Glover Teixeira: Connecticut's Brazilian "Rocky"
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With a determined scowl, Glover Teixeira stepped into the cage for the biggest fight of his life. It was Sept. 4 and the Danbury resident and native of Brazil was squaring off against Ryan Bader, a veteran Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter. Bader had won 15 fights, seven by knockout, while fighting for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the largest MMA promotion company in the world and the sport’s equivalent of Major League Baseball.
The fight took place in front of a packed crowd at the 25,000-seat Mineirinho Arena in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. If Teixeira won this fight he would likely get a chance to face Jon Jones for the light heavyweight championship.
Winning the championship is a dream that has driven Teixeira for twelve long years.
Twelve years of hard training on dusty wrestling mats in dingy Danbury gyms that looked like something out of a Martin Scorsese film. Twelve years of intense conditioning, struggling to push his body to the limit while absorbing the teachings of the multiple fighting disciplines of judo, jiu jitsu, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling. Twelve years of extended car rides to regional competitions where there was little fanfare but plenty of pain.
Then there was the real sacrifice: immigration battles and three years of reluctant exile back in his native country, away from his wife and the opportunity to legitimately pursue his dream.
In October, Connecticut became the 49th state to legalize mixed martial arts, although the state’s casinos—on tribal lands—have long hosted MMA bouts. The sometimes-bloody sport allows for full-contact punching, kicking, grappling and wrestling techniques. Critics of the recent legalization argued the sport is too brutal. Supporters countered that it is no more brutal or dangerous than football or boxing, and its athletes actually suffer fewer hits to the head. However, the Teixeira-Bader fight showed just how intense the sport can be.
In the cage at the start of the fight, Teixeira moved toward Bader. His strategy was to push Bader backward and avoid being taken to the ground, but he pushed too far forward, leaving himself open to a hard punch from Bader. Off balance and temporarily dazed, Teixeira stumbled to the ground.
Thousands of miles away in Connecticut, Teixeira’s friend, training partner and former jiu jitsu instructor, Luigi Mondelli, watched in dismay. Mondelli, who teaches martial arts at American Top Team Connecticut in Danbury, normally serves as corner coach for Teixeira. He couldn’t travel to Brazil for this fight and watching it on TV was difficult. But Mondelli was confident that his friend would not fold in the face of adversity. Teixeira had been on the floor before and he was used to picking himself up and pushing forward despite obstacles.