Tai Tuivasa: Breaking the Mould, and Entering the Elite

If last week’s UFC Beijing event proved anything, it’s that as of right now, the UFC Heavyweight division isn’t quite ready to move on. After having his stock demolished by two straight defeats, Francis Ngannou returned to the win column, halting Curtis Blaydes’ attempt at redemption and with one right hand, stalling the momentum of a rare new Heavyweight contender. That wasn't even the best example either, with the co-main event featuring a crossroads clash between Alistair Overeem and Sergey Pavlovich.

The seemingly immovable Overeem battered his foe, stopping the UFC newcomer in violent fashion, and preventing the Heavyweight elite from meeting a new member. Instead, the list of contenders remains unchanged, a short list of familiar faces in a division desperate for some new names. Well, this Saturday night in Adelaide, another generational clash occupies the main event spot. With his career in the balance, former UFC champion Junior Dos Santos takes on undefeated prospect Tai Tuivasa in his home country of Australia.

For ‘Cigano,’ this is the chance to continue his recent comeback, slowly rebuilding after his failed title challenge in 2017. Considering that, this is obviously a must-win for Dos Santos but from his opponent’s perspective, this is quite obviously the opportunity of a lifetime. Fighting at home in the main event slot, Tai Tuivasa has the chance to defeat a revered former champion and in doing so, could potentially join the rather dwindling numbers that currently occupy Heavyweight’s elite ranks.

However, great opportunity usually brings great challenges and this fight is proof of that, with Tuivasa taking on a man that was UFC champion when he made his MMA debut. That was 2012 and he wasn't active for long afterwards either, fighting sporadically while also boxing with relative success too. After scoring two stoppage wins in 2016 though, ‘Bam Bam’ signed with the UFC and just over a year ago, made his octagon debut. It’d be a memorable one also, with Tuivasa quickly getting comfortable before scoring a spectacular flying knee knockout.

With that highlight reel finish, Tuivasa’s momentum continued to build, next appearing on a PPV main card opposite Cyril Asker. The fight proved to be a perfect showcase for Tuivasa, with the Aussie unleashing an incredibly flurry of strikes en route to another first round stoppage win. In a division low on rising talents worth watching, Tuivasa had managed to stand out right away, showing some genuine personality as well as an exciting style that in two fights, had already resulted in some quite remarkable visuals.

With those victories under his belt, it was time for Tuivasa to step up in competition, next taking on veteran and former champion Andrei Arlovski. While ‘The Pitbull’s longevity had almost certainly resulted in some decline, he was riding a two fight win streak and considering his history as a streaky fighter, that undeniably made him a threat to the inexperienced Tuivasa. Speaking of such, this would be Tai’s first MMA fight outside of Australia and after five minutes, it’d be his first fight to leave the first round too.

Arlovski wasn't just surviving either, visibly damaging Tuivasa and making things very competitive for an engaging three round brawl. It had been a real test of the prospect’s mettle but in the end, he came out the victor, with all three judges electing him the 29-28 winner. Regardless of his struggles along the way, Tuivasa had added a respected name to his resume and in doing so, positioned himself for something major. That opportunity arrives this Saturday in Adelaide, with only Junior Dos Santos standing between Tuivasa and genuine contender status.

Speaking generally, this quite obviously isn’t a must-win moment for ‘Bam Bam,’ an exciting talent that in truth, is only just getting started. With that being said, a quick glance at the current landscape indicates that in regards to timing, this fight could prove a perfect storm for Tuivasa. With the belt surrounded by uncertainty, Heavyweight is a division requiring fresh contenders and with an upset win here, Tuivasa would be just that. Whether he’s good enough or not, well time will tell but only a year after first entering the octagon, Tuivasa finds himself just days away from a potentially life-altering opportunity.

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