Walk into a room filled with fighters, and 90 percent of them will have a story to tell about how fighting helped them escape poverty. In some cases, it helped rescue them from extreme poverty.
Glover Teixeira, who is poised to become the next big thing in the UFC, has his own story of escape.
Teixeira's story, though, veers off the normal rags-to-riches path. He grew up in a small town in Brazil with not so much as one traffic signal. He lived in homes that had no electricity.
He moved to the U.S., not to fight, but to try to secure a job to earn money to support his family. He landed in Connecticut in 1999 and went to work as a landscaper.
And a landscaper he might have remained were it not for an offhand comment to a friend about boxer Mike Tyson.
Teixeira, who fights Fabio Maldonado Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the main card of UFC 153, casually mentioned to his friend that he was thinking of trying boxing because of how much he enjoyed watching Tyson fight.
His American friend was baffled that Teixeira wanted to box, having come from a country without a rich history in the sport. Why don't you, the friend asked, go into Brazilian jiu-jitsu? Teixeira hadn't heard of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but found a couple of tapes of UFC 1 and 2 that featured his countryman, the legendary Royce Gracie.
Quickly, Teixeira was hooked.
He wanted to become a mixed martial arts fighter and began to train diligently in the sport. As the 21st century dawned, however, MMA was still in its dark ages. There weren't many hot beds for MMA in those days, and certainly Connecticut wasn't one of them.
That didn't matter, though, to Teixeira, who worked 10-, 12-hour days landscaping before coming home, changing his clothes and running off to the gym to train.
One day, Teixeira arrived home at 7 p.m. He sat on his couch to put on his gym shoes and head out, per his normal routine. But he'd pushed himself so hard, both at work and at play, that his body was pleading for mercy.
He awakened at 4 a.m., with the television playing and one shoe on, partially laced.
"He wants to be a fighter so badly that he was willing to pretty much do just about anything to make that happen," UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell said. "He went through a lot to make it."
Liddell's long-time coach, John Hackleman, trained a fighter who fought Teixeira. Hackleman was impressed and, before long, invited Teixeira to train with them in California.
As Liddell rose to superstardom in the UFC with epic fights against Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz, Teixeira was one of his primary training partners.
Liddell raves about Teixeira's ground game, but Teixeira remembers being frustrated because he was so one-dimensional. Liddell was a great slugger who used his takedown defense to keep fights standing. When Teixeira first arrived at The Pit, Hackleman's training facility, he knew little beyond jiu-jitsu.
"Training with Chuck was great," Teixeira said. "He became the champion while I was training with him and I learned everything from him about being a champion and what it took to become a champion. He is a great champion. His name is there forever and I learned how that is possible if you train hard. I learned how to strike and how to wrestle from Chuck and John. I also learned other important things about fighting, too.
"I learned from Chuck that it is important to be an exciting fighter in the Octagon, that it is important for you to go out and excite the crowd, not just to win. The crowd, they prefer stand-up fights and great striking, and I trained so hard with Chuck, man, I pushed myself so hard."
It paid off, because Teixeira now stands as one of the UFC's top title prospects. Though he's only fought once in the UFC – visa issues kept him out of the U.S. for several years as his lawyers struggled to correct paperwork problems – he's gained the attention of several of the UFC's biggest names.
Former light heavyweight champions Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Rashad Evans turned down fights against Teixeira, believing he was too big of a risk and didn't have enough of a profile to make the fight worthwhile.
Stephan Bonnar, who had decided to retire, turned down a match against Teixeira when Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was injured and had to pull out of their planned UFC 153 fight. It was only when the UFC needed an opponent for Anderson Silva that Bonnar decided to fight on the card.
"Glover is an extremely tough guy; very, very tough," Bonnar said. "But he was no name. I had pretty much made up my mind to retire, and I was OK with that. I didn't get the big, big fight I had wanted, I was retired. If something came along against someone with like two million Twitter followers, OK, I'd take it, but I was fine with my career and being retired. Fighting Glover wasn't the kind of fight I was looking for at this stage of my life, particularly without a full training camp.
"I'd fought [light heavyweight champion] Jon Jones before anyone knew who he was. I fought [ex-champion Lyoto] Machida before anyone knew him. Same thing with Rashad. Fighting a guy like Glover, who is a great fighter that not a lot of people know, didn't make sense to me."
If Liddell is correct, though, Teixeira won't be unknown much longer. Jones has rampaged through the light heavyweight division and has already destroyed Rua, Jackson, Machida, Evans and Vitor Belfort in a one-sided manner.
There is no one out there who projects as a legitimate threat at this stage.
Liddell, though, believes Teixeira could be that man.
"Styles make fights and I think a fight with Glover would be very tough for Jones," Liddell said. "Glover's a guy with slick submissions and is very good at that. He hits very hard and he comes forward. Jon has great takedowns, and his wrestling is always a factor, but Glover has great takedown defense. He's kind of like me in that way.
"Jon's a tough guy, no question about it, but Glover isn't going to be afraid of him and he has the ability to beat him."
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