MMA coach and trainer John Hackelman has a big Wednesday in front of him as his star light heavyweight pupil Glover Teixeira faces Ryan Bader in the main event of UFC Fight Night 28 in Brazil. The good news for Hackleman is that he won't actually be there.
"I hate traveling, actually, and Glover knows that," Hackleman told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "It gives me anxiety.
"I would've been on this trip, like if it was a different situation, different fight, but we all got together and agreed for this fight he's going to be fine with Pedro [Rizzo]," Hackleman explained. "And if he really needed me there, I would go. He knows how much I hate to travel and he's actually being very nice to me and I appreciate that."
The bad news for Hackleman is that, well, he's also not going to be there. The famed, one-time trainer of former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell may detest traveling, but not being there with Teixeira won't do much to reduce his anxiety generally about what's going to happen in the fight.
"I think it'll be a lot harder for me than it will for him because he's a lot cooler before a fight," he said. "He's already got his game plan set and everything's working perfectly. He's got one of the best wrestlers anywhere working with him right now, one of the best coaches anywhere working with him right now. I think he's going to be focused and going and I'm going to be spinning like a freakin' top."
In California or Brazil, Hackleman admits he doesn't have much to complain about these days. His gym and its sister site in Utah are doing well. Several top fighters from the camps now compete in the UFC. Teixeira is likely just one win away from a title shot. Hackleman is busy, but counting his blessings.
And when it comes to Teixeira, Hackleman couldn't be happier. As the light heavyweight standout moves into the most important stage of his career, Hackleman is fond of recalling out it all started with the Brazilian. That is, when Hackleman cornered opposite him in Teixeira's professional debut.
"[It was] his first fight and the guy's first fight," he recalled. "It was one of my guy's first fights, Eric Schwartz, and it was his first fight. They fought at Tachi Palace in Califronia, old site of the WEC.
"We just really liked him. It was a really tough fight. He ended up losing, but it was a really tough fight. We saw something in him that we really liked," Hackleman continued. "We went into the dressing room after just to tell him what a great guy we thought he was, what a great fighter he's going to be someday. We all just started chatting and the next thing you know, he asked if he could join the team."
They haven't looked back since. Teixeira is now 21-2 in professional MMA, undefeated in the UFC at 4-0, headlining opposite Bader on Wednesday and poised for a title shot. Still, there was a moment where it was unclear if Teixeira would ever be able to deliver on the high expectations Hackleman and others had for him. Visa issues prevented the Brazilian from returning to the U.S. to compete from 2009 through 2011, forcing him to take fights in Brazil that many believed were beneath his ability.
For Hackleman, though, Glover's 'potential' as a fighter was not his biggest concern.
"To be honest and I've always been like this and it's probably not the greatest thing in the world, I don't really care about the potential. For me, I was just missing him as a person," " Hackleman admitted. "I just like being around my guys. That really bothered me and I knew he wanted to come back."
As the head trainer at The Pit notes, it also wasn't as if Teixeira was sitting on his hands for those years. He may have faced sub-standard competition more than he needed to, but if nothing else, he remained active.
"He was keeping really busy in Brazil. He had a lot of good fights there. He was working with Pedro Rizzo. You can't get much better than that in the higher end, so things just happened to work out, fall in place perfectly while he was there.
"While he was there he wasn't wasting any time, that's for sure."
Which brings everyone to today or at least this Wednesday where Teixeira headlines his first UFC card and battles for a chance at the winner of Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson. Hackleman readily says he prefers the match-up with Bader, especially in light of Teixeira's last fight at UFC 160.
"I like the match-up a lot. I liked it a lot more than the Samoan kid [James Te Huna] they brought in," said Hackleman. "I did not like that match-up at all for Glover even though I knew Glover could beat him in every aspect. He just seemed a little more dangerous than Bader even though Bader is more well-rounded. [Bader]'s a bigger name so there's a bigger pot to be won, but I do like the match-up for Glover."
For Hackleman, he views all the years of work and preparation the Brazilian has done paying off on Wednesday. He also still sees in Teixeira the same things that endeared him the first time they met: tenacity, ability and a fighter's spirit. While Hackleman notes Bader is a talented and tough challenge for any top light heavyweight, he simply cannot fathom the idea there's any real way Bader can emerge victorious.
"I just think that Glover has too much power, too much punching, his wrestling defense is good enough to thwart any of Bader's attempts," he said. "I'm sure Bader's going to try to keep it standing to lull Glover into some kind of comfort like it's going to be standing and then he's going to go in for shots, but I think Glover's a little too sharp for that. He hits too hard. He hits too hard, basically. If he does end up on his back, he's going to get right back up. He's a world-class jiu-jitsu black belt."
Call it blind faith or belief in destiny, Hackleman is convinced the path Teixeira's been one for some time and the momentum he's created will only increase by the time Wednesday's event is over. In Hackleman's mind, everything has come full circle and there's nothing Bader or anyone else can do to stop it.
"I just don't see a scenario where Bader's going to come out on top in this one."