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Mixed martial arts fighters are some of the kindest, most-engaging people on the planet. It’s hard to find more than one or two who is genuinely unlikeable.
But in a group of people to like, Glover Teixeira stands right near the top. The UFC light heavyweight champion set off mini celebrations around the world in October when he submitted Jan Blachowicz at UFC 267 to, at 42 years old, win the title.
Teixeira has friends and acquaintances at every level of the business, and many of them showered him with praise after he defeated Blachowicz to become the oldest first-time champion in UFC history.
It put him on a high that has been hard to come down from, even though he’ll have to on Saturday when he makes his first defense in Singapore against Jiri Prochazka in the main event of UFC 275.
“It’s just been an amazing, amazing road, an amazing time,” said Teixeira, who turned professional in 2002 but didn’t get to the UFC until 2012. “That moment that day was incredible. [But] you have to come down out of that high, you know? … I’ve got to come down, go back to the drawing board, and do it again and again, and get better and better, with more focus.”
Teixeira’s journey to the top was nearly as long and arduous as his first trip to the U.S. as a teenager when he snuck across the border at Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego. It was a difficult journey that took 43 days and saw him held captive until the people who helped him cross were paid. He only ate a few meals in that time, mostly bread and beans.
Teixeira fought several fights in the U.S. while he was in the country illegally. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell believed in him and convinced UFC president Dana White to take a chance on him.
Teixeira left the U.S., a country he’d quickly grown to love, and returned to Brazil, hoping to get to the U.S. legally so he could fight in the UFC. It was a long, difficult process and didn’t end until U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) intervened to help.
Teixeira got his visa at the end of 2011, debuted in the UFC in 2012 and has been a mainstay in the light heavyweight division ever since.
But it wasn’t easy even though he was clearly gifted with enormous physical talents. In a span of 16 moths, he defeated Kyle Kingsbury by submission, Fabio Maldonado by TKO, Rampage Jackson by decision, James Te Huna by submission and Ryan Bader by KO.
That earned him a shot at the belt. And he may have won it against any other fighter in the UFC, except the guy who held the belt. Jon Jones was in the early stages of his reign as light heavyweight champion and on his way to becoming, arguably, the greatest MMA fighter in history.
Teixeira lost a unanimous decision at UFC 172 on April 26, 2014, in Baltimore. And he admitted there were doubts about whether he’d ever get back to that spot.
“I had my doubts, of course,” Teixeira said. “After I lost to [Jones], you have doubts after loss and you doubt yourself, but I let it go out of my mind quickly. When I say I had doubts [about my ability], it was just quick moments, upsetting moments. …
“But I knew I had to stay focused and work toward my goal. But it was OK. I knew if I won the championship or never became one, it wouldn’t really matter, because my life is great.”
He’s optimistic by nature but also easy-going. He’s not prone to mood swings or fits of pique. And so even though he lost to Jones, and dropped a few others along the way that delayed his dream of winning the belt, he never gave up hope.
Remaining even keel, he said, was of the utmost importance.
“Don’t believe the hype, guys,” Teixeira said. “Stay focused and don’t believe the hype. The problem I see with a lot of young fighters is that [they] go in there and get so hyped up, and they believe the hype. They are such great, amazing fighters, but they believe they hype, the hype that everybody put in them. And then what happens? They’re done. You don’t hear from them or see them anymore.”
Teixeira resisted that. He always knew he was good, from his days in the country as an illegal, to now, but he also knew that in order to survive at the top, he’d have to be able to deal with hardships.
One of his was losing three fights in a five-fight period, to Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustaffson and Corey Anderson. It would have been easy to pack it in then, given he was nearly 39, but had he done so, he’d never have lived the magical moment of becoming a world champion.
“I have this saying, it’s an old saying, and it says, ‘There are two pains in life,’” Teixeira said. “‘There’s the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Which one do you want to have?’ I know the pain of discipline is better than the pain of regret.”
He remade himself, revamping his training methods at the UFC’s Performance Institute and got back to the top with a string of impressive victories.
He’s talking about walking away from the sport after this year, though he stressed he hasn’t made a final determination.
He knew he was good enough to win the belt, but not without some changes to how he did things.
“Blessed is the man who looks for knowledge, who goes searching for [answers],” he said. “This is a Bible phrase, that you have to search to learn and get better. ‘Blessed are the meek because they will inherit the Earth.’ When you’re humble, when you know you don’t know it all, you listen to people. And that’s when it comes together.”