With less than ten pro fights, none against a world-class opponent, you would have understood if middleweight prospect Brad Tavares was a little bit hesitant to accept a January 1st fight with seasoned veteran Phil Baroni at UFC 125. Yet when presented with the bout, the 23-year old worried not about his opponent, only logistics.
“I was excited when they first gave me the fight,” said Tavares. “The only thing that was running through my mind was that I ran into Phil at Couture’s prior to us getting the fight and I know that he’s trained there. I train there half of the week as well and that was the only problem I saw at the time. But I took the fight and said if that means we’ve got to steer clear of each other, that’s fine. I’ll get my training in regardless, but then I found out that he’s at AKA (American Kickboxing Academy) and that worked out fine for me. I’ve got my camp going how it normally does and everything worked out.”
That’s Hawaiian Fighting 101. You don’t pick your fights and you don’t steer clear of them. If you’ve got to work your life around it, so be it, but you don’t back down – you just scrap. And in taking the Baroni fight without hesitation, Tavares, just 5-1 as a pro, passed his first test in joining the circle inhabited by the likes of BJ Penn, Kendall Grove, Troy Mandaloniz, and Cabbage Correira.
“You grow up with that pride,” said Tavares, a native of Kailua. “You’re proud of where you come from, and we stand alone. We’re out in the Pacific Ocean, far away from the rest of the continental US, and we’re proud of our heritage and everything that comes with it. It was embedded in us from when we were young. Just be proud of who you are, where you came from, your family, and it’s like that all over Hawaii. So when you see the other Hawaiian fighters coming over here and fighting in the big shows, they rep that Hawaii pride really hard.”
It’s a pride that translates into their fighting style as well. Win or lose, a Hawaiian fighter will fight, and you won’t see them trying to squeak out a decision or grind their way to victory. Sometimes that translates into feast or famine, but when it’s all over, they can hold their head high.
“You don’t want to be that guy who’s quitting or that boring guy,” said Tavares. “You’re gonna try and get in there and win fights and do it in exciting fashion. And it’s not gonna go your way every time; you might not be able to beat the guy you’re fighting, and that’s just how it goes, but when you have the chance, you fight your heart out and you never quit, and I think a lot of people in Hawaii are brought up with that big heart to never stop, never give up, and just keep going.”
In a lot of ways, that attitude is shared by Tavares’ New Year’s Day opponent, Baroni. Win or lose, Baroni has never been accused of playing it safe. It’s cost him plenty of times over the years, but then again, his fighting style has probably made him the only fighter with a 13-12 record competing in the UFC today. And in the lead-up to the bout, there has been none of Baroni’s usual bluster, mainly because “The New York Bad Ass” respects the up and comer he’s about to throw hands with.
“I’m glad that he respects me as a man and as a fighter, but I’m not too worried about what he thinks of me,” said Tavares, “I’m just worried about how I see the fight and how I gotta take the fight. I see him as a veteran and a very dangerous person, regardless of his past couple fights and regardless of what the critics might say about him gassing and stuff. It’s a totally different fight when your life is on the line, so to speak, and everybody knows that for him, this could be a cut for him, and it’s not likely that he’ll get back in the UFC after this fight if he loses it, so a lot’s at stake for him and I know that I’m probably going to be going up against the most dangerous Phil Baroni that there ever was.”
When Baroni’s on, he is dangerous, especially now that he’s back at middleweight after a 3-2 stint at 170 pounds. But where Tavares sees danger isn’t in the New Yorker’s heavy hands and aggressive assault; it’s in an underutilized part of his game, one that he suspects Baroni may pull out in order to keep his latest UFC run going.
“He has a good wrestling background, and even though he likes to stand and bang and slug, it (the wrestling) is there,” said Tavares. “So it’s not to say that he can’t take somebody down, put them down, and hold them down. He’s a big guy and a strong guy, so if he wanted to do that, he could probably throw that into his gameplan and it would be something that a lot of people don’t expect. He’s definitely going to be dangerous and I’m getting ready to expect the unexpected. Everybody sees Phil Baroni as this guy that comes out like a robot and just starts swinging, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to shoot in on me or change it up a bit. I’m expecting everything.”
He’s training for everything everywhere as well, and with work at Xtreme Couture, the TapouT Training Center, and with Robert Drysdale jiu-jitsu black belt Sonny Nohara, Tavares has gotten himself acquainted with Vegas pretty fast after relocating from Hawaii earlier this year. It’s been a smooth adjustment as well.
“A lot of people when they go from Hawaii to a place that’s a higher altitude with thinner air they have some troubles, but I adjusted pretty well,” he said. “I got lucky I guess, and as far as the people, I like the people in Vegas, and I have good, high-level training partners that I get to train with on a regular basis. And as far as life outside of training, it’s great. There’s a lot of local influence around here. I live with a bunch of my close friends from back home, and that’s another thing that made it easier on me. So as far as transitioning over, the only things I really miss are the rest of my family and my other friends that aren’t here, and maybe the beach. Anything else you can pretty much get it here in Vegas.”
A 23-year old can also get himself in trouble in Vegas, but Tavares keeps it on the straight and narrow thanks to his training schedule and the fighters’ form of crack – the videogame Call of Duty: Black Ops.
“I keep real busy with training and Call of Duty,” he laughs. “That’s literally all I do. Occasionally we’ll go up to the desert and shoot guns, but I’m not too much of a partier. There’s a time for that, but right now its work time and that’s where my mind is set. I’m driven.”
Add Tavares’ drive with Baroni’s will to stay alive in the UFC, and it’s a recipe for a fight to remember, one that has been lighting up fight fans’ Twitter accounts over the last few weeks. Tavares promises that no one will be disappointed.
“I think the matchup between Phil Baroni and myself is a great one,” he said. “Styles make fights, and I’m not gonna say that I’m gonna stand in there and go blow for blow with this guy and it’s 50-50 who gets knocked out, but it’s definitely not gonna be a boring fight. He’s not gonna be laying on me, and I’m definitely not gonna just be laying and praying on him. You’re gonna see some fireworks for the New Year.”
Tavares Answers His Call of Duty
“You don’t want to be that guy who’s quitting or that boring guy. You’re gonna try and get in there and win fights and do it in exciting fashion."