Back for the first time at the scene of his greatest professional achievement to date, Jan Blachowicz wore the smile of a man content with life.
Impending UFC light-heavyweight title defence, or not.
"One year ago. Yeah, it’s a lucky place for me. Good memories. Good weather. I feel great," Blachowicz told reporters on Wednesday at the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island, about a stone’s throw from the Etihad Arena where he puts his belt on the line on Saturday night against Glover Teixeira in the headline bout at UFC 267.
“Happy to be back and fight here again.”
Not everything, though, was exactly how it was 13 months ago. Back then, inside the Fight Island “bubble” and at du Forum, Blachowicz dropped Dominick Reyes in the second round at UFC 253 to claim the vacant crown. Professionally, life took a steep upward turn: at 37, and having experienced the highs and lows of the elite fight game, Blachowicz had extended a late-career resurgence to nine victories from 10 bouts. His win streak sits at five.
Things are pretty sweet personally, too. Blachowicz is in town with Jan Junior, having become a father for the first time earlier late last year.
“I’m just happy,” he said. “Just happy becoming the UFC champion. I do this all my life and finally I’m at the top. And I like it. I don’t want to go anywhere. I will stay on top. I enjoy my life. A lot of good things have happened to me, so we just enjoy it every day.”
Saturday, though, is business. Serious business at that. Blachowicz’s second title defence comes against the division’s No 1-ranked contender. Teixeira pro storyline runs kind of similar; he has rebounded from trials and tribulations to also put together five wins on the bounce. Saturday represents his second shot at a UFC belt. Seven years separate them.
Turning 42 on Thursday, Teixeira's clearly making the most of his days remaining in the world's lead mixed martial arts promotion.
Refreshingly – or not, depending on your persuasion – the two best light-heavyweights on the planet don’t hold any ill feeling toward the other.
“He’s a great opponent with great skills,” Blachowicz said. “A lot of experience. Longer than me in the sport. We are friends, no bad blood between us.
"When the fight will start I have to knock him out and I will do it. He just deserves this title shot. Anyway he’s going to lose it, but he deserves this.”
Teixeira, meanwhile, is one bout away from becoming the second oldest UFC athlete to win gold, after Randy Couture (43 years, eight months) in 2007. That’s quite the claim to fame.
“I love it when someone overcomes the odds, breaks the rules,” he said. “Doing something not many people have. I win this title and who did that before? Only one guy in the UFC. It’s a hard thing to do and I’m glad that I’m here. And I’m going to get it Saturday night.”
Having lost his other championship fight, to Jon Jones in April 2014, it’s been some journey since. It will be, should he get his hand raised on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a great fight because the style match-up is amazing,” Teixeira said. “Jan, he likes to come in and finish fights, and goes after people. You know me, the record speaks for itself. I’m a fighter.
“I know how strong he is. I have the most submissions in UFC, my jiu-jitsu is MMA jiu-jitsu. He’s a well-rounded fighter. That’s why he’s a champion now. But I’m not concerned about it. But I respect it.
“The best is going to win. Like my mum says all the time, ‘I’m praying so no one gets hurt’. Hopefully no one gets injured bad, but somebody’s going to get hurt. And it’s going to be Jan.”
Earlier on Wednesday, another light-heavyweight on the UFC 267 main card, Volkan Oezdemir, referenced Teixeira’s relentless style, likening him to a zombie.
"If he’s a zombie," Blachowicz said, "you know how to kill a zombie: you need to hit him in the head, very hard. So I will do it.”