Tai Tuivasa does not take himself too seriously, that much is clear from his Instagram posts and post-fight shoeys.
But “Bam Bam,” who fights Greg Hardy this Saturday on the main card of UFC 264: McGregor vs Poirier, is not joking around when it comes to his fighting career.
The 28-year-old from Western Sydney had planned to uproot his life and move to the United States to train full-time at the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. And though travel restrictions due to the pandemic have grounded Tuivasa in Sydney for this camp, he says he has made the most of the situation.
“Things are more accessible (in the USA). In Australia, you have to travel a lot to get your work in. But I made it work,” said Tuivasa, who still plans to move to the USA to train at AKA when restrictions lift. “I got to see my son, (and) spend time with my son, which is what I really wanted. I’ve got the work in, I feel fit, so there hasn’t been a problem with camp.”
The USA’s Hardy and Tuivasa both have their sporting roots in their country’s preferred codes of football.
Tuivasa trained with the National Rugby League’s Sydney Roosters before making the decision to ditch football for fighting in 2012.
Hardy played six seasons in the NFL before starting mixed martial arts in November 2016 at age 28. That’s an age when most fighters are well into their careers, but Hardy has since put together a respectable 7-3, 1 NC professional record, primarily in the UFC.
Despite being the younger man, Tuivasa (12-3-0 in MMA) is the more experienced fighter, and he believes the skill advantage clearly belongs to him in Saturday’s contest.
Tuivasa confesses to having watched only one of Hardy’s fights against Ben Sosoli, a unanimous decision in Hardy’s favor later ruled a no-contest, and the heavy-handed striker with 11 KOs to his name does not appear to see anything in his opponent’s arsenal that impresses him. Other than ensuring his fitness is up to the task, Tuivasa says there is no one skill set he has been sharpening ahead of Saturday’s clash.
“I don’t think he’s a fighter that brings anything really significant to the table other than the big frame,” said Tuivasa. “But I’m fit, I have been working a lot on my fitness, and I think me fit is going to be a very hard day in the office for him.”
“Bam Bam” does admit, however, that Hardy’s size and athleticism mean the fight is not without risk, and the “Prince of War” has plenty of motivation, as he returns to the Octagon for the first time since a second-round TKO loss to Marcin Tybura in December 2020.
“He’s a big, strong, athletic man, this is the heavyweight division, he can knock me out, he can knock anyone out; that’s the risk of a fight,” said Tuivasa. “But skill wise, in comparison to who I’ve fought in the past, he’s definitely no JDS (Junior Dos Santos) or Blagoy Ivanov.”
The spot on the main card of one of the biggest events of the year will put a lot of eyes on Tuivasa. That spot has been hard earned. After headlining UFC Fight Night: Dos Santos vs Tuivasa in December 2018, he lost three fights in a row between December 2018 and October 2019. His future in the UFC seemed in jeopardy, with some writing Tuivasa off. But after a period of soul searching, he made some changes in his personal life and has since put together two straight first-round finishes over Stefan Struve and Harry Hunsucker.
“I still feel the same - it doesn’t matter, win, lose or draw, I deserve to be where they wanna put me, and I bring eyes to the sport,” said Tuivasa, reflecting on his comeback. “I feel like I’m back on a roll, and once I secure this win, I’m back in the top 15, top 10.”
Tuivasa has previously told UFC.com that he would rather lose an entertaining fight than win a boring one. That approach has made him a favorite among fans, and he is not about to abandon that approach as he gives a blunt prediction for Saturday’s fight.
“Someone’s getting hurt, and I don’t reckon it’s me.”