After Australia’s Tai Tuivasa knocked out Greg Hardy at UFC 264, he celebrated in a manner that has become familiar to UFC fans around the world: by skolling a beer out of somebody’s shoe.
Borrowed footwear may not sound like the nicest drinking vessel, but all the 28-year-old from western Sydney was really tasting was victory.
“It was an awesome feeling winning that fight,” recalls Tuivasa. “It was a buzz then – and it was a buzz for a while afterwards.
“But I’m back to reality now. Back to training. I’ve been pretty good this year with working hard, and I think the results are starting to show.”
They sure are. The fighter nicknamed “Bam Bam” has won his past three bouts by first-round KO, gaining popularity thanks to both his brutal striking in the Octagon and brutal honesty on the microphone.
But between his current winning streak and an equally impressive start in the UFC, there was a period where things went downhill. What changed?
“I had to focus more,” admits Tuivasa. “I lost three times in a row before this [run]. If that doesn’t change the way you look at things, you’d better find a new career.”
He also changed camps, heading to the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, choice of superstars and former champions such as Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Cain Velasquez and others. Indeed, it was the Aussie’s strong relationship with Cormier that helped facilitate the move.
“It’s been awesome having DC there,” enthuses the heavyweight. “He’s a legend of the sport; somebody with all of the experience and credentials. I’m so lucky to have him giving me advice – it’s such a good feeling.”
However, it turns out that the shift in camps could have been derailed by bad blood between Tuivasa and former UFC fighter Justin “Big Pretty” Willis, over a perceived disrespecting by the latter of Tai’s close friend and countryman, Mark Hunt. There was talk of a gym fight, which Tuivasa says Willis no-showed.
“Justin ran away, just like the rest of them,” he laughs. “He skipped the state. If you want drama, I’ll fly around the world for it. But don’t bitch out when I get there.”
Disrespecting “The Super Samoan” is not something Tuivasa takes lightly, as the combat-sports veteran has been something of a mentor and role model to his fellow Sydneysider.
“He’s like my big brother, my big uso,” explains Tuivasa. “He showed me it was possible for kids like us. And when I say that, I mean kids from a certain type of place who have seen certain types of things. Dreams are short-lived where I’m from, but he taught me that we can do it.”
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As already noted, a big part of the big man’s appeal is his honesty, and he doesn’t shy away from talking about his tough upbringing.
“I’m from a place where dreams are crushed every day. Half of my family is in jail. I can’t forget where I’m from. But doing what I’m doing now shows that anybody can achieve anything.”
He may amuse the hell out of viewers drinking a post-victory “shoey,” but the surging fighter understands that you need to make the most of what you’ve got. And at AKA, he’s got a great opportunity to hone his skills.
“I always knew how to fight, but fighting is different to MMA,” he states. “Even though I’m up to my tenth fight in the UFC, I’m still young in the sport. So I’m always traveling and learning, trying to gain experience and get better. I’m only going to improve – and I’m not scared to fight any of these fellas.”
We list a few of the other killers in the heavyweight division and undefeated interim champ Ciryl Gane’s name provokes a response.
“Ciryl Gane is not somebody to play with,” observes Tuivasa. “I wish I had his body…but I don’t.”
“I’ll fight anyone, though. I’ve never said no to a fight. To be honest, it’s my job. I get paid to fight, so I rock up and fight.”
Even before he began training at one of MMA’s most decorated gyms, Tuivasa was finishing fights in all sorts of ways, utilizing punches, elbows and knees. It makes us wonder if we can expect something spectacular from his next trip to the Octagon.
“Hey, it’s ‘Bam Bam’ – always expect something! That’s what I do. I’m there to put on a show. I’m a people person!”