After an impressive run in 2021, it looks like the right moment has come for Tai Tuivasa to climb the Ultimate Fighting Championship rankings and aim at a top-five spot. Thanks to his aggressive fighting style and impressive victories, the Australian fighter might become a big draw at heavyweight. At 28, he seems to improve in every aspect of the game and delivers highlight-reel knockouts every time he fights. The crowd reacts at him more often than not, and it’s not just because he loves to drink beer out of a borrowed shoe to celebrate his victories.
In his latest Octagon walkout, one-time Australian Fighting Championship titleholder Tuivasa (13-3, 7-3 UFC) smashed Bellator MMA alum Augusto Sakai. The UFC 269 matchup paired two fights looking for a spot in the top-10 heavyweight ranking. Knowing his opponent’s remarkable power, Sakai adopted a cautious strategy as he cruised across the cage. Tuivasa kept the center of the Octagon and knew precisely when to cut off his opponent’s footwork. Midway through the round, Tuivasa pushed his opponent against the fence, where they grappled for the remaining time. The Aussie displayed a good dirty-boxing technique when he stunned his foe with short elbows.
In the second frame, “Bam Bam” had Sakai’s number with a left hook that forced Sakai to back down. Smelling blood, Tuivasa fired a battery of heavy shots at his Brazilian opponent’s address. Sakai resisted until one of the Aussie’s strikes reached his temple and rendered him unconscious at the 26-second mark. The way Sakai fell on the canvas reminded long-time fans of the stunning knockout Gabriel Gonzaga inflicted to Mirko “Cro-Cop” Filipovic in 2015. In addition to picking up the victory, Tuivasa also pocketed the $50.000 “Performance of the Night” bonus for the third time in his UFC stint.
The victory over Sakai was the third one Tuivasa scored in 2021. Earlier this year, he stopped Harry Hunsucker with punches 49 seconds into their heavyweight contest at UFC on ESPN 21. Shortly after, he walked through former NFL player Greg Hardy. These victories came on top of the fantastic performance that saw Tuivasa overcaming a significant height and reach advantage to send Stefan Struve into retirement with a devastating knockout with just one second left in the opening stanza at UFC 254.
All these impressive wins came after Tuivasa was into a dark place result-wise. In 2018, he lost for the first time in his career after former divisional kingpin Junior dos Santos stopped him with punches. Tuivasa then dropped a decision to Blagoy Ivanov before Sergey Spivak put "Bam Bam" out of his senses thanks to an arm-triangle choke. His record counts only three losses so far.
Going into 2022, the ghosts of the past seem like a distant memory. Overall, Tuivasa features an impressive 92% knockout rate. In victory, only former UFC heavyweight Andrei Arlovski survived three rounds before capitulating on the judges’ scorecards against the Aussie. Besides Arlovski and Sakai, none of Tuivasa’s victims managed to go beyond the first round, an impressive deed even for a heavyweight.
In the next year, Tuivasa will have to face a top-10 ranked opponent to earn his spot among the best of the best in the heavyweight division. At the moment of writing, he is ranked at the no. 11 spot. The best name he can hope for is former Bellator MMA champion Alexander Volkov, who is coming off a victory over Marcin Tybura and might need to pile up some impressive wins to claim a title shot. Alternatively, Tuivasa can wait for the winner of the Tom Aspinall-Shamil Abdurakhimov clash. The pair is supposed to lock horns on a Fight Night event in March, and whoever wins might have to stop Tuivasa’s four-bout winning streak before challenging a top-five opponent.
Whatever the future has in store for Tuivasa, one thing is sure: fans can’t wait to see him skolling a beer out of a stranger’s shoe.