Tai Tuivasa has come a long way. Ever since his arrival in the UFC, ‘Bam Bam’ has been one of the sport’s most intriguing characters. His knack for unfiltered, often-hilarious press conferences coupled with his devastating knockout power, quickly made the Western Sydney native a fan favourite. But the Australian was raw and unpolished. After an impressive three-fight win streak to open his campaign, Tuivasa lost his next three bouts, triggering doubts over his ability to consistently compete at the top level. Fast forward three years and five consecutive knockout wins, and those doubts have all but disappeared. Currently the No.3 ranked fighter in the heavyweight division, Tuivasa has cemented himself as one of the biggest draw cards in the UFC, an improvement he credits to a shift in attitude.
“I feel like maybe before I was rocking up just to rock up,” he tells Men’s Health. “But when you want to excel or do something at the top level, you have to do more than that. I was kind of just going through the motions, now I really care about what I’m doing. I go with purpose and I’m trying to be the best. That comes with experience and with time.
“And as many people know, I’ve learned on the run, I’ve learned in the UFC. It’s sink or swim here and I’m a swimmer. I may have drowned for a little bit there but I’ve reached the top again.”
His upcoming opponent, Ciryl Gane, will present Tuivasa with his biggest challenge to date. The Frenchman boasts an impressive 10-1 record in the octagon and, according to podcaster and UFC commentator Joe Rogan, his movement and technique “has completely changed the standard of heavyweight fighting”.
In typical fashion, none of this phases Tuivasa in the slightest.
“He’s obviously gifted in what he does, but as much as he’s a concern for me, he should be concerned about getting knocked out. That’s the great thing about fighting – it can only go two ways. And what I’m really good at is getting locked in the cage and switching on.
“I fear no man, that’s for sure.”
Should he defeat Gane on Sunday, Tai Tuivasa will become the No.1 heavyweight contender and the next in line to challenge current champ Francis Ngannou. It would be defining achievement in an already-impressive career, but for Tuivasa, a self-titled ‘Western Sydney brawler’, this isn’t about accolades.
“It’s never been a driving factor for me,” he says of the belt. “I do this to get paid. I do this to support my family and give my son a better life. A great win on the weekend over Ciryl will put me in negotiations to solidify my spot in this company, which means bigger dollars. And that’s my main concern. All the politics of fighting, I really couldn’t give a fuck.
“It’ll be a cool thing that my son can hang up on his wall. But other than that, it just means dollars for me.”
Tuivasa’s ascent in the UFC comes at an impressive time for Australian mixed martial arts. Once outsiders on the world stage, fighters from Australia and New Zealand are establishing themselves as some of the best in the business. Rob Whittaker, who faces Italian Marvin Vettori on this weekend’s undercard, is hoping for another shot at retaining his middleweight crown, while fellow Aussie and featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski is considered the best pound for pound fighter in the sport, followed closely by the Nigerian-born NZ-based Israel Adesanya. The recent run of form is no surprise to Tuivasa who points to the rich culture of fighting in the two countries.
“We’re fighters” he explains. “What I like to break it down to is we don’t have guns so since a young age, even at primary school, you would have a fight with someone and then that’d be it. We have a great culture where, if someone’s a dickhead, you have a fight and then you probably have a beer with them after. We get to live to fight another day whereas, I think, other countries are scared of having an altercation, you know what I mean?”
Win or lose this weekend, it’s safe to say Tuivasa will have earned himself a beer or two after the fight. And who could blame him – the underdog from Western Sydney who took on the world.
You can watch ‘UFC Paris: Gane vs Tai Tuivasa’ live on UFC Fight Pass and Kayo, this Sunday, September 4. The main card start time is scheduled for 5 am AEST. The preliminary card begins at 2 am AEST.