Interview: Teixeira believes Gustafsson should have been champ

It’s commonplace for a fighter to watch footage of their upcoming opponent through not only rose-tinted specs but with a certain cynicism and negativity. Well, they might think, he isn’t that good. He can’t do this; he can’t do that. I’m better than him in every department.

In the case of Glover Teixeira, however, compliments come thick and fast when asked to discuss the research undertaken ahead of Sunday’s (May 28) fight with Alexander Gustafsson. His opponent, Gustafsson, is the best light-heavyweight in the world, according to Teixeira, so long as you remove himself and Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones from the equation. He is also, again according to Teixeira, a man unlucky not to have at least one UFC light-heavyweight title victory to his name. Could’ve beaten Daniel Cormier in 2015, Glover reckons, and the same could be said for his 2013 with Jon Jones. Both times Gustafsson fell agonisingly short. Both times, Teixeira believes, the lanky Swede was hard done by.

“I remember watching those fights,” he told Fighters Only on Wednesday. “They were pretty close fights. To tell the truth, that Jones fight was so close it could have gone either way, but I pretty much thought they were going to give it to Jon Jones even before the decision. He was the champion. If Gustafsson was the champion at that time and defending his belt, I’m pretty sure he would have kept the belt.”

As it happened, Gustafsson, 30, wasn’t the champion, he did lose to Jones, and he hasn’t managed to claim UFC gold since. It’s why on Sunday, in his home city of Stockholm, Sweden, the nearly man of the light-heavyweight division meets Teixeira, the number two-ranked contender, in the hope of securing a third title shot at some point this year or next.

As for Teixeira, a man seven years Gustafsson’s senior, Sunday represents the chance for him to claim the biggest scalp of his UFC career to date. Notable wins against the likes of Rashad Evans, Rampage Jackson, Ryan Bader and Ovince Saint Preux are all well and good, but it’s a win over Gustafsson, a number-one contender in his prime, that would truly stake his claim for a shot at the belt.

“This is like a gate for the title shot,” he said. “We both want to win and get that shot. I had a great camp, I trained so hard for this fight. I’m sure Gustafsson also trained hard for this fight. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to go after him and prove to the world that I can win a fight against Gustafsson, someone I was meant to fight in 2015. It didn’t happen. Two years later, I’m coming after him.

“Gustafsson, though, is for sure one of my best opponents. He has fought Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. He has fought the champions. He beats all the top contenders. He has only lost close decisions to the champions.”

Therein lies the problem facing Glover this weekend. You see, if you’re not Jon Jones or Daniel Cormier or even Anthony Johnson or Phil Davis, high-level guys front and centre of the championship parade, you tend not to beat Alexander Gustafsson in the UFC’s Octagon. Count them up. Jimi Manuwa didn’t. Jan Błachowicz didn’t. Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua didn’t. Gustafsson, history suggests, has a way of dealing with those just below championship level.

But that’s not to say Teixeira doubts himself or assumes he too will go the way of so many. In fact, he sees a win over Gustafsson as validation, his ticket to the big time. Beat Gustafsson and it will firm up everything he has suspected for a while now: Glover Teixeira is ready for his chance.

“I have to believe I am better than him in every aspect of the fight,” he said. “I have to close the distance on him and not let him do his thing. He’s a long guy. He’s going to try to throw those long punches and kicks and in the short distance he’ll look for those knees. Avoiding that is the most important thing but also when my hands start hitting him in the close distance, when he likes to clinch, we have some tricks for when that happens. On the ground, I feel like I’m superior with my jiu-jitsu. His wrestling is good. He’s got good timing. But I don’t see him holding people on the ground or controlling them.

“Gustafsson is a hard guy to hold on the ground or take down. I think this fight could be a stand-up battle but who knows. He’s going to go for takedowns, I’m going to go for takedowns if I see the opening. We’re both going to look for damage on the ground. We’re both going to look to do damage in the stand up as well. It all depends how the fight goes. I know he likes to change it up. He will strike but he will mix it up with takedowns also.”

Teixeira isn’t the type to make bold predictions, nor script another man’s fate. You’d be hard-pressed to even get a breakdown of the fight from him. Anything can happen, he will say over and over again. But one thing he does know is this: if he hits Alexander Gustafsson with his best shot on Sunday night there’s every chance the hometown hero will find himself on the canvas looking up at the lights. It’s something he believes, strongly, something he says not out of spite or malice, but because he has grown accustomed to finishing fights this way.

“This (punch power) is my advantage over him,” he explained. “With one punch I can change the whole scenario of the fight. I believe that punch is going to bring me success. But it depends. I’m more relaxed now, I know the power is there. I’m looking to move and throw better combinations all the time and not rely too much on the power. I want to put it all together and wait for the right time.”

Timing is everything, both in terms of the fight itself and the trajectory of a fighter’s career. Get it right and you could wind up delivering the greatest performance of your life in a championship fight. Get it wrong, however, as Gustafsson did when knocked out inside three minutes by Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson in front of 30,000 adoring Swedish fans in January 2015, and, well, a fighter’s whole world is liable to crumble before their eyes. Gustafsson now knows this, just as Teixeira, a man also shocked by Johnson in double-quick time – thirteen seconds, to be precise – knows this. Teixeira also knows he’s about to meet Gustafsson in the very same Swedish city that played host to Gustafsson’s ‘Rumbling’ nearly two-and-a-half years ago.

“We’ll see how he takes the pressure,” said Glover, ahead of what is his first ever professional fight in Europe. “For sure, though, there’s some pressure on him. The last time he fought in Sweden, he lost. That might be on his mind. But there is pressure on both sides. The pressure is wanting to win. I want to win badly. There’s always going to be pressure if you want to win.

“It is what it is. It’s a fight. All that matters is how prepared I am and how well I perform. I’m going to put up a good fight. The fans have been great to me. They stop me in the street and take pictures with me and wish me good luck. They’ve been very polite. They say, ‘Hey, you’re one of my favourite fighters.’ I say, ‘Well, unfortunately I have to go for Gustafsson.’ And they say, ‘I know, I know.’ They’re very nice.”