LAS VEGAS – If crowd reaction is a fair measurement of a fighter’s popularity, then Tai Tuivasa is a bona fide superstar.
The crowd pop at this past Friday’s official weigh-ins for UFC 269 were an early indicator of Tuivasa’s rising following, with “Bam Bam” receiving one of the loudest roars of the day. But at Saturday’s event, it became even more clear, with Tuivasa (14-3 MMA, 7-3 UFC) bringing a sold-out T-Mobile Arena crowd to a fever pitch following his second-round knockout win over Augusto Sakai (15-4-1 MMA, 4-3 UFC).
“That’s my drug,” Tuivasa told reporters, including MMA Junkie following the win. “I love it. This is why I do this. I do this for the fans. I do this to entertain and have fun, and it’s a feeling you can only get by doing that, you know what I mean? I’ve said it before, and that’s what keeps me going.
“I do this to entertain, and I love it. I love my walkouts. I love the cameras. I love the lights. I love knocking people out. I love it.”
The fans clearly love it, as well. The amount of sneakers and boots raised high following Tuivasa’s win, each hoping the 28-year-old Australian slugger would select their footwear to serve as a vessel for his trademark shoey, makes his victory celebrations truly one-of-a-kind in the promotion.
It’s a tradition that seemed to potentially be in jeopardy when Tuivasa was struggling through a three-fight losing streak in 2018 and 2019, but he’s now rebounded to notch four straight knockouts, and he believes it’s a sign of the dedication he’s putting into his training.
“I’m kind of learning on the run,” Tuivasa said. “Before the UFC, I was just fighting, rocking up and fighting – and I can fight. But to be a professional, I think it’s a whole ‘nother level, and I feel like I’m really enjoying what I’m doing.
“I’m really loving my work, and it’s showing. It’s showing once I get in the cage, and I’m maturing.”
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Tuivasa currently sits as an honorable mention in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie heavyweight rankings, a position that will likely change in the next update given that he took out the No. 10-ranked Sakai in brutal fashion. That would seem to open up the potential for a high-profile opponent next.
But Tuivasa isn’t the type to call his shots – at least not the ones that aren’t downed shortly after filling a glass with his chosen spirit. Instead, he says he’s open to anyone the UFC lines up against him. His only priority is making sure the checks continue to increase each time he steps in the cage.
“Hopefully, these four consecutive wins and four knockouts get me in in a better conversation for a bigger contract,” Tuivasa said. “I’m a prize fighter. I do this to feed my family and give my son a better future, so hopefully that gets me in that conversation, but as much as fighting comes, I’ll bang on with anyone.”
To see the full interview with Tuivasa, check out the video above.
Tai Tuivasa def. Augusto Sakai at UFC 269: Best photos
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