Mixed martial arts does not lend itself to happy endings.
This is true of most sports, really; it’s rare to see someone with both the fire to compete and the self-awareness to walk away when they should. The vast majority of careers don’t end with triumphant bellows from atop the mountain, but with slow, painful descents from great to functional to pitiful.
MMA isn’t like basketball or baseball, where an aging, fading legend can come off the bench to squeeze a few final sputters from their engine without becoming a liability. Fighters do not stumble down the mountain.
As we ambled into the latter half of the 2010s, blissfully unaware of the absolute shitshow lurking just beyond the horizon, Glover Teixeira looked to be hitting terminal velocity. He’d fallen to Jon Jones in his 2014 title bid, and considering his late UFC start, time was of the essence if he wanted to work his way back into contention.
No matter how compelling his narrative could have been, the wins just weren’t there; he went 5-4 after that defeat, beating a litany of underachievers while falling to every elite fighter who shared the cage with him. He was 38 years old when Corey Anderson outclassed him on the ground.
Glover Teixeira had his shot, and he’d missed, and he’d never get another one.
Then something very strange happened: the 205-pound landscape underwent the most dramatic shift I can recall. Daniel Cormier retired, Jon Jones’ disastrous out-of-cage life fully overwhelmed his magnificent fighting career, and the division’s omnipresent wall of wrestlers emigrated en masse to Bellator. Light Heavyweight, eternally stagnant, exploded with new and exciting storylines.
The resurgence of Jan Blachowicz, coupled with the rise of sterling prospects like Jiri Prochazka and Aleksandar Rakic, turned the former wrestlers’ paradise into a hornet’s nest of elite strikers. The road was open for Old Man Glover, suddenly the fiercest grappler in the division; all he had to do was keep winning.
In spite of everything, he did.
It was rarely pretty, of course. The five-fight streak that carried him to his second title shot featured no fewer than three dramatic comebacks wherein he nearly got finished early before ultimately submitting his opponent, and he needed a split decision to get past Nikita Krylov. It was only logical that he entered the Blachowicz fight as a substantial underdog, seen less as a legitimate threat and more as an unwelcome stopgap between Prochazka’s crack at gold.
In Jon Bois’ and Alex Rubenstein’s impeccable “The History of the Seattle Mariners,” Bois describes Edgar Martinez’s legendary double, which ended a ferociously competitive series with their rival Yankees, thusly:
“This is a moment that belongs to another world, one where cycles close and stories end. Where there are heroes and the heroes win. A moment like this has no business in our world.”
That was Glover Teixeira, two days removed from his 42nd birthday, choking out the number-one Light Heavyweight in the world to cap off a thoroughly dominant performance.
Much as I’d love it, I know this isn’t the end. Teixeira’s going to keep going, and while I do think he’s got a shot against many of his top contenders, those same fighters could very well knock him into next year.
But even if that turns out to be the case, Teixeira, whom I’ve never seen be anything but a consummate professional and absolute gentlemen, gave us something inimical to the sport we love: a genuine, unadulterated triumph. Thanks, champ.