Mixed martial artist Tai Tuivasa on being a proud Indigenous Australian and the gladiatorial challenges of cage fighting. By Richard Cooke.


Fighting spirit: Tai Tuivasa, 25, mixed martial artist

I’m the first Indigenous Australian to win a UFC fight. [Tuivasa’s mother is an Indigenous Australian and his father is Samoan.] It’s a tradition that didn’t just start with me. Indigenous Australia has produced great boxers. I think they’re just the breed of fighters, a fighting breed. And the Samoan side? It has a lot to do with upbringing. And having big heads, maybe.

Once MMA gets a bit bigger in Australia, and people start recognising that, there will definitely be more black hearts coming out of Australia, fighting on the main stage.

Around the world, not many people really know about it. I mean, they know the didgeridoo, or boomerang, or whatever else. When you get to meet people and talk to people they get a bit of understanding. That happens even in Australia. It’s strange. The Indigenous people of this country still have to have conversations with other Australians about what really happened.

I love the feeling of being locked in a cage and just another man and best man wins, you know? I like that feeling. I’ve always loved fighting. I loved the challenge that it gives me. I love the fact that there can be only one winner. It’s just a test of who comes out on top. That drew me to the sport even more than anything else.

Fighting and combat sports is the ultimate test of humans. Gladiators used to fight to the death. Now you have referees and judges that score, so I think it’s the ultimate challenge for man and woman. I also find that others love the challenge as well but, sporting-wise, I think it takes a lot of courage for any person to jump into the ring or cage. That’s why other athletes respect it, I suppose.

I gave up rugby league [with NRL’s Sydney Roosters]. That was my decision. That was one thing that I’ve been really good at, in terms of believing something. At that moment I wasn’t feeling football anymore, so I made the choice. It wasn’t there in my heart or my gut.

Football is like a religion where we’re from. Mount Druitt, St Marys – the best football players in the world are from the west side of Sydney. If you play with your mates every week, you spend time with the mates every week. Then you get to a point where anything becomes a job. It becomes your work instead. I just got to a point where rather than having to win, there’s that old feeling back.

I co-host a podcast, but I wouldn’t say I’m an interviewer – I just talk shit. People watch it. It’s come out pretty good. That’s my brother-in-law, Tyson Pedro. He’s the brains, I’m just the loudmouth that’s on there. When he said, “You want to sit down and we’ll do this thing and people will watch”, I was like, “Nobody’s going to watch us sitting around not talking.” I get messages often though; I have the world of people watching. It’s another thing to be happy about.

When I’m fighting someone, their motive is kind of irrelevant. At the end of the day, the task still needs to get done. Someone talks, and you’re going to retaliate. Some people do, some people don’t. For me, it doesn’t really matter how I act, or how he acts, we’re going to see each other and we’re going to put hands on each other.

We’re going to fight regardless. If you need trash talk to pump you up, then you’re in the wrong sport. A lot of people get too pumped up, and that’s why they lose. Anger in a fight can go either of two ways. It can make you clear, or it can fucking shred you. If you’re angry, your vision’s blurred a bit. You know? You are controlled by anger.

[New Zealand mixed martial artist] Mark Hunt has been a mentor, brother and good friend. We are very similar – when we grew up, we knew the same kind of things, we did the same kind of things. We get along. I have been very fortunate to follow in some of his footsteps.

The most important things he has taught me? Just small things: do’s and don’ts that he does and he doesn’t. To just live it.


This week’s highlights…

• Tennis: French Open

Until June 10, Roland-Garros, Paris

• AFL: Hawthorn v Port Adelaide

Saturday, 2.10pm (AEST), UTAS Stadium, Launceston

• Netball: West Coast Fever v Giants Netball

Saturday, 7pm (AWST), Perth Arena

• Motorsport: Italian MotoGP

Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Mugello Circuit, Scarperia e San Piero, Tuscany

Basketball: NBA Finals, game 2 – Golden State Warriors v Cleveland Cavaliers

Monday, 10am (AEST), Oracle Arena, Oakland, California

• NRL: State of Origin, game 1 – New South Wales v Queensland 

Wednesday, 8pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 2, 2018 as "Fighting spirit".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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