We’ve come to expect a certain amount of puffery in the fight game.
With pay-per-views to be sold and arenas to fill up, you can’t blame an enterprising MMA promoter for wanting to tell a good story—even if it isn’t totally grounded in reality.
Such has been the case during the lead up to Saturday’s UFC 172, when the industry’s best spin doctors have been out in force to prop up Glover Teixeira as light heavyweight champion Jon Jones’ most dangerous opponent yet.
Certainly, Teixeira is a capable, heavy-handed competitor who has rightfully earned his spot as No. 1 contender. He could absolutely defeat Jones if he can load up and catch the champion slipping with a big shot. Through five Octagon appearances against mostly middling talent though, Teixeira just hasn’t shown the skills to justify the hyperbole currently being heaped at his feet.
Take for example the final round of commercials for this fight, which aired in heavy rotation during last weekend’s UFC on Fox 11.
“Jon Jones’ title may be in jeopardy!” crows the Joe Rogan voiceover as the camera pans menacingly across Teixeira’s face. “That might be the greatest title fight in the history of the light heavyweight division!” it hollers as Jones slow-motion runs through the Octagon’ s gate, Teixeira bouncing on his toes in the opposite corner.
The 30-second spot is slickly crafted and effective in establishing Jones-Teixeira as an epic clash we won’t want to miss.
The problem is that most of Rogan’s quotes sound suspiciously like things he said during last September’s UFC 165, when he wasn’t talking about Teixeira at all, but rather Alexander Gustafsson.
While it’s not exactly a newsflash that fans should be wary of getting their information about a fight from the commercials, this seems like an especially weird and audacious editing decision. Trying to sell Teixeira as Jones’ biggest challenge by using quotes about Gustafsson? That sort of undermines the whole point, doesn’t it?
Even by today’s permissive standards, it casts the sales pitch for this fight about as far out of context as you can get.
UFC commentators haven’t been any less over the top when actually talking about Teixeira either.
“He has been nothing short of spectacular,” said Rogan during last weekend's broadcast. “A lot of people think he may be the greatest challenge Jon Jones has ever faced.”
But Jon Jones’ greatest challenge? That's a stretch.
We know Teixeira is good, having watched him dispatch most of the fighters he’s faced in the UFC in expeditious and effective fashion. But considering that during 2011-12, Jones defeated five consecutive former light heavyweight champions with the composure and ease of a man taking his dog for a walk, it’s safe to say he’s faced more imposing obstacles.
Lyoto Machida? Rashad Evans? Shogun Rua? Those were challenges. Hard to see how Teixeira stacks up to any of them.
For his part, the 34-year-old Brazilian has fought mostly also-rans since arriving in the UFC in 2012. He began his Octagon tenure by blitzing Kyle Kingsbury, Fabio Maldonado and James Te Huna as well as taking a unanimous decision win from Quinton Jackson during Rampage's listless final appearance in the promotion.
His most competitive fight to date came against Ryan Bader in front of a partisan crowd in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, last September. In that fight Bader had him badly hurt before, in his haste to get the finish, he dropped his hands and allowed Teixeira to floor him with a counter.
In reality, bestfightodds.com lists Teixeira (as of this writing) as something approaching a 5-to-1 underdog against Jones, which him puts him about on par danger-wise with previous opponents like Evans, Machida and Jackson. UFC President Dana White has scoffed at that number, but if anything it seems like a fairly reasonable adjustment after oddsmakers so badly misjudged Gustafsson last year.
Fightland’s Jack Slack this week authored a convincing piece on exactly how one-dimensional Teixeira has been during his UFC career. He’s powerful, sure, but he's relied largely on the same single-leg takedown to initiate his grappling and a repetitive cross-counter right hand to spearhead his punching combinations.
“The single strategy which Teixeira utilizes non-stop in the cage is the cross counter...,” Slack wrote. “And it's not even that Teixeira is a one sided puncher—he can smoke guys' boots with his left hook just as he can with his right—but he only ever throws his left after he has thrown that looping right.”
Throughout his three-minute fight against Bader, Slack wrote, Teixeira exclusively led with the cross counter, and the American nearly made him pay for his predictability. Against Jones—a much larger, rangier fighter with a well-documented obsession for scouting his opponents—this seems like a recipe for disaster.
None of it means Teixeira isn’t capable of surprising us, but it’s also hard to believe he’ll show up at UFC 172 a whole new man. He’ll still be dangerous, but if anything is a sure bet, it’s that Jones will be impeccably prepared to defend against his favorite tools.
With that in mind, it’s pretty hard to frame Teixeira as Jones’ most difficult test.
The real story of this fight is a different one. During the last four years, Jones systematically dismantled the old-guard of the light heavyweight division. He did so with such effortlessness that we thought he might never be beaten. Then, against Gustafsson—his first clash with the 205-pound class' new wave—he let down and nearly lost the title.
Now comes Teixeira, a fearsome contender who could put Jones to sleep if the champion makes the mistake of taking him as lightly as his camp now claims he took Gustafsson. He’s a guy Jones should beat and now he absolutely must in order to rekindle our faith in him as the greatest fighter of his generation.
Why not just run with that? Why let the pre-fight hype stray so far from the facts? Why set expectations the product likely can’t reach?
Granted, it will be great if Jones vs. Teixeira turns into a fight for the ages.
If it doesn’t, the story we were told leading up will be immediately forgotten. Jones will be on to a late-summer rematch with Gustafsson, then he’ll scrap with the winner of UFC 173’s title eliminator between Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson.
After that? There’s no telling.
But, whatever it is, it will no doubt be his biggest, most dangerous challenge yet.
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