Back in 2011, Teixeira’s biggest opportunity was a fight against Marvin Eastman, a veteran competitor on a 2-6 skid, in his native Brazil. It was a unique event that served as a fundraiser for Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (a special forces unit of Brazil’s military police), and AXS TV aired the show. But as far as raising his profile on the international stage, his first-round knockout win did little to help Teixeira.
Despite a 14-fight winning streak, Teixeira was stuck in purgatory, unable to fight the world’s best light heavyweights. But after sorting through some visa issues, Teixeira signed with the UFC in early 2012 and got his big opportunity.
The 33-year-old has made the most of it, and Teixeira (21-2 MMA, 4-0 UFC) is carrying a four-fight UFC winning streak and a No. 7 world ranking in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA light-heavyweight rankings into Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night 28 headliner with No. 10 Ryan Bader (15-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC). However, he said hard work played as important a role as good luck did.
“Thank God, everything has worked out for the best,” Teixeira told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I’ve trained hard, and today I’m nearing my goal. I’m very thankful that I’ve gotten this far in two years without any serious injury. Mostly, it’s been all hard training sessions.”
Wednesday’s event, which airs on FOX Sports 1 following a prelim on Facebook, takes place at Mineirinho Arena in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Teixeira hails from Minas Gerais, and he’s been featured prominently in the buildup to the fight.
Does the hometown-hero role come with pressure?
“I’m feeling happy,” he said. “There’s a little pressure because it’s the main event, but I’m very happy to see a dream come true. I’ve always dreamed of winning in the UFC. To be in the main event in the UFC is already a materialization of my dreams. I’m very excited about this. I hope to put on a great performance.”
Since signing with the UFC, Teixeira has extended his current winning streak to 19 fights (with 17 stoppages). In the UFC, he’s faced and defeated increasingly tougher competition, starting with Kyle Kingsbury and moving on to Fabio Maldonado, Quinton Jackson and James Te Huna. Even reigning champion and pound-for-pound notable Jon Jones has pegged him as a worthy opponent. That makes a win over Bader all the more important. But despite the recent Brazil vs. the world theme of the UFC’s cards in the South American country, Teixeira doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“I have great Brazilian friends and also great American friends,” said the fighter, who’s trained throughout the U.S. in recent years. “Of course I’m from Brazil, and I want to win for Brazil. That’s undeniable. Brazil is in my heart, and I know the suffering and sacrifice of the Brazilian people.
“At the some time, I have great American friends whom I’d rather not see face my Brazilian friends, though if it happens in the future, there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s the sport we’re in.”
Bader, a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler who’s added solid striking skills to his game, provides Teixeira one of his toughest tests yet. The bout, which initially was targeted for UFC 160 before Bader suffered an injury, is a stiff challenge for the title hopeful.
“He’s a difficult opponent with great wrestling,” Teixeira said. “I think he’ll attempt to impose his wrestling since that’s his strong suit. But his knockout power and submission ability cannot be ignored. He doesn’t have a wide variety of submissions, but they are strong submissions. I think he’s a great athlete, and I think it will be a great fight. Our styles match up well and it will be a good fight for the fans.”
And if victorious?
“Every victory brings me a step closer to the belt,” he said. “I’m confident I’ll have an excellent performance. Hopefully I can contend for the belt in 2014.”