Tai Tuivasa’s UFC career started about as good as it gets.
On debut in his hometown of Sydney, a flying knee in the first round-would flat line his opponent and announce ‘Bam Bam’ to the fighting world.
Things only got better from there.
He soon crushed a traveling Frenchman with vicious punches and elbows while making his pay-per-view main card debut in Perth. The win would be Tuivasa’s eighth career stoppage – all in the first-round.
It was then off to Chicago, where he would defeat former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei Arlovski, by unanimous decision, the first fight to go the distance in Tuivasa’s MMA career.
Tuivasa quickly gained a cult-like following in Australia and with UFC fans across the world. His knockout power coupled with his big personality and blunt attitude endeared him with fans.
Tuivasa was often short and to the point, yet hilarious at the same time. Interviews and press conferences would be full of laughs and ruthless honesty, and then there was the shoey.
Cub Swanson joins Tai Tuivasa for a shoey!
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) December 15, 2019
While many global fans did not know what to think of the immune building act, Aussie fans lapped it up.
The fandom earned Tuivasa a headline spot against one of the best heavyweights in the sport, Junior Dos Santos.
Tuivasa fought well in the main event, appearing to hurt JDS in the first round before ultimately being finished in the second and losing his unblemished professional record.
Two losses would follow which would land Tuivasa in the predicament he now finds himself in. A three-fight skid in the UFC is a spot no fighter wants to be, your career in the promotion is literally on the line. Four losses in a row and you are likely gone.
And that’s where Tuivasa finds himself today. Tuivasa admits that the three losses forced him to reevaluate where his career is headed.
“I’ve been taking it a bit more professional,” Tuivasa said at a UFC media day in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m a bit of a clown, I like to get on the piss, but three losses will kick anyone in the ass and that’s where I had to be honest with myself and I don’t want to lose again man, I’m not a loser. I feel a lot more prepared mentally and physically so I’m ready to get in there and punch on.”
Tuivasa made a potentially career-defining decision at the beginning of 2020, deciding to move to San Jose and train at the American Kickboxing Academy. Home of some of the all-time heavyweight greats including Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, Tuivasa admits that training at such a world-class facility was an eye-opener.
“It was a bit of a wakeup call, it shows you where you are at,” Tuivasa said.
“I’m a good fighter, but when it comes to MMA if I’m being honest, in Australia there might be three killers or one killer, walking into a room with one hundred of them it kind of gives you a benchmark of where you are at, but to be offered and welcomed I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Like most people’s good intentions in 2020, Tuivasa’s plans for the year were dashed once Covid-19 swept the globe. His time in San Jose was cut short and Tuivasa quickly moved back to Australia to be with his young boy. Despite the interference in his plans, Tuivasa believes he is a far better fighter than the one that last stepped in the cage just over one year ago.
“Over my time in the UFC, I’ve learned don’t be the young bull and try to get it all at once,” Tuivasa said.
“I’m ready for a three-round fight, not just physically but mentally. I think before I wasn’t really thinking mentally like that, so I’m definitely ready to fight three fives, but you know me, if I see the opening, I’m going for it.”
The fight against Struve will be a true test to see how far Tuivasa has come. Struve is unequivocally a UFC vet at this point. The 7-foot Dutch ‘Skyscraper’ has fought in the UFC a staggering 23 times. But like Tuivasa, Struve has fallen on tough times inside the Octagon of late, having only won once in his last five fights.
It’s certainly a crossroads fight against Struve for Tuivasa. The pressure is on the heavy-hitting showman from Western Sydney. With three losses in a row, the fight is a must-win. Australia will be cheering him on, the UFC is certainly a lot more fun in the region when Tuivasa is in it.