It's official! Well, at least for the time being. The ever-elusive UFC Light Heavyweight title shot that Glover Teixeira has been chasing for years is now closer than ever. While the rest of the world is anxiously awaiting the Jones vs. Gustafsson rematch, there is one man who is determined to crash the party. Before the New Yorker and the Swede square off for a second time, Alexander Gustafsson must get through Jimi Manuwa at UFC Fight Night: London, and Jon Jones must defeat Teixeira in a title fight currently set for UFC 172. The reason I emphasize 'currently' is because we've heard this story before - several times in fact. The fight was originally slated for UFC 169 in New Jersey. It was then pushed back to 170... then 171... and now seems to have found its home at UFC 172. Fingers crossed.
We reached out to Teixeira's head trainer, the legendary Pit Master, to ask him a few questions about Glover's readiness for the biggest fight of his life. John Hackleman, aka The Pit Master, has been in this position before. His work with former UFC Light Heavyweight Champions and UFC Hall of Famers Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell puts Hackleman in very unique company, a circumstance that many believe gives Glover a competitive advantage in his upcoming bout. In talking with Hackleman, an experienced trainer is far from the only advantage Teixeira will have over the perennial champion on April 26th. When asked if, at this point, Glover is ready to take the belt away from Jones, Hackleman responded simply:
Yeah, of course. He has a lot of untapped skills. I'm sure Jones hits hard too, but I don't think he packs one-punch knockout power like Glover. Glover just has that Mike Tyson type punch. And he's also got a lot of wrestling skills and even better jiu-jitsu skills, so I think he'll be fine.
The physical aspect is one thing, but Teixeira's technical ability was never really called into question in the first place. With an overall record of 22-2, Glover has defeated his last 20 opponents in a row, finishing all but two of them in the 1st or 2nd round. He hasn't lost since March, 2005 and his explosive power and technical ground game has provided plenty of evidence to back up the Pit Master's claims. But what about the mental aspect? Glover has fought on the big stage before, but the quality of his past opponents is often called into question. Fighting Jon Jones for a UFC title is a huge step up in competition from the Ryan Baders and James Te Hunas of the world. So the big question remains: Is Glover Teixeira mentally prepared for the biggest fight of his career?
I think he is, but there's only one way to find out and that's when the bell rings. But I thought that, when the bell rang for his first UFC fight. He'd had all these fights but when you're fighting in the UFC; that's a whole different ball of wax. As soon as the bell rang and he threw his first punch, I was like oh sh*t, he's ready. I think he'll be ready for whatever comes at him. He's a real cool, calm fighter. So yeah, I feel real good about his mental and his physical preparation.
Hackleman, who missed Glover's last fight in Brazil due to his disdain for traveling, tells us that he will be in Glover's corner for his upcoming fight with Jon Jones. There are few images in this world more intimidating than looking across the cage and seeing a well-rounded power puncher with the Pit Master standing behind him. Just ask Tito Ortiz or Randy Couture. It's no surprise that Hackleman has confidence in his 205 pounder, but if you're looking for a Pit Master prediction, don't hold your breath.
(Laughing) I'll never do that. Never. I think it'll be a great fight with a lot of skill - a lot of technique. I think it'll be a great fight. Obviously, I think Glover will win, but I'll never make a prediction on how.
Now, if you're among the collective that thinks this is all just your standard coach-talk, I'll leave you with a little anecdote told to us by Hackleman about the Glover Teixeira vs. James Te Huna fight at UFC 160.
We're walking out to the cage and I don't know if you've ever been back stage at a UFC event of that caliber, but it's freaking huge and there's so many people, so much going on, so much noise. You can see like 15,000 people in the crowd screaming. Right before we make the final entrance into the cage, he turns to me and goes "Coach, I don't want to do this man. F*ck, I change my mind. I can't do this, I'm too nervous." I looked at him and I was like, I don't know what to do! I mean what do you do?! But then he just looked at me and he just starts laughing. "I'm joking coach, relax. Let's go. Have some fun." And then he just turns around, goes into the cage, and fights Te Huna. Even when just warming for a fight, Glover is goofing around, making jokes, laughing and I'm like "Bro, come on! Let's get warmed up." - "Coach relax, relax. Let's have some fun man." And that's the way Chuck was. Chuck was like that too.