CHICAGO – Glover Teixeira had become something of a cult figure among certain segments of the UFC fan base even before he'd beaten a top 10 contender.
It was the guys who didn't want to fight him – notably ex-light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua – that raised Teixeira's profile far beyond where it should have been in light of his accomplishments.
Of course, Rua declined to fight Teixeira not because he was afraid, but because Teixeira was little known and still a big threat. The risk/reward ratio didn't match.
Rua's decision to pass on that fight probably did Teixeira's marketability more good than any win Teixeira has had in his career.
Now, though, Teixeira has the opportunity to score a win that could signal him as not only an elite fighter, but also as a legitimate challenger to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Teixeira will face another ex-light heavyweight champion, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 6 at the United Center in a bout that will go a long way toward determining his career arc.
Most of those who know him insist he's for real, but Teixeira has yet to face the kind of competition that would prove that.
"A lot of people are saying that the pressure is on Rampage with this talk about it being his last fight in the UFC," UFC president Dana White said. "But he's relaxed. He's got his money; he's over there playing video games [during a news conference]. The pressure is on Glover in this fight."
Teixeira trained with former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, now a UFC executive who continues to rave about him.
Jackson has never been knocked out by strikes and has, as White called it, "a chin of [expletive] steel."
Liddell believes that Teixeira has the style to knockout Jackson, but that clearly comes with risk.
"Glover isn't like Jon Jones, [and] he's not going to try to keep Rampage at the end of his range," Liddell said. "He's not like Ryan Bader, who held Rampage on his back. Glover wants to knock Rampage out, [so] he's going to stay in range and fire off strikes. That means Rampage will have the chance to land the kind of counters he caught me with, and it will make for a great fight.
"Rampage – I know – hits very hard. And he still hits very, very hard. It is a great fight because Rampage finally has what he says wants: Someone who is going to stand and throw at him. … [But Glover] hits very hard, too, he’s got great [jiu-jitsu], great conditioning and he's smart. He will stay at kickboxing range, but try to stay just outside that pure boxing range where Rampage is so dangerous."
Teixeira can almost become an overnight star if he manages to find the right distance and become the first to knock out Jackson.
Jackson's commitment to training isn't the greatest and he's slowed over the years, but as Liddell said, he still hits like a truck. Teixeira, though, isn't out to turn the bout into a he-man contest.
He's out to win and will worry about everything else later.
"I have to fight a smart fight," Teixeira said. "Everybody asks me that question, but it's not a macho-man thing where I'm going to stay in the pocket and trade with him. I have to go out and do my fight and try to knock him out there."
The pressure is a bit increased on Teixeira because it took him years to get his immigration situation settled so he could fight in the UFC.
He's now 33 and is only 16 months younger than Jackson, whom some have labeled old. Teixeira's manager, Ed Soares, said his belief is that Teixeira is handling the spotlight that comes with such a prominent bout as well as could be expected.
"He's an experienced guy, and he was training with Chuck when Chuck was on that run and in all those big fights," Soares said. "He's experienced that, and he knows kind of what to expect from having lived it. He seems very comfortable. I'm sure there are a certain level of nerves, fighting in the co-main event of the biggest platform the UFC has, but he's a humble, level-headed guy, and I think he is dealing with it well."
If he deals with it well, he'll become one of the division's biggest names and will inch toward title contention.
He gets it, but his age has brought some wisdom. And he's not about to get ahead of himself.
"I don't want to talk about what might happen after this fight, because it's important that I win this one," he said. "If I don't win it, then all of the talk doesn't matter. I haven't thought one second about anything else other than getting ready and fighting this guy. If I do anything other than that, it would be a huge mistake."
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