Glover Teixeira: Connecticut's Brazilian "Rocky"
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Having to move back to Brazil for three years was difficult for Teixeira and his wife.
“I was working here and he was over there struggling,” Ingrid recalls. She says they consoled themselves with jokes about how it all would make great drama when they sold the rights to his life story.
“It was hard to stay away from my wife and stay away from my dream of fighting in the UFC,” Teixeira recalls. “But I knew it would come sooner or later and I knew I had to keep working hard and keep my head up and fight and train.”
He lived in Rio de Janiero and kept fighting, winning 10 bouts while he was there. On Dec. 23, 2011—Ingrid’s birthday—Teixeira was approved for a Permanent Resident Card, and officially returned to America in January. Shortly thereafter, he signed with the UFC.
Naysayers said he couldn’t make up the three years he had lost, that his entrance into the UFC came too late, that now approaching his mid-30s, he was too old. Teixeira ignored them.
“I believe in my hard work and I believe in my techniques,” he says. “People said that I was the best, that I was going to get the title in a few months, while some were like ‘He doesn’t deserve to be here, he’s not going to make it.’ I did not listen to any of it. I was just so happy to be there and to fight.”
When he stepped into the ring for his first official UFC fight against Kyle Kingsbury in May 2012, it took him less than two minutes to prove the doubters wrong—he got Kingsbury to submit in one minute and 53 seconds. He stymied critics again that October when he defeated Fábio Maldonado in the second round. Teixeira continued to silence his detractors by dominating his next two fights with his signature hard-hitting ability and advanced grappling technique.
“He came back from Brazil such a completely dominating fighter, almost like a completely different person,” says Apicella, Teixeira’s friend. “It was like he was making no mistakes.” And that domination has continued.
Despite Teixeira’s ascension in the UFC, friends say he remains the same humble person.
“He’s a true gentleman,” Apicella says. “He’s one of those guys where he can be training for a fight, but if you call him and say ‘I need help moving my couch,’ he’ll drop what he’s doing and help you.”
“He’s a really nice guy and a great member of the community,” says Thomas Leaf, an attorney who has written about Teixeira for the Tribuna, a Danbury newspaper printed in English, Spanish and Portuguese. “’The Brazilian Rocky’ is how some people describe him and I think that’s a nice way to put it.”
Teixeira also has become a spokesperson for the sport. Earlier this year he testified before the Connecticut General Assembly in support of HB-5277, which was signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in July and legalizes and regulates MMA fighting in Connecticut. State Sen. Andres Ayala (D-Bridgeport), who sponsored the bill, believes legalizing MMA will bring revenue and jobs to the state, and will lead to major events at arenas like Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena and the XL Center in Hartford. He says the sport is not as dangerous as critics claim. “If you look at the instances of severe injuries, there’s nothing glaring to say MMA is a more brutal sport than hockey, football or boxing,” he says.
Teixeira agrees, but it can still be hard for his family to see him fight. His mother doesn’t watch his fights, and in classic parental fashion has asked him to retire after winning the championship.
It was better that Teixeira’s mother wasn’t watching back on Sept. 4 at the fight in Brazil when Teixeira was knocked to the ground in the first round. Ingrid was there, however, and saw her husband down. But she knew he could come back.
“I always have faith that he knows what he’s doing,” she says.
“Glover is not afraid of anyone and that’s half the fight already,” says Bennie Little, Teixeira’s old kickboxing coach.
Though down against Bader, Teixeira quickly pushed himself off the mat. At the elite level fighters don’t make many mistakes, but they do have tendencies that can be exploited by carefully studying an opponent’s techniques.
“It’s a chess game,” Mondelli says. “Glover thinks really clearly during the fight. He doesn’t get desperate; he can always regroup and put together a strategy in a short period of time.”
Teixeira knows that many fighters get excited when they knock down their opponent and that they can be careless as they come in for the knockout blow, with victory in sight. As Bader approached, Teixeira was waiting.
“Glover knew exactly how Bader would come to finish the fight,” Mondelli says.
Bader left himself open and Teixeira exploited that opening with a punch combination that Mondelli had witnessed his student use many times before in training. Bader was now the one on the canvas, and Teixeira moved in. The fight was soon stopped—with Teixeira’s arm raised in victory.
That win means Teixeira’s next fight will finally be his long-coveted title shot against world champion Jon Jones. (Originally scheduled for February, it’s been postponed and will likely take place in March.) Some say Jones is the best pound-for-pound fighter the sport has ever seen. To beat him, Teixeira says he needs to push the tempo of the fight. “I have to be aggressive and get in his face and push him, push him to his limit,” he says.
But it’s more than mechanics that will give Teixeira a chance against Jones. “Jon Jones has never been on his back, or if he ever has, it’s been for a short period of time,” Mondelli says.
Teixeira, on the other hand, knows what it’s like to take one on the chin, knows what it’s like to pick himself up off the mat and keep pushing forward come what may, both in and outside the cage. And although he hasn’t fulfilled his goal of winning a championship (yet), he is living his full-contact version of the American dream. “It’s just a great thing that’s happened to me,” he says with a smile—win, lose or draw.