Ask Glover Teixeira what it would mean to him to win the UFC light-heavyweight championship, and his excitement is palpable even through a telephone. It’s understandable. There was a time when Teixeira worried whether he’d ever have a chance to fight in the UFC while still in his prime. For years, visa issues precluded him from doing so, even when he was a prime target on matchmaker Joe Silva’s radar.
Back in 2008, things progressed to the point where he signed a contract with the UFC. He seemed all set to begin his octagon journeys before things unraveled and visa problems found him again. It would take almost four more years and 10 more fights before everything would be settled, an eternity during an athletic prime.
But that’s all behind him now, coloring his perspective of what’s in front of him, which is this golden opportunity. Next week, he’ll be in Toronto, front-row center, to watch UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones and No. 1 contender Alexander Gustafsson, content with the knowledge that the winner is his.
To him, that also means the belt is his. It’s a certainty more than anything. All that is left is the waiting, the anticipating, the dreaming of what that moment will be like.
"Ah, my God, I don’t even … Man, it means everything," he told FOX Sports on Wednesday from Brazil. "It’s my dream. I’ve been dreaming this for a long, long time. It’s going to mean the world to me."
Teixeira has a certain vision of what it will look like. First of all, he expects Jones to beat Gustafsson at UFC 165. While he respects the challenger’s skills, the way he sees it, Jones’ advantage with wrestling and ground attacks is a major edge that will ultimately result in victory.
That’s exactly how he wants it.
"My heart is with Jones a little bit because he’s a bigger name and he’s been a champion for a while," he said. "I think it’s going to be a little harder fight for me but I think the taste is going to be a little better. Beating Jon Jones, he’s beaten all the champions, great fighters, great names. Beating him is going to be a very good reward."
A reward for years spent in the shadows, hoping for this very thing to materialize. For a long time, Teixeira was an important fringe character on the MMA scene, a key sparring partner to Chuck Liddell when “The Iceman” was in his heyday as an iron-fisted, granite-chinned one-man army. Back then, Teixeira couldn’t even begin to imagine having what Liddell had. Now, however, Liddell is one of his closest confidants and most ardent supporters.
While Teixeira has yet to talk to Liddell about Jones, he think he knows exactly what advice he’d get. Throw your hands. Move your head. Fight your game.
For Teixeira, that means all-out attack, all the time. That’s how he’s notched 19 finishes in 22 pro wins, that’s how he’s fashioned that ridiculous 20-fight win streak. He describes his style as “Mike Tyson” after the boxing champ that was his combat sports idol, and despite Jones’ well-documented ability to study and scout opponents, don’t expect any changes now. Not for something that has gotten him this far.
“The way I fight is always trying to finish,” he said. “I go after my opponent. I don’t really much care what’s going to happen. I want to finish the fight. I want to put the guy down. I want to beat him. I want to knock him out. I want to finish him. It’s not like I want to compare myself to Mike Tyson. No way I box like Tyson. I kick, I punch, I wrestle. But, yeah, I consider my mentality out there like his.”
Teixeira’s style is born of his confidence, or is it the other way around? Even he’s not quite sure. He’s always loved fighting, and even when he had a few early hiccups in the fight game —he was just 2-2 in his first four pro fights — he was filled with faith in himself. As he began winning, it only grew. That was supplemented by his belief in his process. Teixeira can still remember his second and final career loss, to Ed Herman back in March 2005. It happened mainly, he says, because of fatigue. Afterward he pledged to never let that happen again, and he’s held true to a work ethic that prizes conditioning high on the list of goals.
That last loss though was so long ago that Teixeira can recall it, but not the feelings that went with it.
“I can’t remember, and I don’t want to remember about that one, either,” he said.
That’s what happens when life is so full of success. Since knocking out Ryan Bader on Sept. 4, Teixeira has been back home, visiting family and friends, celebrating. He usually visits Brazil about five times a year, and always directly after a fight.
On Thursday, he returns to the U.S., and next week, he begins the process of cramming for his final exam. The journey to Toronto is a business trip to scout and chart his future. Even thousands of miles away, you can hear the excitement in his voice about it all. After years of setbacks and uncertainty, Teixeira believes he’ll finally get what’s coming to him, Tyson style.
“I think [Jones’] striking is good, but I think he has a lot of holes on it, and I believe my striking’s better than his,” he said. “I got better power, more power.
“I would always watch Jon’s fights, and I always thought in a way, I’d be the guy to take the belt from him,” he continued. “Definitely what I’m thinking right now is next time I come here to Brazil, I will have the belt to show my family and friends.”