Glover Teixeira’s remarkable career appears to have entered its fine-wine phase.
The 41-year-old Brazilian registered an improbable fifth consecutive victory and established himself as the clear No. 1 contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division, as he closed out his back-and-forth war with Thiago Santos in the UFC on ESPN 17 main event with a third-round rear-naked choke on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Submitted for the first time in more than four years, Santos bowed out 1:49 into Round 3.
Teixeira waded through considerable danger and difficulty—he found himself on the brink of defeat more than once—to wear down the heavy-handed “Marreta” with takedowns, positional control and ground-and-pound. After one last surge failed to turn the tide in his favor in the third round, Santos had little means with which to defend himself, overtaken by a combination of fatigue, frustration and an aging warlord who simply refused to surrender his seat at the table.
In the aftermath of UFC on ESPN 17 “Santos vs. Teixeira,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Glover Teixeira vs. Jan Blachowicz: Much has been made about a possible Blachowicz-Israel Adesanya superfight, but Teixeira holds the rightful claim to title contention at 205 pounds. The former Shoot Brazil champion executed four takedowns, outlanded Santos by close to a 2-to-1 margin and connected on 73% of the significant strikes he threw. Since his July 2018 decision loss to “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 19 winner Corey Anderson, Teixeira has rattled off consecutive victories over increasingly difficult opposition, starting with Karl Roberson and closing with Santos. Now, he waits for Blachowicz’s next move. The Polish powerhouse captured the vacant light heavyweight crown on Sept. 26, when he put away Dominick Reyes with punches in the second round of their UFC 253 co-headliner.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Greg Hardy: Borrowing a page from the Teixeira playbook, the 41-year-old Arlovski authored his second upset in as many appearances when he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Tanner Boser in the heavyweight co-feature. Despite being outlanded by 68-34 clip in the significant strikes department, the onetime UFC champion delivered the more violent blows to the head. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for Arlovski, who remains the promotion’s all-time leader among heavyweights in appearances (33), wins (19) and total fight time (5:03:42). Hardy—who once trained alongside Arlovski at American Top Team—improved to 4-2 inside the Octagon on Oct. 31, when the former NFL All-Pro stopped Maurice Greene with second-round punches at UFC Fight Night 181.
Raoni Barcelos vs. Marlon Moraes-Rob Font winner: Barcelos made the most of his opportunity to compete on the main card and likely grew his audience with a unanimous decision over Khalid Taha in a three-round bantamweight barnburner. The two men hurled 441 total strikes at one another—197 of them landed—across 15 riveting minutes, resulting in $50,000 “Fight of the Night” checks being awarded to both of them. Barcelos drew perfect scores from all three judges, extended his winning streak to nine fights and moved to 5-0 under the UFC banner. A step up in competition seems long overdue for the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance titleholder, who has the look of a serious contender at 135 pounds. Moraes and Font will lock horns at a UFC Fight Night event on Dec. 19.
Giga Chikadze vs. Sodiq Yusuff: One of the breakout stars of the UFC’s coronavirus-strapped 2020 campaign, Chikadze continued his climb on the featherweight ladder in style with a first-round technical knockout of organizational newcomer James Krause-Simmons. A head kick and follow-up punches drew the curtain 3:51 into Round 1. Chikadze has won all five of his fights since he linked arms with the UFC a little more than a year ago. In doing so, the Kings MMA export has effectively distanced himself from a submission loss to Austin Springer during Season 2 of Dana White’s Contender Series. A highly regarded Lloyd Irvin protégé, Yusuff finds himself on a six-fight winning streak. He last appeared at UFC 246, where he took a unanimous decision from Andre Fili on Jan. 18.
Xiaonan Yan vs. Carla Esparza: Yan made her way into the strawweight division’s upper tier with a unanimous decision over Claudia Gadelha in a three-round battle at 115 pounds. Scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 29-28, all for the China Top Team standout. Yan, 31, withstood a pair of takedowns from Gadelha, trapped the Brazilian on the feet and let her educated hands do the rest. By the time it was over, she had outstruck Gadelha by substantial margins in total strikes (133-84) and significant strikes (74-36). An eye-popping 11-0 with one no-contest across her past 12 outings, Yan has not tasted defeat since being victimized by a Karina Hallinan rear-naked choke more than a decade ago. Whether she poses a clear and present danger to current strawweight champion Weili Zhang remains to be seen. Esparza last fought at UFC on ESPN 14, where she wound up on the right side of a split decision against Marina Rodriguez on July 25.