If City Paper were a shed, I'd be one of the duller tools, maybe the bowling ball to Van Smith's hedge shears or the stack of pancakes to the Mr. Wrong whirligig, but I have picked up a few tricks along the way. For instance, when interviewing one of the most powerful human warriors on the planet, I found it best to defuse the situation. I know I can be intimidating, frightening even, so when I sat down with UFC Light Heavyweight contender Glover Teixeira along with six other local reporters, I decided to open with a joke-I asked him how long the fight would last if all of us doughy reporters got scratched by a rage-infected chimp and launched the most ill-conceived frontal assault in history.
"All at the same time?" he asked, and for a minute it seemed like he thought he might have walked into the world's most poorly executed ambush. "The door is over there," he continued, "so I don't think I could run. Remember Tombstone, when Wyatt Earp pulled the gun and was like, 'I have only six bullets and want to see what six gonna be first'? There were 50 guys out there, but nobody wants to be the first six guys. I got two guns with me and I wanna see whose gonna be the two first ones." At that moment, I realized if the shit did hit the fan that day in the Hotel Monaco ballroom, I'd shove Peter Schmuck and the two guys from PressBox at the 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound chiseled chunk of Brazilian muscle and hope for the best in the four-spot.
It's hard not to be intimidated by a guy who taught himself to fight by punching down trees. "You never punch a banana tree?" he asked me incredulously. Banana trees are soft, apparently, or at least softer than coconut trees, so it seemed like a good place to start, until his dad realized he was serious about this whole fighting thing. "He see how much I loved this," the fighter recalled, "he put a bag full of sand on a mango tree so I can punch, but it gets so hard on the bottom because it gets wet from the rain." Of course, accuracy was the solution to this problem: "Only punch on the top." Luckily, this genuine fruit ninja turned out to be a pretty sweet guy.
While there was never a shred of doubt in my mind that Teixeira could turn me from an omnivore to an exclusive pudding-eater in half a heartbeat, I couldn't imagine him ever hitting me. Well, unless there was a huge amount of money riding on it, as there will be Saturday, April 26, when he takes on undefeated world champion Jon "Bones" Jones at the Baltimore Arena in the city's first-ever battle for the belt. Jones joked to the gathered reporters that he was no Ivan Drago-referring to Dolph Lundgren's biomechanically precise kill-bot from Rocky IV-but he's sure built like him. The first time I met Jones was on the 98 Rock morning show. Mike Anderson, the star-struck cub producer, begged Jones to give him one of his signature roundhouse kicks to the thigh. I stood just inches away as the 6-foot-4-inch powerhouse launched a kick like a Saturn rocket from halfway across the studio-someone as big as Jones has no right moving that fast. I was a few blocks from a plane crash in Towson, that kick rattled me the same way. Mike went down like a sack of lead tied to an anchor. When he went to ice it, his bruised leg looked like a topographical map of Liechtenstein.
Despite his 20-fight win streak, Teixeira is a huge underdog going against the champ, but he's got a puncher's chance, or whatever they call that in MMA. Still, there's a big part of me that's worried for him. Jones is the ideal, the Platonic form of a fighter. Every ounce of the man appears forged to a purpose, as if every bit of bone, sinew, and muscle was built to spec. He moves with angelic grace, a grace that serves as constant reminder of the ass-kicking of biblical proportions he could deliver without so much as rumpling his sweater. "I'm an extremely dangerous, motivated person," Jones says flatly in a way that would be arrogant if any one of the other 7 billion people on the planet said it, but coming from a guy who is widely considered the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, it is simply honest.
Jones doesn't talk about bouts or fights or contests; he talks about performances. He is an artist in the Octagon. He would never admit it-he has far too much respect for his opponent-but in his heart, he's already won the fight. He's not facing an opponent, he's facing a canvas. This performance started five years ago. Just as every move the man makes in the cage is to a purpose, every day of his life has pointed to the next fight. "That's when you get the art," he says, and his words slip into the buttery one-two cadence of a flurry of fists. "Finding the rhythm of your opponent, seeing when he's getting ready to lunge at you. Seeing things before they happen," he says, then holds a beat. "That's when masterpieces are created."
A week from Saturday, Baltimore's got a rare ringside seat (even though it's not a ring . . . ). Two titans will clash in the arena, and either the challenger will shiver the fighting world and make history, or the champ will add another brushstroke to his opus. Either way, I can't wait.