The greatest UFC fighter you’ve never heard of is the son of a Brazilian farmer, who grew up in a town so small that it didn’t have a single traffic light.
The greatest UFC fighter you’ve never heard of immigrated to the United States in 1999 to earn money for his family. He worked as a gardener, sent money back to Brazil, got interested in mixed martial arts at age 22 and quickly caught the eye of a sort of well-known UFC fighter, a guy by the name of Chuck Liddell.
But after Saturday night, and a vicious domination of fellow Brazilian Fabio Maldonado, fans of the UFC should finally know the name Glover Teixeira.
It’s true. The 32-year-old Teixeira had only had one prior UFC fight, at UFC 146 earlier this year where he submitted Kyle Kingsbury within two minutes. This is why it can be a bit befuddling when a fighter with the cachet of Hall of Famer Liddell says this about Teixeira: “Now that he’s finally in the UFC he will make a run at the title very quickly. He can beat anyone in the top 5, including Jon Jones.”
Wait one second – one of the greatest fighters in UFC history, saying this unproven Brazilian light heavyweight could take on the hottest thing going in the UFC?
That’s right. And Liddell would know. He started training with Teixeira in 2004, and Teixeira became Liddell’s top sparring partner from 2006 until 2009. Teixeira was with ‘The Iceman’ for fights against UFC luminaries Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture.
“He’s just the complete package,” Liddell told FOXSports.com about Teixeira. “He’s big, he’s dangerous, he’s hard to take down and harder to get back up. On top that, if you’re not careful in transition, he’s going to catch you with something. He hits hard. He can take a punch. He loves fighting, and it’s going to be a fun fight to watch.”
But Teixeira’s formidable presence in the Octagon – the only reason he’s just now entering the UFC is because visa issues prevented him from fighting in the United States after the promotion signed him in 2009 – might be overshadowed by the inspiring story of how he made it here, to one of the top fights on a UFC 153 card featuring countryman and UFC legend Anderson Silva.
His journey began in a tiny town nearly 400 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, a place he compared to an American farming community during the Depression. “I’ve lived in America for a long time,” Teixeira told FOXSports.com, “and I’ve never seen place like my hometown. It’s a very country town. At that time, we didn’t have anything. We didn’t even have electricity at our home, no cars, no nothing. It was a small town, a hard life.”
He grew up loving boxing, a huge Mike Tyson fan, and followed Brazilian Royce Gracie’s domination in the early days of UFC. But he didn’t get into mixed martial arts himself until he moved to Connecticut. He worked long hours as a gardener, sending money back home – the American dollar went a long way in Brazil back then – and meanwhile fell in love with MMA.
He made his pro MMA debut in 2002 in the WEC, a white belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu – and got smoked by a local California fighter. Teixeira could grapple, but he had no striking abilities, and it showed. But in that first pro fight, Teixeira encountered a stroke of luck. The trainer of the local fighter who beat Teixeira was a man named John Hackleman – who happened to also be Liddell’s coach. He saw potential in Teixeira, and invited him to come train in California with Liddell. Teixeira earned enough money in his job to eventually move to California to train at Liddell’s gym.
He hasn’t lost since.
It was a frustrating journey. He moved to the United States to make money for his family, then went nearly a decade without seeing his parents. Then, just when he seemed to have made it in the American MMA market, signing a contract with the UFC, immigration problems got in his way. It took him more than three years of only fighting in Brazil so he could get his green card and fight in the UFC.
Now, weeks before his 33rd birthday, Teixeira finally got his big shot and proved what Liddell’s believed for years: This kid is big time.
“I tried to wrestle with Chuck (when they first trained together) and he took me down 15 times in a row,” Teixeira said. “Striking, he hit me so many times it was frustrating. So he started helping me every day: ‘This is how wrestle. You gotta grab here.’ He was the champ, and he was helping me! He’s a good man. He’s taking his time to help me. That’s great, man. I can never pay him back.”
He can start paying Liddell by rising through the ranks of the light heavyweight division Liddell used to dominate in the UFC.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.