You would think that the cutthroat world of the UFC is a young man’s game but Glover Teixeira lobbed convention out the window last year.
The Brazilian became the second oldest champion in UFC history at the age of 42, fulfilling a lifelong dream and delivering one of the feel-good stories of 2021.
His dethroning of Jan Blachowicz capped an unlikely renaissance but is not the end of the fairytale. He makes his first title defence in Singapore this Saturday against Jiri Prochazka.
Glover Teixeira is the oldest current UFC champion having won the belt aged 42 last year
The light-heavyweight has done it the hard way but his story is a remarkable one
With the clock ticking on Teixeira’s career, he will enter every fight as the underdog despite being in possession of the belt.
His challenger is heavily favoured by the bookmakers but it would be foolish to write off the veteran in the midst of his remarkable Indian summer.
So how did he manage, like a fine wine, to mature so wonderfully late in his career?
Work ethic was never a problem but every time he was on the cusp of a title shot, big defeats against the likes of Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Johnson set him back.
Prior to his victory over Blachowicz, Teixeira explained how his approach had changed and was reaping rewards.
He told CBS: ‘I’ve been more disciplined about it and more focused on what I have to do to become a champion. Of course, I did the work before – I trained like a maniac, like a dog, always – but I was doing something wrong.
‘I said, “I am losing time over here, what do I have to do?” I was looking for more knowledge from the [UFC Performance Institute] and my coaches and my discipline. It was like, “How much do I want this?”‘
There was also a realisation that killing himself in the gym was unhelpful at this stage along with an insistence that an old dog can in fact learn new tricks.
He went on: ‘I had to humble myself and start learning new things and start improving what I know best. My boxing got better and my jiu-jitsu got better because of the drilling and pushing.’
Anthony Smith suffered a broken nose, fractured eye socket and lost teeth against Teixeira
‘My boxing has just gotten better. There is more caution about it and training smarter is a big key.
‘I’m drilling a lot where before, I relied too much on my power and strength. I was thinking that I didn’t have to drill too much anymore. I realized it’s never too late to learn new things. You can always learn new things.’
Teixeira also revealed to the MMA Hour that he had swapped heavy recreational drinking for ice baths and a strict diet.
Those changes had a massive effect in prolonging his career at light-heavyweight.
‘I was partying, drinking, eating. Drinking a bottle of Hennessey on the weekend,’ he explained.
‘I would go win and loss until I figured everything out and said that’s how I’m going to live my life, because I love this more than anything, and I want to do the best that I can in this sport
Teixeira has exceptional takedowns and submissions, as he showed against Blachowicz
‘I want to give my best shot. So I take everything out that is bothering me, living like an athlete. It’s the price that you pay. To be disciplined, you’ve got to change your whole lifestyle. To be that disciplined is a little painful in the beginning. But it’s worth it.’
Teixeira went from losing five fights in 10 to a streak of six victories, the last of which saw him become champion.
It could have been the perfect way to bow out – an unlikely and glorious end to his MMA career before transitioning into a quiet retired life in leafy Connecticut, his adopted home.
But upon having the belt wrapped around his waist, he declared: ‘I’m breaking the rules at 42 years old and I’m going to keep breaking those rules.’
So when will he call it a day? The hunger is still there and now Teixeira is at the top of the mountain there are no immediate plans to descend.
‘In camp right now, I’m a lion’, he said recently. You gotta come to see my training, then you’ll see you won’t ask that question about retirement.
‘The way I’ve been training, the way I’ve been feeling, the way camp has been going, I’m so happy about everything.
‘Eventually I do want to retire, a perfect scenario is me beating this guy in Singapore and hopefully fight Jan [Blachowicz] at Madison Square Garden and then call it a day.
Teixeira (right) is on a sensational run of form and enjoying a late peak to his career
Jiri Prochazka (right) is favourite to win on Saturday night but it is foolish to write of the champ
‘But I don’t want to make a decision like that. It’s a possibility, but I don’t wanna ‘I’m gonna retire this year’ or this or that. It’s tough, there’s so much fights out there, so much money in the game. And I’m just enjoying.’
Prochazka is an extremely talented Czech 29-year-old with a wealth of experience away from the UFC. His only two appearances at the big show have returned knockout wins, earning him a rapid rise to the title shot.
He will hold the athletic advantage, is more explosive and creative in his striking but Teixeira has seen it all before.
Prochazka is the hungry contender snapping at the champion’s heels, but the old dog can still bite hard.