Friday, December 4, 2020

Santos vs. Teixeira: A Defiant Struggle for Legacy

This week, I stumbled upon the word “defiant” to describe this career resurgence of 41-year-old Glover Teixeira. I thought that was such a perfect word to describe what he’s achieving right now. He’s fighting like a man who will not have peace of mind until he becomes world champion like his hero “Iron” Mike Tyson.

Glover Teixeira is not supposed to be here. In fact, much of his UFC career has been filled with not-supposed-to-be’s. Even though at the time of his title shot, he was one of Jon Jones’s biggest threats, when the bout was over, the narrative was, “Oh, well, he wasn’t supposed to win anyway.” Never mind the fact that he was on a 20-fight winning streak coming into the bout, he was just another name on Jon Jones’s unmatched résumé.

Glover was a force. And four of his five UFC victories prior to that title shot came by stoppage, punctuated by a 1st round KO of former Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader. Prime Glover had the recipe to be world champion, but after he lost to Jon Jones, he just didn’t have the sauce to spill from the mouths of fans and media at all.

After getting KO’d by Anthony Johnson in 2016 followed by Alexander Gustafsson in 2017, Teixeira was not supposed to be in a title hunt again, and his loss to Corey Anderson in 2018 only reaffirmed that he was now just a gatekeeper pushing against the undefeated clock. Nothing is forever. And Glover’s opportunity at immortality seemed to begin and end with Jon “Bones” Jones. He was not supposed to be in the light heavyweight title hunt again, just like he was not supposed to pull out one of the biggest comeback wins of last year over Karl Roberson and just like he was not supposed to go on to defeat Anthony Smith.

That was supposed to be Anthony Smith’s victory to begin the process of potentially getting him back in line for another title shot. Instead, Teixeira would walk out with another comeback and brutalize Anthony Smith to the point where Smith’s corner was chastised after the bout for not throwing in the towel. Now, after tallying four wins together, Glover Teixeira will be in his second consecutive headliner at 41 years of age. That’s not supposed to happen.

Thiago Santos also knows a thing or two about being defiant. He, not unlike Glover Teixeira, was written off prior to his fight against Jon Jones, entering the fight as a 6-to-1 underdog, only to become the only fighter to date to win a scorecard against Jon Jones. But after his razor-close, controversial loss to Jones, you did not hear the same amount of disruption or calls for a rematch that circulated after the Jones/Gustafsson fight or the Jones/Reyes fight, despite doing what neither of those two could: take Jones to a split-decision. The scorecards about as close as possible: 48-49, 49-48, 49-48. It’s almost as if the rematch narrative wasn’t meant for him and there was no level of concern regarding whether we would ever see Santos in a title fight again. He and his 11 KO/TKO victories were destined to go on being taken for granted after the Jones loss and Santos being sidelined with an injury.

At UFC on ESPN+ 40, both Thiago Santos and Glover Teixeira will look to remind everyone that they have no plans of going anywhere, even if they have exited MMA conversations about the light heavyweight title hunt long ago. They remain restless in their pursuits to bring Brazil another light heavyweight champion.

Thiago Santos’s reminder could be by tying the record for most knockouts in UFC history. Doing so, he hopes to get the second crack at the light heavyweight championship that Dominick Reyes received and the same opportunity that went to the man Santos KO’d just last year in Jan Blachowicz. In doing so, he hopes to force the UFC’s hand in rewriting their plans for Adesanya/Blachowicz and reinsert himself into the UFC light heavyweight title picture, even when the public continues to bump his greatness to the collective blind spot.

Glover Teixeira’s reminder would be to once again earn a title shot by winning five straight, just as he did before the Jon Jones fight, a feat that no one thought he’d do again. What’s more, he will look to upset whoever is the light heavyweight champion at the time and, in so doing, become the oldest man to ever win the UFC light heavyweight championship, etching himself in the record books with an achievement that would be his biggest comeback story yet.

Tonight, Thiago Santos and Glover Teixeira will look to remind the world who they are, both vying to transmit the same message to the MMA communmity:

“I am still here, whether you announced the arrival or not. And I will not stop until I have completely crashed the light heavyweight title party, even if you choose not to toast to the defiant victory speech.”

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