Fighter of the Week: Tai Tuivasa

Tai “Bam Bam” Tuivasa

Pro Record: 6-0-0

Association: Lions High Performance Centre

Weight Class: Heavyweight

In this week’s addition of Fighter of the Week we take a look at UFC-newcomer, Tai Tuisava, who made a spectacular debut with a KO win over Rashad Coulter by flying knee. The story of Tuisava is a fascinating one. He gave up a career in the National Rugby League (NRL) to pursue fighting, in both boxing and MMA. The no-nonsense Australian may be just the spark the UFC’s lackluster Heavyweight division needs, both with attitude and talent. Let’s take a closer look at the man who’s yet to go past the first round in his professional MMA career.

Born and raised in Western Sydney, Australia, Tuivasa grew up a natural athlete and took to the sport of rugby. He excelled in the sport as a teenager and played for the Penrith Panthers – Harold Matthews Junior Rugby League (16 and under).  In 2010, at the age of 17, he was signed to the Sydney Roosters, who are a professional rugby league team in the NRL and one of the oldest clubs in Australian rugby league history. Tuivasa excelled as a powering forward for the club who had a knack for scoring. However, Tuivasa soon realized that a life in rugby may not be for him stating; “Football is a sport where you get told what to do, what to say and told how to be. That’s not me. Sucking up coaches’ a**es, that’s not me,” he said. He also ran into problems gambling, which ultimately led him to quit the rugby league for good. The night before he left the sport of rugby, he lost over $20,000. He said by the time he left the casino, he didn’t even have enough money for a cab. That’s when he knew he had to change his environment and get back with his family. Despite pleas from his coach to take a few days off Tuisava replied bluntly “mate, I’m not coming back”.

Tuisava has spent years working with the Sydney Regional Aboriginal Corporation volunteering weekly to help geriatric indigenous men in their later years, some with disabilities. Tuivasa told that he likes doing it and it makes him feel good. He went on to say “I did some bad things growing up so I’m trying to pay back my heart a bit.”  He certainly doesn’t come from the best of ‘neighborhoods’ so to see him make this turnaround in life and find time to give back to the community is great to see.

Tuisava admits that his hot-headed temper and propensity to start fights on the field also led to him leaving rugby. His transition into a full-time fighting career happened by chance, however. “We were watching TV and the UFC came on,” Tuivasa recalls. “A mate said ‘I reckon you could smash these guys, Tai.’ And I said ‘I reckon I would too’.” That was the start. He had just one amateur fight before going pro in MMA. Simultaneously with the start of his MMA career, he started a professional boxing career as well. He is currently 5-2 in his pro boxing career with three KO/TKO’s.

His MMA career has been a little more successful, however. Starting out in Gladiators Cage Fighting up to his fight with Coulter at UFC Fight Night 121, Tuivasa has never been out of the first round ending all his fights by KO or TKO. After winning the Australian Fighting Championship Heavyweight belt and defending it, he was immediately offered a contract with the UFC, however during his title defense with James McSweeney he suffered a knee injury and had to have surgery, keeping him out almost a year. Competing in the UFC was a huge goal for Tuivasa. His sparring partner and idol is Mark Hunt, whom Tuivasa has had the chance to walk out with him for Hunt’s fight with Brock Lesnar. “Just to walk out and see the crowd, feel the crowd gets me excited”.

His chance to create his own buzz in the UFC would finally come at UFC Fight Night 121. He took full advantage of it, landing a knee for a brutal knockout over Coulter at the end of the first round. Tuivasa has suddenly propelled himself into the spotlight and has people buzzing about his potential. Still just 24 years old, he is primed for a run into title contention. “I’m here to fight,” Tuivasa said. “If I get caught, I’m coming to swing. That’s what we do. That’s why I’m in this sport. If you’re not here to become the best, you’re wasting your time.”

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