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Glover Teixeira proves the importance of knowing your opponent

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Jordan Breen takes a hard look at Anthony Smith’s performance against Glover Teixeira and how it suggests Smith wasn’t ready for the fighter in front of him.

Wednesday night in Jacksonville, perennial light heavyweight contender Glover Teixeira scored an upset victory over Anthony Smith in their UFC Fight Night headliner. For the better part of 16 minutes, he battered and bashed Smith—after handily losing the first round. How did things go so wrong, so quickly, for the one-time title contender fighting out of Omaha, Nebraska?

The answer to that question may lie in a simple statement: I don’t think people really ‘get’ Glover Teixeira.

Smith and his team, helmed by coach Marc Montoya, went about attacking their Brazilian foe with complete negligence for just what dangers the longtime veteran represents. In that regard, there are clear ways to deal with Teixeira: either be a more powerful striker than he is, like Alexander Gustafsson or Anthony Johnson, or stifle him with a combination of distance striking and wrestling, like Jon Jones and Corey Anderson exploited.

Instead, Smith went for pure volume, throwing 82 strikes of all kinds in the first round. It was as if they thought, at 40-years-old, they could just wear the old man out, run him out of gas, and lap to the finish line. The results were an unmitigated disaster.

By the fight’s end, Smith has a broken nose, a broken orbital bone, a sizeable gash under his right eye and two missing teeth. No, not his veneers, his real teeth.

UFC Fight Night: Smith v Teixeira Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

They approached Teixeira like he was an old man. Granted, in sporting terms, he is an old man—and has looked like an old man for the last 18 years he’s been fighting. But, ironically, all the intel necessary to hint that this was a poor approach was packaged right out in the open, in the vignettes aired on the ESPN broadcast.

Those background segments showed Teixeira in his home state in Brazil, Minas Gerais, the farming heartland of the country. In the MMA world, people fetishize “farm boy tough” for Midwestern fighters, perhaps most notably being all-time welterweight great Matt Hughes. But, as a Brazilian, the MMA stereotype suggests fighters who either live in a swamp in the northeast of the country, or are bro surfer/jiu-jitsu guys from Rio. For Teixeira, that’s well wrong on both counts.

I first met Teixeira a decade ago when I was covering the two ill-fated Impact FC cards in Australia—a pair of events shadow funded by concert promoter (and alleged drug trafficker) Andrew McManus. He was scheduled for a light workout against completely unsuitable opposition, a jobber named Marko Peselj. A day prior to weigh-ins, I met him at the host hotel buffet. I was intrigued to talk to him because, at the time, he was considered an incredible talent working somewhat in exile—since he couldn’t get back into the United States due to visa issues. Instead he was relegated plying his trade on the still underdeveloped international circuit, taking mostly meaningless fights in Brazil and beating up mooks—doing whatever he could to stay active. I was immediately struck by how large and physically imposing he was. I was also surprised that he had no cornerman or trainer with him.

I struck up a conversation with him as he ate crudités and fruit. I asked him how much he weighed, and he said he was around 225 or so, but the weight cut wouldn’t be a big issue. The next day, all of the other Brazilians on the card tried to conscript him to drive two hours away to cut weight at some jiu-jitsu gym that some middleman had set up for them. He balked, went to the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre by himself, and came back on time, on weight, looking like he inhabited a totally different body. The others showed up almost two hours late for weigh-ins (and I ended up getting Paulo Filho’s naked dick sweat on my arm and laptop, which was jarring). Teixeira promptly destroyed Peselj.

Anyway, the point is: Glover Texeira knows how to handle himself. He’s got a rugged, practical nature. Opponents either follow the blueprint and figure out how to handle him, or he’ll handle them—even if he’s a 40-year-old man. The latter is exactly what happened to Anthony Smith.

UFC Fight Night Smith v Teixeira Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Over the final 11 minutes of the fight, Smith landed just 13 strikes. Most of those being inconsequential jabs and teeps, to keep Teixeira away from him as he continued to absorb copious hooks and uppercuts—destroying his already decimated face. A lot of scorn has been heaped upon his coach Marc Montoya for not getting the fight stopped, as rounds three and four were unanimously scored 10-8 by the judges. I don’t disagree with those critiques. MMA has a mythos about it, that ‘anything can happen.’ A zeitgeist that emboldens every participant to think that redemption and victory are just a single strike or submission away. But the reality seldom pans out that way.

At the same time, however, I can almost – kinda, sorta – understand the logic. Because Teixeira could’ve put Smith away multiple times, if he’d just kept punching, rather than trying to finish on the floor. It’s a fallibility of Teixeira’s game that could’ve been exploited, but at the point Smith needed to, it was already far too late.

“I last fought with a slight problem in my shoulder. I underwent intense physical therapy,” Teixeira told MMAjunkie after the fight. “My shoulder is a lot better now, compared to when I fought Corey Anderson. That’s how it goes. We have to deal with small injuries that get worse as time goes by. It’s important to have the right strategy. I can’t commit to things or fight like I used to. I can’t just bang it out. I have to be more intelligent in training and in fighting.”

Teixeira is now on four-fight winning streak. Should he be in line to rematch Jon Jones, who schooled him six years ago? No. But Wednesday night is a reminder that for fighters preparing to take him on, they need to truly understand their opposition and optimize their strategy. Glover Teixeira is likely to remain a gatekeeper to the stars, but for those who want to reach the heavens, they better have their act together.