Knockout artist. Life of the party. Fan favorite. Australia’s Tai Tuivasa has been justifiably described as all of these things. However, there’s another description that’s becoming increasingly true: dedicated martial artist.
“I think part of the secret of my recent success is consistency of training,” says Tuivasa. “[Before], I’d sometimes get too relaxed about things and go walkabout. I feel good about my training and where I’m at now – and it shows.”
It sure does. The 28-year-old, who will face Brazilian Augusto Sakai at UFC 269, is on a winning streak of three first-round KOs, including a 67-second finish of former NFL player Greg Hardy at UFC 264.
“I think I’m really maturing,” Tuivasa adds. “I’ve had to learn this MMA thing on the run, and I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’m not a mixed martial artist – I’m a bluer,a brawler. But the more experience I get, the better I perform.”
Despite sporting an overall record of 13-3, with 12 wins by knockout and earning a couple performance bonuses along the way, the man nicknamed “Bam Bam” went through a rough patch, career-wise, from late 2018 to late 2019.
“Those losses were the best thing to ever happen to me,” he says. “Especially at a time in my career when it was all coming too easily. I was thinking I could just knock anyone out.
“I’ve got mongrel in me – and you need that – but you need more than mongrel to beat these better guys. You’ve got to learn when to throw the shot and when to wait. Experiencing those losses helped me grow as a fighter and as a person.”
Tuivasa’s popularity is also growing, with him fast becoming one of the biggest personalities in the organization. This has been helped along by his penchant for skolling beers from people’s shoes.
While refusing to partake in a “shoey” himself, UFC President Dana White admits the Aussie is an excitement machine: “He’s a fun heavyweight. He’s a fun guy to watch. He’s a fun guy in the Octagon and out of the Octagon.”
Tuivasa puts his popularity with fight fans down to the fact he’s an everyday guy.
“I think that’s why I connect with them,” he says. “I’m just an ordinary Joe Blow – but one who can knock your head off. They like that.
“I’m good to my fans and they’re good to me. They really mean the world to me. I wouldn’t be who I am without them.”
Right now, those fans are eagerly awaiting UFC 269 and Tuivasa’s meeting with fellow heavy hitter Sakai. As is the man himself…
“I’m really looking forward to this one,” declares Tuivasa. “He’s got a good standup game. He’s a good bloke. I think it will be a real banger. It will be one for the crowd, so let’s bang on.”
“Let’s bang on,” is pretty much Tuivasa’s response to the prospect of facing anybody on the roster, regardless of their size.
“Size doesn’t bother me. This isn’t a supermarket where you can pick and choose. I was the youngest and smallest in my family growing up, so I got flogged. It’s not hard to find a big person where I’m from. I know how to fight my way out of any situation.”
Asked whether anything scares him, the man from western Sydney laughs.
“I am human. If it’s late at night and I’m watching a scary movie, or hear a weird noise in the house, I’ll get scared. But, no, not when it comes to fighting.”
He’s keeping an eye on two of the scariest men in the division, too: champion Francis Ngannou and interim champ Ciryl Gane, who will go to war for the undisputed title at UFC 270.
Gane and Ngannou are two of the very best. Elite athletes and two of the best bodies in the game, too. (Laughs) I hope they go hard [at UFC 270]. I’ll be coming their way soon.”
While French-born Gane and Cameroonian-born, France-based Ngannou are flying the flags for their countries on the world stage, UFC fighters from Australia and New Zealand also continue to do well. Tuivasa has a theory on this.
“We’ve grown up punching on. We don’t have weapons like some other countries,so punching on is a way of life. If you’ve got a problem, you sort it out that way, then have a beer afterwards. We’re good at it.”
Good at it and, in Tuivasa’s case, getting better all the time.