'This is the time': Glover Teixeira's final chance to become a UFC champ

Editor's note: This story was originally published before UFC 267. Teixeira defeated Jan Blachowicz to become UFC light heavyweight champion at that event.

Glover Teixeira boarded a plane from New York to his home country of Brazil on July 5, 2008. Later that night, Forrest Griffin defeated Quinton "Rampage" Jackson to win the UFC light heavyweight title. When Teixeira heard that result, he made a mental note: Griffin would be the one he'd be challenging in the near future for the belt.

At the time, Teixeira figured he'd be in Brazil for about three months while he got things sorted with his visa. Teixeira had been living in the U.S. illegally for several years. His plan was to apply for an I-192 "forgiveness" waiver, return home to Brazil for a short period of time and then be granted a visa to return.

Teixeira's waiver was granted. His visa was denied. At 28 years old, in what many would consider his athletic prime, Teixeira was unable to return to the U.S. for nearly four years. Perhaps just as important, he could not compete for the UFC when many at the time thought Teixeira -- then a top training partner of legend Chuck Liddell -- was among the best 205-pound fighters in the world.

"It was very frustrating," Teixeira told ESPN. "I knew I could beat 90% of those guys that were in the UFC at the time."

Thirteen years later, Teixeira is still trying to make up for lost time. Teixeira (32-7) made an unsuccessful bid for the UFC light heavyweight title on April 26, 2014, losing a decision to then-champion Jon Jones at UFC 172. On Saturday he will get a second shot, challenging champion Jan Blachowicz in the main event of UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (2 p.m., ESPN+).

Seven men have held the belt since Teixeira was banned from re-entering the U.S. in 2008. Four of them are either retired or no longer in the UFC. But Teixeira is still here, plugging along at 42 years old and on a five-fight winning streak. Along the way, he has made adjustments to remain at the top level, including embracing a one-two combination of science and spirituality. More than anything, though, it's been a matter of will and determination.

"This is the time," Teixeira said. "That's why I'm here. Like I say, I'm not going to go back and think what if this happened or if this happened back then. I'm just living in the moment now. I'm glad here I am now, fighting for the belt and enjoying the process."

When he fights Blachowicz on Saturday, it will be 2,744 days in between title shots. Teixeira's 14 UFC fights between championship opportunities are the most ever for a challenger going after the same title. And if Teixeira wins this weekend, he'll be only the third fighter in UFC history to hold a title at the age of 40 or above, joining all-time greats Randy Couture and Daniel Cormier.

The journey has been long, with plenty of ups and downs. But Teixeira can see the horizon, and not just when he looks out his hotel room window this weekend at the Persian Gulf.

"The only thing that's missing," Teixeira said, "is the belt."

LYOTO MACHIDA FIRST started training with Teixeira in Brazil in 2009, the same year Machida beat Rashad Evans to win the UFC light heavyweight title. Teixeira was stuck in Brazil at the time, unable to return to Danbury, Connecticut, where he had been living with his wife, Ingrid. While living in the U.S., Teixeira had been working as a landscaper when he wasn't traveling to Southern California to train with Liddell.

Teixeira was trying to make the most out of his time in Brazil, traveling the country and training with the likes of former UFC heavyweight champion Pedro Rizzo, former Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, then-UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and Machida. Teixeira was 7-2 as a pro at the time, with all but one victory coming via finish. He was used to going toe-to-toe with Liddell in sparring back in California, so he fit in well with his high-level training partners in Brazil. Teixeira had a rare blend of high-level wrestling and grappling combined with knockout power, a relentless pace and durability.

"When we were training together, I could feel that this guy is tough, man," Machida said of those sessions 12 years ago. "And he has the grit. Even when I hit hard, Glover always came forward, move forward. That shows his spirit, his will to achieve."

One afternoon while he was in Rio de Janeiro training at Silva's gym, Teixeira said, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor approached him and said after watching him train that he guaranteed Teixeira would be in the top five in the UFC within one year of being in the promotion.

In late 2011, more than three years after Teixeira landed in Brazil, Ingrid, an American citizen, wrote a heart-tugging letter to the U.S. consulate in Brazil, another effort to try to get her husband back to the United States after several failed attempts. This time, though, the gears were put in motion. He was ultimately granted a visa, and Teixeira signed with the UFC in February 2012.

While fighting in Brazil, Teixeira went 10-0 with nine finishes, including knockouts over former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez and veteran Marvin Eastman. He made his UFC debut on May 26, 2012, scoring a first-round submission victory over Kyle Kingsbury. Teixeira went 4-0 in his first year with the UFC, including a win over former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson that established him as a contender for the title. After that fight, Teixeira sought out on Facebook the Brazilian jiu-jitsu athlete who had given him those kind words a few years earlier.

"Bro," Teixeira wrote," you were right about that."

In Teixeira's sixth UFC fight, less than two years after debuting with the promotion, he challenged Jones for the title. He fell via unanimous decision to the man many believe is the greatest MMA fighter of all time. Teixeira dropped his next fight, too, to dominant wrestler Phil Davis in October 2014.

Four days after the Davis loss, Teixeira turned 35, and at that point many wrote him off. The feeling was Teixeira had his nice UFC run, got a title shot and would eventually fade away like so many others.

What happened instead? Teixeira started making lifestyle and training adjustments that proved all the doubters wrong.

"I've always had faith," Ingrid said. "I always knew that he had the talent. Not that I'm anybody that knows anything. But you could see his drive, his determination. You know he's something special, regardless."

TEIXEIRA WAS SPARRING late last month at his gym in Bethel, Connecticut. He did five rounds with a different opponent in each round. Machida, his longtime training partner and friend, was looking on. When Teixeira was done, Machida posed a question.

"I could see his face," Machida said. "His expression. He was still very fresh. I said, 'Hey Glover, how do you feel?' He said, 'I feel good, man. I could do one more round.' I said, 'That's the time you have to stop training.' It's like eating a cake. You have one piece of cake, then you always have a hunger to eat that cake, because you don't eat the whole thing."

That cake analogy has been emblematic of Teixeira's new training strategy. When he was younger, he'd beat himself into the ground during training camp, cut too much weight and come into the fight exhausted.

Teixeira said when he fought Jones he weighed about 240 pounds before he started his camp at American Top Team, and he had to make 205 on weigh-in day. Before a loss to Corey Anderson in July 2018 (his most recent defeat), Teixeira said he dislocated his shoulder three weeks before the bout doing hard Brazilian jiu-jitsu sparring, and he never stopped to rest it.

"When you're young, the ego gets in the way," Teixeira said. "You think, 'I'm a f---ing beast -- I can fight right now.'"

After the Davis loss, Teixeira won three straight, but then he was knocked out in 13 seconds by fearsome slugger Anthony "Rumble" Johnson at UFC 202 in August 2016. That led to Teixeira deciding he would do his training camps at his own gym in Connecticut, rather than traveling elsewhere.

Teixeira went 2-2 in his next four fights, relegated to a gatekeeper role in the division. But he was still trying to evolve. Teixeira added meditation to his daily routine.

Nowadays, every morning he wakes up early, grabs his meditation cushion, sits with his legs crossed and zones out.

"It's super important to him and he doesn't like to be interrupted," Ingrid said.

Following the Anderson loss, Teixeira decided to embrace science as well. He began working with the UFC Performance Institute (PI) in 2019, a time frame that coincides with his current five-fight winning streak. Because Teixeira lives in Connecticut and only gets to the PI a few times a year, he's worked remotely with strength and conditioning coach Kyle Larimer, sports science specialist Roman Fomin and nutrition coach Charles Stull.

UFC vice president of performance Duncan French said Teixeira is one of the most active remote users of the PI among UFC fighters, accessing just about every service the facility offers. Teixeira has an Oura ring, which tracks his sleep and recovery, and is subscribed to the UFC's Icon Meals program, which delivers just about everything he eats directly to his home.

"His desire to embrace something that was new and novel, I think, was really refreshing and made it easy for our guys to interact with him," French said. "Since that day, he's been a super user of our services. It was really insightful on his behalf to say, 'How can I prolong my career?' And not just, 'I can still compete at the top level. I want to push out a few more fights and have a few more paydays.' But actually, 'I can still work towards a title.'"

French said when Teixeira first came into the PI for tests, it was clear that his training structure was not perfect, his recovery was "not optimal" and "he was training fatigued."

"He just wasn't seeing the benefits of the training strategy that he and his coach were adopting," French said. "It was a little bit old school. Your classic Brazilian jiu-jitsu -- just smash it out and keep driving through the wall."

Teixeira now starts his training camps at around 220 pounds, making for an easier cut to 205. After working with the PI, he's not afraid to take a day off for recovery here and there while prepping for a fight.

Teixeira said when he was a kid back in Brazil he would watch soccer, and the players had the benefit of using team-provided nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches and other programs for peak performance that didn't exist for MMA fighters until recently.

"You've got to evolve," Teixeira said. "If it's working, you keep going. But especially at my age right now, I see what can help me. What can I do to be better?"

TEIXEIRA SAYS HE is feeling healthier physically now than when he was supposedly in his athletic prime. He said, half-jokingly, that he might even fight until he's 50 years old, "like Bernard Hopkins." That would be much to the chagrin of Ingrid, who has been by his side -- either physically or emotionally, and often both -- over the course of this long journey.

"He's competitive," she said. "But not for nothing, I can't take many more of these fights. I'm getting older. I'm gonna have a heart attack. I cannot deal with it. When you're younger, it's fine. You're young and you think you're indestructible. But after 35 or 40 or so -- now we're both over 40 -- it's like 'Oh my god, something could happen.' So you start stressing more. The sooner [he retires], the better, as far as I'm concerned."

Teixeira considered retirement after the Anderson fight, but decided to give it one last run, and he's had remarkable results. Before Machida left Teixeira's camp earlier this month, the ex-champ congratulated his friend for becoming "a completely different fighter."

"I could see his strength is still there," Machida said. "His speed is still there. And also, he has the experience, which is a lot in favor of him."

Teixeira has made comebacks to finish three of his last four fights, most recently a third-round submission victory against knockout artist Thiago Santos in November 2020.

He also made a major comeback outside of the Octagon: He became an American citizen last year.

It's a long way from where he was 13 years ago, when people who follow MMA closely lamented that Teixeira might have been wasting his peak years in Brazil, unable to sign with the UFC.

Ingrid, though, said she believes that her husband's prime is this current run. And there's only one thing left to accomplish, seven years after his first try: winning the UFC light heavyweight title.

"This time is us making up for lost time, for sure," Ingrid said. "I think we've even said that to each other multiple times. He couldn't do it then, so he's gonna do it now. Simple."