"I plan on staying standing and striking and planning for a finish, and I plan on dictating where this fight goes."- Brad Tavares
At UFC 132, Brad Tavares was a true student of the game as Aaron Simpson taught him a couple valuable lessons in his unanimous decision loss. The 24-year old fought three grueling rounds defending takedowns from the former two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler from Arizona State University. It was about the ugliest fight Simpson and Tavares could have put on, but it proved without a shadow of a doubt that the young and heavy handed Hawaiian has serious takedown defense.
“In none of my other fights have I fought a wrestler as decorated as Aaron Simpson,” tells Tavares. “On top of that, he comes from a very good wrestling team with Ryan Bader and CB Dollaway, who are all good wrestlers. Even though I lost, it was a big plus for me that I can compete with the best wrestlers in the division. I think maybe only Chael Sonnen is a better MMA wrestler than Aaron Simpson. It boosted my confidence somewhat. In the gym when I train, I've always felt that I could compete with these wrestlers. I have always felt pretty confident in my takedown defense, but to go out there and compete against this good wrestler in an actual fight, in the UFC and in the Octagon, and to do as well as I did was a confidence boost. I'm young, I'm hungry, I'm learning and I'm growing as a fighter. I have striking and it's not going to be a walk in the park to take me down and try and grind me out. From what people know now from that fight, people should expect big things from me.”
The Ultimate Fighter season 11 alum also experienced his first UFC loss in the bout with Simpson. Prior to July 2nd, Tavares won a unanimous decision of his own over Simpson’s teammate Seth Baczynski at the TUF 11 finale and, on New Year’s Day 2011, he scored a first round knockout of veteran Phil Baroni. The Simpson clash showed Tavares’ sprawling is legit and the losing itself showed Tavares a new level of motivation to get back into the Octagon.
“Right off the bat, my ego wanted to fight Simpson again,” admits Tavares. “I wanted to fight more rounds. I didn't feel like I was done. I got exhausted a little bit and I definitely felt like I was pushing myself, but I didn't feel like I was in a fight. We didn't exchange much. It wasn't a fun fight for the fans to watch and it wasn't a fun fight to be in. I definitely wanted to get right back in there. I actually had a cut on the back of my head, I don't know how I got it. They stitched it up. We fought that Saturday and I was back to sparring that Thursday. I was irritated at my performance. I wanted to get back in there and work on what I did wrong. Once they gave me an opponent and a date, it was time to kick it up again and I've been training really hard, so I'll be ready for this fight.”
The lucky foe to tangle with Tavares’ wrath will be sturdy slugger Dongi “The Ox” Yang. On May 15th at UFC on FUEL TV 3, the 10-2 Yang makes his return to the Octagon for the first time since his unanimous decision loss to TUF 11 winner Court McGee last September. The Korean Top Team prospect is a highly regarded 3rd degree black belt in Judo who was undefeated when he signed with the UFC, but has only won once against two close decision losses, which oddly enough were both against TUF 11 castmates like Tavares. Despite the setbacks, Yang is a dangerous opponent, with all 10 of his wins coming via stoppage and the last nine via TKO.
“He's a very tough opponent,” estimates Tavares. “A good record of 10-2 and I believe all of them come via stoppage. It goes a lot to show what type of fighter he is. Just on that you can tell we will both be going out there looking for a finish. We're not just trying to fight not to lose, we're fighting to win and in an exciting fashion. I know he possesses a good judo background. I have seen he has very good takedown defense, he likes to trade punches, and I think it should be a fun fight. I'll be ready. I'm always training and working on my gameplan. I want to dictate how the fight happens. In the last fight, I let my opponent dictate where the fight took place and look where that got me. It got me a loss. Now I get the chance to show what I've improved. If he wants to strike, then good, because I'm going to stand there and strike with him, but I will dictate the pace, how and where the fight goes.”
The tussle with Yang in Fairfax, Virginia will be Tavares’ first fight in the UFC not in his adopted hometown: Las Vegas. Originally, Tavares trained with the late and great Shawn Tompkins when Tavares made the move to the mainland. Being a middleweight, Tavares had trouble finding similarly sized sparring partners among his lighter weight Tompkins teammates. Before the Baroni fight, Tavares made the switch across Sin City to Xtreme Couture to battle regularly with some bigger fighters. Not bad for Tavares going from one set of legendary coaches to another.
“Training with all the guys like Mike Pyle, Martin Kampmann, Jay Hieron, Forrest Griffin and just all the guys - they’re great,” boasts Tavares. “All the coaches are great, but more extensively I've been working with Ray Sefo. As a kid growing up, I've always been a fan of his. Just to meet him out here was a big deal to me, but to train under him is freaking amazing. That's who I have been working with as far as striking, and as my main coach he's been guiding me as of late. I've also been working at Robert Drysdale's school doing jiu-jitsu. I've been working with my same jiu-jitsu coach Sonny Nohara there. I've been working with who I think are simply some of the best guys out there.”
Tavares wouldn’t deny for a second he’s a striker, first and foremost. Adding to that, it’s almost unfair how heralded Tavares’ striking coaches have been since fighting under the wing of the UFC. On TUF, Tavares was on Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell’s team and was overseen by Liddell’s ninja master John Hackleman. Following the show, Tavares trains with the aforementioned Canadian kickboxing hero Tompkins. Now, Tavares is the protege of five-time Muay Thai world champion and K-1 icon Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo. Tavares has been getting a first class education in fisticuffs.
“I find the most fun in the sport in striking,” explains Tavares. “When I watch a fight, I love to watch a good striking battle. I think from the time I started, and in the short period I've had working with awesome striking coaches and fighters, I think I've improved greatly. Growing up, I never did any type of martial art. I never had that boxing or kickboxing or tae kwon do background. It was always just playing around with my best friend Devin with boxing gloves from Champs Sports. We used to go home and beat the crap out of each other every day. We didn't know anything. From that to having people actually know what they are doing, who have been around the sport for years and years, who have the experience, who have the championships and to have them around me to fix all my little flaws? Being around these guys definitely helps me and I think I have improved tremendously. I've always had someone telling me I'm doing something wrong, but now I have Ray telling me exactly why I'm doing something wrong. He can tell me why I should do or shouldn't do something. It just goes deeper into the knowledge of it. Having them tightening me up and sharpening me up has been a big help. I can't say I'm the best striker, but I'm still growing though. From the sport's perspective, I'm still a little kid and I'm growing - I'm growing fast.”
This Tuesday at the Patriot Center, the student looks to become the teacher as Tavares wants to unload his fistfuls of knowledge on the granite chinned Yang. “I plan on staying standing and striking and planning for a finish, and I plan on dictating where this fight goes,” asserts Tavares, who is on a mission to educate “The Ox” on what losing by a submission or knockout feels like. “To know that he has a record like he does, it gives me that drive because I want to be the first one to finish him. If I don't and I get that decision, I hope I put on a good show with the best of my abilities. But I want to deliver him the first stoppage of his career.”
If the unstoppable force can finish the immovable object, then a lesson will be learned by all UFC middleweights: Tavares is here to stay.