chance to fight for gold. In that moment though, his own consciousness was the only thing worth protecting. Ryan Bader’s power has dropped more men than nearly all of the light-heavyweights that have graced the octagon, and this threat was real.
Teixeira’s wobbly legs carried him upright, his back against the cage as Bader looked for the finish. The underdog smelled blood and opportunity. The strikes came fast, all heat-seekers, crosses and uppercuts that Teixeira dodged and weaved until he saw his opening. He stepped into a right that crashed against Bader’s chin. The momentum of the blow carried Bader to his right, where a Teixeira hook was waiting for him. Ten seconds after Teixeira’s knee had touched down, it was Bader on the mat, but this is where the Brazilian’s experience comes in.
His strikes were clean and crushing, and Bader, a former Arizona State wrestler who trains in Gilbert, could find no reprieve, no answer. Just moments after he had victory in his grasp, he lay on the mat soundly defeated, the victim of a technical knockout in the main event of Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night. Afterward, it was confirmed that the victory earned him his long-awaited opportunity to fight for the belt.
At first, Teixeira said he had no preference of opponent; either champ Jon Jones or current No. 1 contender Alexander Gusfasson, who faces him on Sept. 21, would be fine. But as his vision narrowed in the fight, so did it now, when the reality became clearer to him that this was real.
“My dream is to get the belt but I believe Jon Jones will win,” he said. “That’s the way I see it. I definitely prefer him in a certain manner because Jon Jones has a better name. He’s been the champ for a long time, so whoever goes to face him has to be very focused, very well trained, and to look at his game to make it disappear. And obviously the knockout power, I believe I have it, and if I hit him, he’s going to go down.”
Teixeira (22-2) was so close to losing his chance. Fighting at the Mineirinho Arena in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, about three hours from where he grew up, he was a massive favorite. In fact, he said in his hometown of Sobralia, there was a big screen set up in the middle of the city for a viewing party to watch him. The setting could have been one of mass depression, but instead, it was the energy of the assembled boosting him.
“When I took that punch, the crowd I think helped me to stand back up,” he said.
Despite being rocked, Teixeira deftly avoided most of Bader’s follow-up fire by inches until he found his target. That is often the difference between winning and losing, a few inches, a few strikes.
For Bader (15-4), it is another lost opportunity. He looked good up until the final seconds, fighting Teixeira on even terms in significant strikes. But solace can never be found in numbers, and he will have to learn from his overaggressiveness in going for the killshot. Until now, all of his previous losses have come against former champions. Teixeira has never held a major belt, but that may soon change, as he moves forward with his 20th straight win and his own lessons to take into the opportunity he’s long awaited.
“To tell you the truth I wasn’t happy with this fight,” Teixeira said. “It disappointed me he was able to knock me down. I’m going to do more camp, and I’m going to train more so I can to get better. I’m telling you, this belt is mine. it doesn’t matter if it’s Jon Jones or Gustafsson, it’s mine.”
If Teixeira, fighting just three hours from where he grew up, was the star of the show, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza was its revelation. Souza has always been considered an exceptional athlete and a submission artist, but it’s his improved striking and wrestling that are making him a legitimate middleweight title threat. Just one fight into his UFC run, and he was already ranked at No. 5. He’ll rocket further up the list after Wednesday, after steamrolling No. 3 Yushin Okami en route to a first-round technical knockout.
Souza nearly finished the fight in the first minute when he dropped Okami and let loose with a series of left hands. The veteran Okami, a former No. 1 contender, gutted it out and survived, but a minute later, after returning to his feet, he was dropped again by a crushing right hand, and this time, he wouldn’t get up. Souza’s right hands found the mark and referee Leon Roberts had to step in to save Okami at 2:47.
Afterward, Souza said he’d hurt his foot, but was not sure as to the extent of the damage. The win was the fifth straight for Souza (19-3, 1 no contest). Okami was fighting for the 37th time in his pro career, and the loss was the fastest he’d ever experienced. He’s now 29-8.
Joseph Benavidez continued his push back towards the flyweight top contender spot, earning a third straight win, this time over former world No. 1 Jussier Formiga.
Benavidez (19-3) won by TKO for a second straight time, and needed just 3:07 to get the job done. The fight unraveled for Formiga on the feet, where Benavidez wobbled him with a right hook, then a crushing knee to the body followed by a left hook. That sent Formiga to the mat, and Benavidez followed with a hail of ground strikes to force the stoppage.
It was only a year ago when Benavidez lost to champ Demetrious Johnson in the inaugural flyweight title bout, but with the division still taking shape, few have a resume to rival that of Benavidez, who is now 4-1 with three TKO’s since dropping to 125. Despite that, Benavidez resisted the urge to demand a rematch.
“I’ve believed I was the No. 1 contender since I lost, that I was the next best guy in the division to Demetrious (Johnson),” he said. “He’s been a great champion but I’ve proven I can not only beat but finish the top guys in the division. But at the end of the day, I can bark for it or not say anything but it’s not up to me. Whatever the UFC decides I’ll respect it and I’ll 100 percent be ready for it.”
In other main card bouts, Russian flyweight Ali Bagautinov made a successful UFC debut with a third-round technical knockout of Marcos Vinicius, middleweight veteran Rafael Natal earned a unanimous decision over Tor Troeng and lightweight Piotr Hallmann extended his win streak to 10, overcoming a rough start to submit Francisco Trinaldo with a kimura.