With the UFC light-heavyweight title vacant two top contenders go head-to-head on November 7, but who will put themselves at the front of the queue for a fight for the belt when Thiago Santos takes on Glover Texeira?
Santos has been on the sidelines since losing a title fight with Jon Jones in July 2019, but the 36-year-old was far from disgraced as he became the latest contender to be turned back by ‘Bones’. In fact, many believed that he did enough to win the bout despite being limited by a horrendous knee injury that he appeared to sustain while throwing a leg kick early in the second round. Two of the judges disagreed though, awarding the fight to Jones, and that left Santos facing a lengthy rehabilitation process without the comfort of knowing that he was champion.
The veteran Brazilian remains a major player in the division though, with the UFC ranking him number two behind only Dominick Reyes, and that means he is a frontrunner to fight for the belt when the promotion finally decides what to do in the wake of Jones relinquishing the 205lb crown. A victory over an extremely experienced top-five campaigner like Glover Texeira would only strengthen his claims for a crack at the crown, with Dominick Reyes a likely opponent. So can Santos get the victory he needs?
To say Teixeira has been around the block a few times would be an understatement – he is now 40 years old and has had 38 professional fights in an 18-year career that has seen him share a ring or cage with a who’s who of fighters, including former light-heavyweight champion Jones, who beat Teixeira by decision back in April 2014. But despite his advancing years, the Brazilian is currently enjoying his best run of form since his 20-fight win streak between May 2006 and September 2013.
The former title contender bounced back from a disappointing decision defeat to Corey Anderson by forcing Karl Roberson to tap out to an arm-triangle choke in the first round of their 2019 meeting, and he then submitted Ion Cutelaba with a rear-naked choke later that year to win back-to-back fights for the first time since early 2016. His momentum continued to build with a split decision success against Nikita Krylov a year ago, and that set him up nicely for the victory that thrust him firmly into contention back in May.
Teixeira was expected to come up short when he took on Anthony Smith in one of the UFC’s first behind-closed-doors events, but the veteran Brazilian put on an outstanding performance as he bullied, battered and bloodied ‘Lionheart’ for four rounds and then stopped him with strikes in the fifth. Smith left the Octagon with missing teeth and broken bones in his skull after the beating Teixeira put on him, and that performances showed that Teixeira is far from done.
However, I am not convinced that he is about to enjoy a fairytale run in the twilight years of his career that ends in UFC gold. In fact. I do not expect to see him fight for the vacant crown because I fully expect Santos to be victorious on November 7. That is not to say that I am completely writing off Teixiera – that would be incredibly foolish. He is an experienced, crafty fighter who will pose some problems for Santos. He did look slow and cumbersome at times in the Smith fight though, and that will be a problem here. Santos is the much quicker of the two men so I expect him to land his strikes routinely before unleashing that sensational stopping power of his to close out the show.