Infotainment Factory: How west Sydney turned street fighter into a star

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Saturday, 1 December 2018

How west Sydney turned street fighter into a star


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Most of us would be at a loss trying to fathom the motivation behind somebody’s quest to make a living from inflicting pain on another human being while putting themselves in harm’s way.

Understandably, the average person does their utmost to bypass the bubbling stew of adrenaline, anxiety and fear that comes with an impending battle inside an octagon, yet western Sydney brawler Tai Tuivasa is drawn to fighting like a moth to a flame.

“I've always loved to fight,” Tuivasa told Wide World of Sports in an exclusive interview.

“I think my upbringing prepared me. I was stuck in a place where I had to fight to be recognised. You walk down the street and you might get into a fight and you have to learn how to defend yourself and you learn how to carry yourself.”

And it’s that journey that has seen Tuivasa (10-0) rise to become the first indigenous Australian to headline a UFC event when he takes on Brazilian legend Junior Dos Santos (19-5) in Adelaide for Fight Night 142 today.

Dos Santos is a former heavyweight champion who’s currently ranked No. 7 in the world. If ‘Bam Bam’ can down the mixed martial arts veteran, his path to becoming heavyweight contender becomes a lot clearer.

Tuivasa’s talent for trading blows and his thirst for physicality has made him a fan favourite with MMA fans across the world, but his siege mentality was born on the streets of western Sydney, where “if you walk down the street you might get into a fight.”

Growing up in a house with 11 siblings, Tuivasa, who’s a mix of indigenous Australian and Samoan, said fighting was just part of life.

“I think my upbringing prepared me. I was stuck in a place where I had to fight to be recognised. You have to learn how to defend yourself and you learn how to carry yourself,” he said.

“So you can't walk around like a d**khead or you get called out. Western Sydney has made me into who I am. I treat everyone the same. I don't give a f**k if you are a gazillionaire or a bum.”

While western Sydney has a reputation for its mean streets, Tuivasa holds fond feelings for the people and the area he grew up in despite some of the stereotypes that come along with it.

“The place has made me the person who I am and I take that with me everywhere I go,” he said.

“It's not easy to grow up there, it's hard. That's why I always say only the strong survive and that's why I always represent it so much.

“By far we have some of the most talented kids from this one area, but some of us struggle to make it out.”

While that may be the case for many, Tuivasa was one kid who did make it out, albeit briefly.

With talent to match his size and strength, Tuivasa was lured to the bright lights of Sydney’s east after signing a contract to play rugby league for the Sydney Roosters following a promising junior representative stint for Penrith.

But the brawler quit the Roosters’ Jersey Flegg squad after a night out at Sydney’s Star Sity Casino. Tuivasa reportedly burnt $20,000 on the pokies and rang then coach Jason Taylor explaining he wanted to leave rugby league. Tuivasa was urged to take some time off to gather his thoughts but he knew he was done.

“I didn't love it. I realised it’s not playing footy with your mates in the street, it's a fulltime job. It's not the same,” Tuivasa said.

“I played footy with people out west that I pretty much lived with, you know I'd go to their house after and be with them 24/7.

“At that time I was living at Maroubra, I was away from the west. All I found myself doing was drinking or gambling. It was sh*t, I didn't like it. I wanted to be back home around my people.”

And back home he went, wasting what some may have thought was a chance of a lifetime to return to his roots.

But the heavy-hitter had a plan involving a sport even more brutal than rugby league. After making his start in boxing, Tuivasa transitioned into MMA after seeing the UFC on TV. He went to the gym the next day and never looked back.

Tuivasa went on to make his pro MMA debut in 2012, aged 19 and won via a Round 1 TKO. He remains undefeated.

Along the way there have been several bumps and bruises internally and externally but the 25-year-old has stayed on course to accomplish huge feats in the heavyweight division.

Tuivasa is ranked 11th, four places below Dos Santos, who held the title in 2011-12 and unsuccessfully challenged for it last year.

In little more than 12 months, Tuivasa will meet a second former world champion after outpointing Andrei Arlovski in his last bout.

Dos Santos is nine years older than the Australian and is favoured in the betting odds.

"I think it's going to be a great fight not just for the fans, but for the division," Dos Santos told AAP.

"The winner is no doubt going to have an important move in his career."

While there was some angst in the months leading up to the fight with Dos Santos referring to Tuivasa as a street fighter, both fighters were cordial towards each other during promotional duties in the lead up to today’s main event.

Dos Santos was given an official Welcome to the Country indigenous ceremony and both fighters posed for photos as Dos Santos embraced Tuivasa’s culture.

“It was an awesome moment,” said Tuivasa.

“It was really touching for me. He left a great mark in my books for embracing my culture. It was really touching for me for accepting it how he did. It was the first time it’s ever been done in the UFC. I think they should do it every time there's an event on in Australia.”

The card will also feature the final UFC fight of legendary heavyweight Mark Hunt, while another Australia-Brazil showdown will take place when Tyson Pedro fights former light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua.

It’s a special moment for Tuivasa, fighting on the same card as his mentor Hunt and his brother-in-law Pedro.

“We're going to make history on Sunday,” he says confidently.

“Me my brother-in-law and the horse. It's going to be massive in Australia and massive for Samoa. It's going to be on for the history books.”

Most of us would be at a loss trying to fathom the motivation behind somebody’s quest to make a living from inflicting pain on another human being while putting themselves in harm’s way.

Understandably, the average person does their utmost to bypass the bubbling stew of adrenaline, anxiety and fear that comes with an impending battle inside an octagon, yet western Sydney brawler Tai Tuivasa is drawn to fighting like a moth to a flame.

“I've always loved to fight,” Tuivasa told Wide World of Sports in an exclusive interview.

“I think my upbringing prepared me. I was stuck in a place where I had to fight to be recognised. You walk down the street and you might get into a fight and you have to learn how to defend yourself and you learn how to carry yourself.”

And it’s that journey that has seen Tuivasa (10-0) rise to become the first indigenous Australian to headline a UFC event when he takes on Brazilian legend Junior Dos Santos (19-5) in Adelaide for Fight Night 142 today.

Dos Santos is a former heavyweight champion who’s currently ranked No. 7 in the world. If ‘Bam Bam’ can down the mixed martial arts veteran, his path to becoming heavyweight contender becomes a lot clearer.

Tuivasa’s talent for trading blows and his thirst for physicality has made him a fan favourite with MMA fans across the world, but his siege mentality was born on the streets of western Sydney, where “if you walk down the street you might get into a fight.”

Growing up in a house with 11 siblings, Tuivasa, who’s a mix of indigenous Australian and Samoan, said fighting was just part of life.

“I think my upbringing prepared me. I was stuck in a place where I had to fight to be recognised. You have to learn how to defend yourself and you learn how to carry yourself,” he said.

“So you can't walk around like a d**khead or you get called out. Western Sydney has made me into who I am. I treat everyone the same. I don't give a f**k if you are a gazillionaire or a bum.”

While western Sydney has a reputation for its mean streets, Tuivasa holds fond feelings for the people and the area he grew up in despite some of the stereotypes that come along with it.

“The place has made me the person who I am and I take that with me everywhere I go,” he said.

“It's not easy to grow up there, it's hard. That's why I always say only the strong survive and that's why I always represent it so much.

“By far we have some of the most talented kids from this one area, but some of us struggle to make it out.”

While that may be the case for many, Tuivasa was one kid who did make it out, albeit briefly.

With talent to match his size and strength, Tuivasa was lured to the bright lights of Sydney’s east after signing a contract to play rugby league for the Sydney Roosters following a promising junior representative stint for Penrith.

But the brawler quit the Roosters’ Jersey Flegg squad after a night out at Sydney’s Star Sity Casino. Tuivasa reportedly burnt $20,000 on the pokies and rang then coach Jason Taylor explaining he wanted to leave rugby league. Tuivasa was urged to take some time off to gather his thoughts but he knew he was done.

“I didn't love it. I realised it’s not playing footy with your mates in the street, it's a fulltime job. It's not the same,” Tuivasa said.

“I played footy with people out west that I pretty much lived with, you know I'd go to their house after and be with them 24/7.

“At that time I was living at Maroubra, I was away from the west. All I found myself doing was drinking or gambling. It was sh*t, I didn't like it. I wanted to be back home around my people.”

And back home he went, wasting what some may have thought was a chance of a lifetime to return to his roots.

But the heavy-hitter had a plan involving a sport even more brutal than rugby league. After making his start in boxing, Tuivasa transitioned into MMA after seeing the UFC on TV. He went to the gym the next day and never looked back.

Tuivasa went on to make his pro MMA debut in 2012, aged 19 and won via a Round 1 TKO. He remains undefeated.

Along the way there have been several bumps and bruises internally and externally but the 25-year-old has stayed on course to accomplish huge feats in the heavyweight division.

Tuivasa is ranked 11th, four places below Dos Santos, who held the title in 2011-12 and unsuccessfully challenged for it last year.

In little more than 12 months, Tuivasa will meet a second former world champion after outpointing Andrei Arlovski in his last bout.

Dos Santos is nine years older than the Australian and is favoured in the betting odds.

"I think it's going to be a great fight not just for the fans, but for the division," Dos Santos told AAP.

"The winner is no doubt going to have an important move in his career."

While there was some angst in the months leading up to the fight with Dos Santos referring to Tuivasa as a street fighter, both fighters were cordial towards each other during promotional duties in the lead up to today’s main event.

Dos Santos was given an official Welcome to the Country indigenous ceremony and both fighters posed for photos as Dos Santos embraced Tuivasa’s culture.

“It was an awesome moment,” said Tuivasa.

“It was really touching for me. He left a great mark in my books for embracing my culture. It was really touching for me for accepting it how he did. It was the first time it’s ever been done in the UFC. I think they should do it every time there's an event on in Australia.”

The card will also feature the final UFC fight of legendary heavyweight Mark Hunt, while another Australia-Brazil showdown will take place when Tyson Pedro fights former light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua.

It’s a special moment for Tuivasa, fighting on the same card as his mentor Hunt and his brother-in-law Pedro.

“We're going to make history on Sunday,” he says confidently.

“Me my brother-in-law and the horse. It's going to be massive in Australia and massive for Samoa. It's going to be on for the history books.”

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