For the longest time, Tai Tuivasa fought for a living because, well, it’s fun to knock out some of the toughest men in the world and not only get paid for it, but also get a few free beers (albeit somewhat warm and out of a dirty sneaker) afterward.
But then his 4-year-old son talked to him and his outlook changed. Carter Tuivasa is a wrestling fan who likes WWE superstars John Cena and Brock Lesnar. When Carter pointed out to Dad that Cena and Lesnar have had belts and he hasn't, it got Tuivasa to thinking.
He’s ranked No. 3 now at heavyweight after a brutal knockout of Derrick Lewis, and on Saturday in the first UFC show in Paris, France, he’ll take on No. 1-ranked Ciryl Gane, the former interim champion, in the main event.
A win would put a title belt tantalizingly close, and satisfy Carter in the process.
“[I first considered winning a title] just probably a couple of months ago when my son brought the fact that I don't have a belt up,” Tuivasa told Yahoo Sports. “That was really kind of the only time I ever really thought about it. And now, I'm like, ‘OK, well, my son thinks I’m pretty s*** unless I have a belt. So I suppose it's time to get a belt.’”
Everyone wants to be at the top of their profession, if possible, and a title belt signifies that. Tuivasa, though, never let championship thoughts cloud his mind because he was having too much fun.
He’s got the three anys answer at the ready: Anyone at anytime anywhere.
Fighting is not just his passion, it’s his life. Getting paid for doing it and having millions of people cheer him on is just a bonus.
“I'm just glad to be doing what I love,” Tuivasa said. “And I'm glad to be feeding my family [by doing] something that I love and enjoy, and that's fighting. Like I said, if I keep learning, if I keep getting better, I think the best of me is yet to come.”
He’s going to need the best of what he has right now to get past Gane and keep Carter’s dream of seeing his Dad with a belt alive. At BetMGM, Gane has soared up to a -600 favorite, with Tuivasa on the buyback at +425. At 6-1, that means Gane has an 85.71 percent chance to win.
Gane is arguably the greatest athlete in the UFC. He’s a big, thickly muscled man who is a world-class striker. But he’s quick, agile and skilled in all areas of the game.
If Tuivasa ever wins by submission, it will be because someone tapped to strikes, so he’s in tough.
Tuivasa concedes Gane’s long list of attributes.
“His speed, his athleticism, the way he moves [are what makes him so difficult],” Tuivasa said. “I think it’s all obvious. We know what he’s good at. And I’m sure he knows what I’m good at. But I think what I’m good at is not known until it’s known, if that makes sense.”
He’s underrated because he doesn’t carry an Adonis-like body, but he does carry amazing power in his fists and an insatiable desire to not only win but to have fun while doing it.
“Obviously, as a fighter, you have to be wary of what the other person’s good at,” he said. “But I feel like I’m underestimated a lot. And to me, I don’t really mind. I’m not bothered about all that politics side of shit. You know, I come in, I win, I get paid, and I go out and go party.”
It’s not a bad way to look at things and do business. It’s working, as he’s on a five-fight winning streak with the last three of those winning him a Performance of the Night bonus.
He’s brought his son with him to Paris, and plans to celebrate with him afterward, though not before Tuivasa samples the local French cuisine. Even though he’s a heavyweight, he’s still got to watch what he eats because he has to cut weight to get down to the 266-pound heavyweight limit.
“I a real heavyweight,” he said, laughing.
Real heavyweights also have big-time power and love to go it at.
And occasionally, to drink a beer or four out of a shoe when it’s all over.