PERTH, Australia — A westie who’s having a crack.
That’s how Australian heavyweight Tai Tuivasa describes himself as he looks to maintain his unbeaten MMA record at UFC 221 in Perth on Sunday [AEDT]. To the uninitiated, a “westie” being someone who hails from Western Sydney.
Tuivasa will face off against Frenchman Cyril Asker in a heavyweight showdown that will precede Mark Hunt’s return bout, against Curtis Blaydes, and the card’s headline event which sees Luke Rockhold face Joel Romero.
A proud Australian, Tuivasa expects to have strong home support again in Perth; although the local crowd may not quite raise the roof as they did in Sydney when he took down Rashad Coulter with a flying knee. The 24-year-old former rugby league player is also a proud Indigenous Australian who credits Anthony Mundine as someone he looked up to as a kid.
But he doesn’t want to adopt Mundine’s approach to promotion, Tuivasa instead keen on blazing his own trail as he becomes a leader within the Indigenous, and Samoan, communities in Australia.
“Of course, he’s a massive leader in our community,” Tuivasa told ESPN when asked if Mundine had been someone he’d looked up to. “But I wouldn’t say I want to step into his shoes, we all have our own role.
“But I just don’t have my Aboriginal community that I can lead, I also have my Islander [Samoan] heritage as well. But I don’t want to take after anyone, I just want to do my own thing. I’m just a westie, bro, just a westie having a crack.”
This will be Tuivasa’s second fight in the UFC after his win in Sydney while all six of his professional MMA victories have come in the first round, four of those coming within 44 seconds.
His triumph in Sydney came after more than a year’s layoff with a knee injury and with that now completely behind him, and the confidence to boot, Tuivasa heads into Sunday’s showdown with Asker seemingly at the top of his game.
“Considering I hadn’t fought for a whole year, I was pretty happy,” he said of his most recent win. “Obviously there was more that could be done, but for the whole year that I sat out I couldn’t move. I thought I did alright. Obviously this one, coming off the back of a fight and a good training camp, I think that I can do more.
“I feel really good. I think I’m probably the fittest that I’ve ever felt. I feel really good but I’m just over it; over the training, over the dieting. I’m just ready to punch on now.”
While he can’t wait for the after party – that subject bringing an instant grin – following Sunday’s fight, the day will also bring an end to the intense pre-fight preparation and watching exactly what he eats.
“After Sunday, every day is going to be cheat day,” Tuivasa told ESPN. “I love meat, I love cooking meat, I love barbecuing. I like cooking on coals, I like slow cooking, brisket. I love ribs. I’m pretty good [at cooking].”
If he continues to cook up a storm in the Octagon, he may soon find himself with a profile to match Mundine’s or that of any other high-profile Australian Indigenous or Pacific Islander athlete.
Not bad for a bloke from western Sydney, just a westie having a crack.