It’s no secret that professional athletes nowadays are not what they used to be. The straight talking personalities of the past have been replaced by a breed of overly cautious individuals afraid to offer an opinion or put a foot out of line. The Shane Warnes and Dennis Rodmans of the sporting world have all but left the building.
Or, nearly all of them. Because fighting out of Western Sydney’s Mount Druitt is Tai Tuivasa, the playful, charismatic heavyweight who’s attitude and approach is a welcome relief in today’s landscape. Known for his hilarious honesty and infectious smile, Tuivasa is as entertaining out of the octagon almost as much as he is in it, where he has amassed an impressive 12-3-0 record since his UFC debut nearly five years ago. You won’t find Tuivasa avoiding an issue or making nice for the cameras; authenticity, along with a devastating knockout punch, is his trademark.
We catch up with the 28-year-old days before he’s scheduled to leave for Vegas where he will face off against American Greg Hardy on the Poirier vs McGregor undercard. Restrictions had just been announced, throwing Tuivasa’s final preparation into possible uncertainty. But while most athletes might be fretting about the impact of a training schedule thrown off course, Tuivasa takes it all in his stride.
“Nothing’s really changed,” he says. “I just lost access to one gym so we’ve been training in my car park, underground. I’m from the streets so I can train anywhere. It doesn’t bother me.”
Fair enough. What about after the fight? Surely the plan is to stay in Vegas and avoid the restrictions mounting back home?
“I haven’t really made a plan to be honest,” he tells Men’s Health. “I’ll definitely stay a few extra days and hit a couple pool parties. It’s summer over there so I won’t be rushing home to the ol’ quarantine that’s for sure.
“The Vegas body is ready,” he adds. “It’s on point – well, as good as Bam Bam is gonna get anyway!”
You’d be forgiven for assuming the fight plan itself was a little more meticulous. But again, Tuivasa is not like most athletes.
“There is no real science to this,” he says simply. “The plan is to come in and punch on and just go hard. He wants to entertain, I want to entertain and that’s my way of entertaining. I’m ready to bleed.
“One of us is getting knocked out and I dont think it’s going to be me.”
Considering his habit for bold predictions, we ask who his money is on for the much-hyped fight between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor.
“I actually watched their last one,” he says. “I was in Abu Dhabi so I got to watch it. Poirier won the last one so let’s go McGregor. That’s how it’s gonna go isn’t it? 1-1 then they’ll have a third one to decide it?”
It’s at this point we remind him that this is their third bout, with both fighters level at one win apiece.
“Oh is this the third one?” he laughs. “Oh fuck, see how much I know about MMA?”
But while his attitude may appear casual, his skills are anything but. A natural sportsman, Tuivasa earned himself a contract with NRL outfit the Sydney Roosters in 2010 before switching his attention to mixed martial arts. Since then, he’s been steadily climbing the ranks of the UFC, dispatching opponents with crushing right hooks and a never-say-die-attitude.
And he’s not the only one from Western Sydney achieving great success right now. From the stars of the Penrith Panthers to trailblazing rap group OneFour, Tuivasa is in good company. For him, being able to represent his community on the global stage is his biggest achievement yet.
“The goal has always been to make these kids from where I’m from proud and show them they can chase what they want. We’re faced with a lot of barriers out here. If you just keep your head up and fucking have a crack, then it’ll go alright,” he says.
Outside the octagon you’ll find Tuivasa running his own beer brand, Drink West, which he proudly tells us is sourced, canned and distributed in his native Western Sydney, as well hosting a podcast with mate and fellow UFC fighter Tyson Pedro. For anyone who hasn’t tuned in to an episode of The Halfcast Podcast, we’d highly recommended it. Tuivasa’s cheeky grin and refusal to be censored is nothing short of hilarious. Given his ability on the mic, we suggest a post-UFC career in fight commentating may be on the cards?
“I’d love to do that shit,” he answers. “I’m always into having a laugh and kicking back – if it makes money and makes sense I’m in!”
We look forward to seeing that become a reality. But before then, he has sights on this Sunday’s opponent, Greg Hardy. In typical Tuivasa fashion he plans on doing a shoey after the fight.
“When I knock this guy out that’s what I’m doing. And I wanna get all of Vegas doing it, too.”
Now that’s a sight we’d pay to see.
UFC 264 will take place Sunday, July 11 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas