Glover Teixeira is one of those fighters who puts an analyst or pundit in a very awkward position. On the one hand, he's looked nothing short of brilliant in most of his fights, and the stories one hears about him from fellow fighters who have trained with him are impressive. On the other hand, he hasn't really beaten any truly elite light heavyweights, spare a knockout over the chinny Ryan Bader, a performance in which Teixeira looked anything but untouchable.
When analyzing a fighter, one must look at how he responded to the various challenges placed in front of him. With someone like Jon Jones, Urijah Faber, Anderson Silva or Georges St. Pierre that's pretty easy, because they have fought so many different upper echelon fighters with so many different skill sets. Guys like Glover Teixeira are somewhat of an unknown.
Now here's the problem: in MMA that means almost nothing. Chris Weidman had one decently ranked win on his record when he fought and handily beat Anderson Silva, and Alexander Gustafsson's biggest name victory was a fairly unimpressive win over a sluggish Mauricio Rua when he fought Jon Jones. But both of those fighters absolutely rose to the occasion. We had no way of knowing that they could do that, and the exact same thing could happen with Glover Teixeira.
But shrugging my shoulders and saying “anything can happen”—while true—is not really doing my job. So let us look at the trends we can identify in Glover Teixeira, then you can come to your own conclusions about his chances of dethroning the light heavyweight king.
Specialized or Limited?
The real question that comes to mind when talking about Glover Teixeira's game is whether being almost entirely reliant on one strategy—even if it works all the time—is being specialized, or being limited.
Teixeira is a highly respected grappler—any MMA fighter who can do respectably against Cyborg Abreu (without flat out running away from him) is more than a decent grappler. But aside from his crushing mount and a good single leg takedown, most of what Teixeira has shown in his MMA career has been on the feet.
To cut straight to the chase, the single strategy which Teixeira utilizes non-stop in the cage is the cross counter. This is something I have talked about a lot in the past, and I (and many, more respected writers on boxing) believe to be the most powerful counter punch of the lot if done right. In terms of one punch knockouts, you would be hard pressed to find a more reliable technique.
The cross counter is the act of throwing a right hand—looping or straight—over the top of an opponent's jab, while slipping to the inside of it. The term “cross” has come to mean a right straight in modern boxing terminology, because it comes across the shoulders, but the cross counter was originally named because it comes across the top of the opponent's jab.
Here's an illustration from Soviet boxing coach, K. V. Gradapolov's excellent book “Tactics of the Foreign Masters”. Pictured is Joe Gans.
The cross counter is a old technique. It pre-dated the common use of the left hook and was a go-to counter to the jab for a long time. John L. Sullivan and Joe Gans, both boxers from the very beginning of the gloved days, made a tremendous name for themselves utilizing this method.
Here's Alistair Overeem trying to detach Ben Edwards' head with a cross counter over Edwards' jab.
So why does it work? Well, to return to an idea from earlier in the week, what you get hit with doesn't tend to matter as much as when you get hit with it. If you get hit in the body while breathing in, it's going to hurt much more than if you were breathing out and tensing your abdomen. If you get jabbed in the face while closing your eyes and swinging, it's going to mess with your balance and equilibrium a lot more than if you were on guard and looking at the punch—just ask Edson Barboza.
The punch that launched a thousand forum threads.
The cross counter works because it is a direct counter: simultaneous to an opponent's attack. He has no time to ready himself, as the swing is hidden behind his lead shoulder and arm while he is focused on jabbing.
Nigel Benn wasn't defensively great, but he was a master of the cross counter. Here he is dropping the iron jawed Chris Eubank.
And another of Benn's many cross counters.
So how does this link in to Glover Teixeira? Well, frankly, the cross counter is Glover Teixeira. Aside from an occasional high kick or low kick, Teixeira almost never throws anything else. Almost every attack from Teixeira is swinging that right hand every time he sees his opponent twitch.
Death by 1,000 cross counters.
He used to have a jab, and various other elements, in fact Teixeira looked markedly rounded against Sokoudjou, but the further along we get, the more Glover becomes focused on timing that right hand either over the jab, or as the opponent throws their right. Here's an instance of the latter against Marvin Eastman.
Against Ryan Bader—and I implore you to check this—Teixeira literally didn't throw any left hand leads in the fight.
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. Against Fabio Maldonado, Teixeira would land a thunderous right hand against Maldonado's brick of a head, then follow with the left which normally looked to be the hurting punch.
The Problems of Predictability
Now it should be obvious that there is a reason that top strikers don't simply do the same one thing over and over. It's predictable. A good guy will take advantage, but even an overmatched guy—like Maldonado or a wheezing Rampage Jackson—can hang around much longer getting hit by the same punch every time. It all comes back to being ready for it.
If you know what's coming, you are ready for it. It is rare to see someone hurt by a punch that they saw coming. It is almost always the punches that sneak through unnoticed that cause a loss of equilibrium or consciousness. By utilizing the same tactic over and over, Teixeira loses the element of surprise that is so important in counter punching.
Watching Maldonado against Teixeira, the former was circling the drain from the first minute, but Teixeira struggled to finish by throwing the exact same lead over and over and over again.
But when we get past the kind of opponents who just try to hang in there, and on to guys who know how to take advantage, predictable tendencies can make or break a fight. Take, for instance, Alexander Gustafsson's bout with Jon Jones. I don't think too many will take umbrage with me saying that Jones was getting lit up through most of fight.
Gustafsson showed brilliant strike variety and versatility. Simply put he boxed Jones up. But even in a wonderfully varied performance, Gustafsson showed one repeated tendency. He would dip down to his right side to throw a counter jab, body jab or hook, or just to escape Jones' punches.
Jones' ruthless exploitation of this habit won him the fight. Whether he was trying to time Gustafsson's lean with a spinning elbow, or with a left high kick, he put the Swede on wobbly legs several times and picked up the decision as a result.
If you show a habit, no matter how good you are, it can be exploited. And everyone shows habits.
Exploiting the Cross Counter
The cross counter, while exceptionally powerful, is also fairly limited. You have to set it up smart or you're offering your face up on a platter. Because it is accompanied with a slip towards the opponent's rear hand, it takes the puncher into the path of his opponent's power hand.
Consequently a low right straight or a right uppercut is never off the cards. Moreover, whenever you duck in low like that to throw punches, particularly against a taller opponent, you are in danger of eating a knee. The most famous instance of this is Cro Cop versus Frank Mir, as Cro Cop lunged in with his left overhand.
But jamming the knee in the way of anyone who lunges forward with any kind of attack can be effective even if you're not aiming to knock them out. Alexander Gustafsson deterred Mauricio Rua's charging right hands by meeting him with knee strikes to the midsection. Similarly Mirko Cro Cop was badly winded by Ismael Londt in the K-1 Grand Prix Final in Zagreb last year.
The major short coming of the cross counter, however, is that one must be on a hair-trigger to apply it. It's a fairly large motion versus a fairly short motion (usually in the jab) so timing is everything. If you start your counter right hand too late, you eat the jab and that can ruin your day (again, as happened to Edson Barboza).
Consequently, if you fight someone who is even a little willing to feint, you can end up throwing power right hands at nothing but air.
You have to choose between continuing to counter on a hair trigger, missing a lot, leaving yourself exposed and tiring yourself out, or not countering so readily, and risking the opponent mixing in good leads, which go unanswered.
Ryan Bader, not an exceptionally gifted technical striker, managed to exploit Teixeira's over-use of the cross counter well with his left hook after Teixeira had begun his right hand.
It worked a treat until Bader threw the fight away by dropping his hands while throwing along the fence.
Denying the Cross Counter
Here's the most important point, however. Brilliant counters are not necessary to punish the cross counter. It can simply be denied. This isn't a boxing match, there is absolutely no need to be stepping in with jabs if you don't feel comfortable doing it.
Returning to the modern definition of a cross: the straight land is referred to as the cross because it comes across the shoulders, making it far slower than a jab that travels half the distance with none of the telegraphing. If you aren't throwing punches for Teixeira to hide his cross counter behind, and he begins throwing it as a lead, it becomes a slow, awkward looking swing, which is easy to see coming.
It is one of the shortest strikes in the traditional boxing arsenal, and there are a good many longer strikes when you include kicks. While Jon Jones has been drawn into a boxing match he couldn't win before (against Gusty), it seems unlikely that he will be keen to give up his strong attrition kicking game and simply allow Teixeira to wade into range to throw his shortest strike.
This kind of overhand also involves planting the weight on the lead leg, just as one would do to load up on a lead hook. Where Alexander Gustafsson snuck his way in with jabs and kicks to land his stronger punches, Quinton Jackson was categorically denied the opportunity to plant his feet close enough to Jones to throw his power punches.
But more than that, Jones will often fight southpaw. A right hook against a southpaw can be utilized effectively, but certainly not in the same manner. It is normally a longer punch which requires some set up of it's own, or a counter to a lunging southpaw jab, which aren't nearly as forthcoming as orthodox jabs.
Rest assured, if Glover Teixeira can time his right hand over the top of his opponent's punches, he stands a good chance of knocking them out. But once again, punching power is not magical. It is a combination of a collision and an unexpected blow. So take the entire “what will Jones do when he tastes Teixeira's power?” / “all Teixeira needs is to touch him” line of thinking and throw it in the slop bucket.
Teixeira is someone who has a well-practiced method, but who has looked more predictable than efficient in his recent fights, and has had trouble against the sole opponent who tried to exploit it. Certainly he can knock Jon Jones out, but unless Jones makes the absolutely idiotic move of meeting Glover in the center of the octagon with punches, or giving away an easy takedown, it seems like Teixeira will be forced to show us something new.
And the idea that there is more in Glover Teixeira's bag of tricks, more than anything else about this match up, excites me. Will he be like Gustafsson and Weidman? Will we only see him at his best when he is truly pushed? Tune in to UFC 172 to find out.
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