One of the strange quirks of MMA is that some of the nicest people you’ll meet in the sport also happen to be some of the most dangerous people on the planet when they’re shut inside the cage.
That’s certainly the case with the main event of UFC 267, as two light heavyweights with gentle personalities outside the cage, but violent intentions inside it, get set to throw down for the undisputed light heavyweight title.
The champion, Jan Blachowicz, has had to take a long and winding road to the top of the UFC’s 205-pound division.
The Polish powerhouse arrived in the UFC as the KSW light heavyweight champion, but struggled in the octagon.
Blachowicz went 2-4 in his first six fights, and there were real fears that the fighter who showed promise, but not the performances, could find himself on the UFC scrapheap before he had really done himself justice on the sport’s biggest stage.
But, after a patchy start, Blachowicz found his feet and embarked on a four-fight run that established him as a legitimate presence in the division.
A TKO loss to Thiago Santos slowed his momentum, but that defeat only seemed to sharpen his focus on his goal – the light heavyweight title – and he rebounded with a crushing knockout of Luke Rockhold, then followed up with wins over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Corey Anderson to earn himself a shot at the vacant light heavyweight belt.
And though he was a betting underdog heading into his bout with Dominick Reyes, his “Legendary Polish Power” came to the fore once again as he finished “The Devastator” in the second round to capture the undisputed belt.
His first test as champion was a huge one, with pound-for-pound star and reigning middleweight champion Israel Adesanya stepping up a weight class in a bid to become a simultaneous two-division champion.
But Blachowicz showed that he had a fight IQ to match his punch power as he outpointed “The Last Stylebender” to retain his title and hand Adesanya his first (and so far only) defeat in MMA.
Now Blachowicz faces Teixeira, a grizzled veteran of the sport whose last title shot came in an unsuccessful tilt at Jon Jones back in 2014.
Like Blachowicz, the Brazilian is known for his affable nature away from the cage, and it seems neither man has too many legitimate enemies or heated rivalries in the sport.
But, make no mistake, Teixeira will arrive on fight night as focused and determined as we’ve ever seen.
Teixeira celebrates his 42nd birthday on Thursday, and knows the sands of time are slipping away from his career. Indeed, this fight with Blachowicz represents what may well be his final crack at the holy grail for MMA fighters, a UFC world title.
Despite the knowledge that this will likely be his final shot at UFC gold, Teixeira will be confident of victory against Blachowicz. Stylistically, the Pole offers Teixeira completely different challenge to the one he faced when he took on Jones for the title seven years ago.
Like Blachowicz, Teixeira arrives in Abu Dhabi riding a five-fight winning streak, and the Brazilian’s last two outings saw him finish a pair of former title challengers, with his fifth-round TKO of Anthony Smith followed by a third-round submission of Thiago Santos.
Now he’s targeting championship gold, and a fairytale way to celebrate his 40th career bout.
It promises to be a thrilling encounter, with the happy guarantee that one of the sport’s good guys will walk away with the gold, regardless of the result.