Glover Teixeira is on the wrong side of 40 years old. He hasn't fought for a title in more than five years. Yet, one of the most durable veterans in UFC history continues to put up victories against elite light heavyweights.
Santos rocked Teixeira in the first round and put Teixeira in big trouble to start the third. But Teixeira, as he has done time and again, persevered and found the finish.
The victory puts Teixeira, six years following his most recent title shot, close to another chance at the 205-pound belt. ESPN had Santos ranked No. 4 and Teixeira No. 6 in the world at light heavyweight coming in.
"Dana White, man," Teixeira said, referring to the UFC president, in his postfight interview. "Come on, man. I'm an old man. I'm here. You've gotta give me a shot. ... It's not easy. Give me that title shot, man. Either way, I'm so happy to be here."
The UFC's plan is to have light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz fight middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in a superfight next year. Blachowicz has said he'd prefer to fight in March and Adesanya told ESPN's Ariel Helwani this past week that his expectation is that Blachowicz will be his next opponent.
White didn't back off Blachowicz vs. Adesanya as the plan, but he said he's listening to Teixeira, too.
"I heard him and I agree with him and I'm taking him serious," White told the UFC's Laura Sanko in a backstage interview Saturday. "I'm not gonna doubt him anymore.
"He's not wrong. ... He's been here forever, he's on a streak. He looked great tonight. What's funny is every time I count this guy out and think, 'I don't know if he's got it,' he proves me wrong. He looked incredible tonight."
Santos rocked Teixeira near the start of the first round with hard punching combinations. It looked as though the bout could be over quickly. But Teixeira, always known for his comebacks, was able to get Santos into a clinch and take him down. Teixeira remained on top for most of the rest of the round, landing ground-and-pound strikes, including from mount.
Teixeira didn't mess around in the second round. He took Santos down immediately and started working his grappling and strikes from top position. It was a dominant round for the elder Teixeira, schooling the younger man with his ground techniques. Teixeira, at the end of the second, was able to take Santos down and lock in a choke, but Santos was saved by the bell.
In an attempted repeat of the second, Teixeira shot in right away for a takedown to start the third round. Santos saw it coming and walloped Teixeira with a combination, dropping him. Santos got into top position and started raining down hard punches and elbows.
"His nickname is 'Sledgehammer,'" Teixeira said. "Thiago 'Sledgehammer' -- 'Marreta' [in Portuguese]. Let me tell you, every punch this guy throws is like a sledgehammer. I don't know, man. I might have a broken bone in my face right now."
Somehow, Teixeira survived, worked his way back to his feet and took Santos down again. After all the effort looking to finish Teixeira, Santos was clearly tired, and Teixeira took advantage, slipping to Santos' back and finishing with a rear-naked choke.
"It's not how hard you can hit," Teixeira said. "It's how hard you can get hit and keeping moving forward."
The card took place in front of no fans at the UFC Apex, which is across the street from the UFC's corporate campus.
Teixeira (32-7) has won five straight. The Brazil native, who lives and trains in Connecticut, fought longtime former champion Jon Jones for the title way back at UFC 172 in April 2014. Teixeira, 41, is 10-4 since then and has been considered one of the best light heavyweights in the world now for the better part of a decade. Teixeira cashed as a +200 underdog.
In UFC light heavyweight history, Teixeira is now tied for second in victories (15) and is first in finishes (12).
Santos (21-8) had not fought since a split decision loss to Jones in a title fight at UFC 239 in July 2019. The Brazilian slugger needed surgery on both knees after that close defeat. Santos, 36, already owns a TKO victory over current champion Jan Blachowicz. "Marreta" had won eight of his previous 10 fights coming in.