Glover Teixeira: Connecticut's Brazilian "Rocky"
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Rags to Punches
Teixeira, 34, was born in Sobrália, a small Brazilian town in the state of Minas Gerais. His neighborhood had no traffic signals and there was no electricity in many of the homes. In 1999, when he was 19, he immigrated to America to help support his family. It took him 48 days to travel illegally from Sobrália to Danbury, where he had friends and a place to stay.
“I liked America from the first day I got here,” recalls Teixeira during a recent break from training. “I got here in March and it was very cold, and it snowed the first week I was here, but everything was amazing—I never saw snow before.”
When he’s not traveling, Teixeira trains at the American Top Team Connecticut facility, a spartan dojo located in a warehouse-like building on an out-of-the-way Danbury street. It was here that Teixeira honed his jiu jitsu technique under Mondelli’s tutelage beginning in 2003. It’s also where Teixeira mentors fellow UFC fighter Caio Magalhaes, a younger middleweight fighter from Brazil.
At 6 feet 2 inches tall Teixeira is big, and his shaved head and deadpan facial expression make him look all the more intimidating when he steps into the cage. But outside the netting, his face softens and you get a glimpse of the humble and friendly man his friends know, the one—who despite his current superstar stature in the sport—continues to mentor young fighters like Magalhaes, putting as much energy into their training as his own.
Soon after arriving in Danbury, Teixeira got a job at a local landscaping company, working grueling 10- to 12-hour days. But he had dreams beyond the world of lawn work. Inspired by boxers such as Mike Tyson and early mixed martial arts fighters like Royce Gracie and Chuck Liddell, Teixeira set his sights on entering the UFC cage and eventually winning the championship belt.
At the time, MMA was a relatively new and controversial sport in America that grew out of the fighting traditions of Brazil. In the 1900s, Brazil circuses featured sideshow combat competitions called vale tudo, or “anything goes.” The vale-tudo tradition was brought to the United States in 1993 with the founding of the UFC by the Gracie family, the unofficial royal family of Brazilian martial arts that also started Brazilian jiu jitsu. In its early days the sport pitted experts in different martial art disciplines against one another to see which discipline was the most effective—kickboxers would square off against wrestlers, jiu jitsu experts would face karate masters.
When the UFC started there were minimal rules and no weight divisions. As the sport evolved, the term mixed martial arts was coined, other MMA companies formed and participants began mastering multiple martial arts disciplines. Ultimately, more safety rules were put in place and weight divisions were added.
In late 2001 Teixeira began taking jiu jitsu classes from John Pereira at the Danbury War Memorial, an old-fashioned community gym and basketball court. Ed Apicella, a Waterbury police captain, was a jiu jitsu classmate and sparring partner who helped Teixeira with his early wrestling technique.
“One of the first things he ever said to me was, ‘My dream one day is to be in the UFC, I’d like to be a champion,’” Apicella says. “You meet a lot of guys who say that, a lot of guys who perceive themselves to be tough. It was different with Glover because when Glover was saying it, it wasn’t like a boast. He was saying it like ‘I’m going to put in the work; I’m getting there one day.’”
Teixeira had his first fight in June 2002, just a few months after he began training.
“I didn’t do good,” Teixeira recalls with a laugh. “I lost in the second round, but I got experience.”
Around the same time he met future wife Ingrid Peterson, a Connecticut native. “We met at the gym,” she recalls. “He helped me with a machine.” She was intrigued by his desire to be an MMA fighter, and in all the years they’ve been together, she can count on one hand the number of Teixeira’s fights she has missed. But watching her husband work isn’t always easy. “I don’t want to see the love of my life getting beat up in a cage,” she says. “But he doesn’t lose very often, so that helps.”
After his first few fights Teixeira sought out Bennie Little Jr., a three-time world kickboxing champion who owns the Connecticut Academy of Kickboxing in Danbury. When they met, Teixeira told Little he wanted to be the world champion. Little decided to put those words to the test.
“I challenged him to come in at 5 a.m. every morning to see if he was really serious,” Little says. “He was. He came every day—snow, sleet, hail, rain, it didn’t make a difference. That kid was there at 5 o’clock in the morning with me training. That’s how I knew he was dedicated.”
It wasn’t long before MMA guru John Hackleman invited him to train in California with him and Chuck Liddell, a UFC Hall of Famer and one of Teixeira’s heroes.
Under their tutelage, Teixeira’s star began to rise in the fighting world. After racking up a 7-2 MMA record, the UFC was eager to sign him, but because he was in the U.S. illegally, the organization could not offer him a contract. To properly sort out his immigration status, he returned to Brazil in 2008.
It was a bitter disappointment for Teixeira and his fans. Some sports analysts predicted the immigration delays would be a knockout blow for his UFC career, but they underestimated the fighter’s passion.