There are certain elements in the fight game that can be obtained by investing long hours inside the gym. Striking can become sharper by putting in rounds and mitt sessions, wrestling abilities get stronger the more time is spent grinding things out on the mats, and jiu-jitsu skills develop with a continuous commitment to the discipline. All of these things can be amplified by working the age-old formula where hard work equals results, but there are various intangibles that can elude a fighter throughout the entirety of their fighting careers, no matter how much focus and effort is present.
Perhaps the most coveted of this elusive group is momentum, and Brad Tavares currently has it in spades. While it may come in different forms (a string of highlight reel finishes or emerging victorious in crucial bouts) there is a certain brand of momentum that not only elevates a fighter’s profile, but establishes consistency in the process. For a young fighter like the former TUF alum, a steady rise through the rankings is of critical importance, but perhaps just as crucial is showing marked progress throughout every step taken.
The 26-year-old Hawaiian is currently in the midst of a five-fight winning streak as he’s begun to carve out his place in the middleweight fold. He’s brought his overall professional record to an impressive place where he’s been successful in 12 of his 14 professional showings and that type of consistency on the sport’s biggest stage has opened the doors to bigger opportunities.
Where his first seven fights under the Zuffa banner found the Kailua-born fighter working at various positions up and down the fight card, his last outing against Lorezn Larkin back in January was the co-main event on the bill, and his next matchup against Yoel Romero will come on the main card at UFC on FOX 11.
These are certainly the biggest opportunities of Tavares’ young career, but the Ray Sefo protégé isn’t blinded by the promotional nudge. In fact it is quite the opposite. Tavares has the utmost belief he’s earned his placement on recent cards and has been gunning for bigger things every step of his current run. While he’s sought out bigger names in the 185-pound collective, he’s yet to land that career-making fight, but that hasn’t detoured his course in the slightest.
“I definitely feel these are the opportunities I deserve,” Tavares said. “I’ve worked very hard in my career and fought every step of the way to reach where I am right now. I like that I’m fighting on the main card portion of a FOX event, but I would have liked to have gotten a bigger name to fight against. No disrespect to Yoel because he is a great fighter and is dangerous, but as far as name recognition and where he is in the rankings, I thought I would have gotten someone a little higher up and with a little more clout in the UFC due to the winning streak I’m on. So, in that sense, it was a little bit surprising to get Romero and learn that is the fight they had picked out for me.
“It’s not easy stringing a winning streak together in the UFC. This is where the best of the best compete. I want to fight against the very best guys because I’m here right now and I’m ready to do this. I’m hoping that a win over Yoel will catapult me into the top 10 and I’ll draw one of the bigger names in the division in my next fight. I want to break through into that next level and start making a run at that title. I’m going to continue to fight my heart out until that happens and the next step will be Romero on Saturday.”
He’s taken every challenge the UFC has put in front of him and oftentimes those scraps have come behind enemy lines of his opponent’s backyard. Even with that being the case, Tavares has shown up to handle business, and that is precisely what he’s done in five consecutive showings. It will be more of the same when he faces the Cuban-born Romero this Saturday in Orlando, where the American Top Team fighter will have a solid following on hand.
That said, Tavares sees the fight as another opportunity to prove he belongs with the big dogs of the middleweight fold and he’s expecting an exciting clash of styles when he collides with the former Olympic silver medalist.
“This is another fight where I’m going into his backyard and it’s something I have a lot of experience in,” Tavares said. “If you look at the fights I’ve had over this winning streak, most of them have come against opponents who are from the place I’m fighting them in. I fought Tom Watson in England. I fought Riki Fukuda in Japan. Bubba McDaniel is from Indiana and now I’m fighting Yoel Romero in South Florida, where there is a big Cuban population and he has a strong following. It’s something I’ve gotten used to by now and I just look at it for what it is….a fight. We are going to step into that cage and fight and it doesn’t really matter where it is at.”
While the matchup will spotlight two of the middleweight division’s hottest prospects, it will also present an interesting stylistic clash as well. Tavares is one of the most technically efficient strikers in the middleweight ranks, while Romero has wasted no time in proving he can end a fight in brutal and dramatic fashion. Yet, while Romero has put his overwhelming power on display during his time inside the Octagon, it is his outstanding wrestling pedigree that has drawn the most attention.
Tavares is fully aware of what his opponent will bring to the table in Orlando, and just because Romero hasn’t gone to the wrestling well all that much in previous outings, he hasn’t forgotten the caliber of grappling pedigree Romero possesses.
“Wrestling is what he is best at,” Tavares said. “He may not have shown it a ton in his previous fights, but when you look at him and try to identify him as a fighter; it will always come back to his wrestling credentials. He is a silver medalist in the Olympics and that is always what is going to be his strongest asset. You know his wrestling is there and if he gets hurt or tired, he’s going to revert back to it. It is second nature to him and that is what he knows. I know it will come out eventually in this fight. I don’t expect him to come out with a game plan to only box in this fight. I highly doubt that will happen. But I’ve been working my wrestling a lot, so when he does decide to wrestle I’ll be ready for it. I’m very confident I can stuff his takedowns - and if not - I’m very confident I’ll be able to get back to my feet.
“The crucial factor for me in this fight is going to be the speed advantage,” he added. “Yoel is obviously a very powerful guy but he isn’t very versatile in that department. From a striking standpoint, I believe my last opponent Lorenz Larkin was a little more of a threat to me because he throws a lot more kicks, takes different angles and is an explosive fighter. Yoel is very athletic and can end a fight with one punch, but I think it’s going to come down to me being the faster fighter and out-striking him.”
Brad Tavares: An Island Storm Rising
"Yoel is very athletic and can end a fight with one punch, but I think it’s going to come down to me being the faster fighter..." - Brad Tavares