Glover Teixeira is the UFC's flavor of the month, just as Ryan Bader was as 2011 dawned.
Teixeira will meet Bader on Wednesday at UFC Fight Night in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in a bout that will have a significant impact upon the UFC's light heavyweight title picture.
Teixeira is 4-0 in the UFC and has garnered plenty of momentum since he joined the promotion 15 months ago. A win over Bader will likely mean a shot at the winner of the championship bout between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, who will meet at UFC 165 in Toronto on Sept. 21.
It's the same position Bader was in when he was preparing to meet Jones on Feb. 5, 2011, in the co-main event of UFC 126 in Las Vegas.
Bader was 13-0 and, though it seems silly in retrospect given Jones' fast ascension to all-time great status, many were expecting him to defeat Jones and go on to a title shot against then-champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
The results of that fight, and of the next two-plus years, taught Bader a very bitter lesson. The fans are with you when you win. Lose, and the world can be a not-so-nice place.
Bader was submitted by Jones in the second round that night, the beginning of a stretch in which he went 3-3 and lost to three men (Jones, Tito Ortiz and Lyoto Machida) who either had or would hold the light heavyweight title belt.
He's taken a great deal of abuse for the losses, particularly regarding his submission defeat to Ortiz at UFC 132. He's gone on to win three of four since the Ortiz debacle and will be firmly back in the title picture with a victory over Teixeira, but he's not allowed to forget that shocking loss to Ortiz.
"It comes with the territory," Bader said of the loud, sharp voices of the critics. "I still hear about my losses, this and that. I've learned to ignore that kind of stuff. People are going to say things just to get a rise out of you and what not, but for me, I'm past that."
Getting past Teixeira is going to be a difficult challenge. Teixeira's UFC debut was long delayed, because paperwork issues related to a visa application made it impossible for the Brazilian to get into the U.S.
By the time he finally arrived in the UFC, he was 32 years old and a legitimate championship contender.
"Glover is awesome," his coach, John Hackleman, told Yahoo Sports. "He's a finisher."
Teixeira won his first four fights in the UFC so impressively that fans began pleading for him to face Jones for the belt.
Though Jones was instead matched with Gustafsson, who had been in the UFC longer and had a slightly better resume, Teixeira continued to be the guy everyone talked about.
He knows what's at stake with a win, but he insists he's not paying one bit of mind to Jones or Gustafsson.
"A win in this fight will put me in a nice spot," Teixeira said. "Everybody wants to talk to me about Jon Jones, but I'm not fighting Jon Jones. I'm in this sport because I want to be the best, and I want to fight the best, and right now, Jon Jones is the best. So, if someone asks me, I admit that.
"But that doesn't mean I think this fight is [a certain win]. I know that's not the case. There is pressure on me because of all of this, but it's a good pressure. It means that if I perform, something good might happen."
Bader, though, is all but dismissed in such talk. But he says he's a different fighter than he was two years ago, with a much more dangerous striking game.
He's worked on his hands with Jose Benavidez, whose son, Jose Jr., is one of boxing's top young prospects. Benavidez has helped Bader refine his striking.
Bader concedes that at one point, he simply tried to use his power to overwhelm opponents with a big right hand. He fired with vicious intent, like a pitcher trying to uncork a 100 mph fastball.
It was devastating if it landed, but it often left Bader out of position and vulnerable to a good counter attack.
Bader said his work with Benavidez has helped him tighten his boxing and allows him to set up his shots without getting out of position.
Teixeira has great standup, but is also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who is just as dangerous with his submissions.
A win over Teixeira would mean a lot, and though it wouldn't put Bader next in line, it would re-establish him as one of the game's finest 205-pounders.
"He's up there as far as being talked about for a title shot with an impressive win and he's got a lot of hype behind him being undefeated in the UFC," Bader said. "Fighting that kind of a guy is what we want. I know I'm a big underdog and everyone is talking about Glover and Jon Jones and all that, and that's fine.
"This is where I love to be. I'm fighting with a lot to prove and a lot riding on it and that's all I can ask."
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