Tai Tuivasa headlines his first Ultimate Fighting Championship card this weekend when he squares off with former champion Junior dos Santos in the main event of UFC Fight Night 142 in his home country of Australia. Tuivasa joined the UFC just last November and had a quick rise to stardom by beating Rashad Coulter, Cyril Asker and Andrei Arlovski in under a year.
Tuivasa has been compared to Mark Hunt since joining the UFC, and not just because they are from the same region. Tuivasa’s leading attacks and approach to fighting are very similar to Hunt’s and it was noticeable from day one. Both men like to plod forward with a variety of feints before unloading the right hand and each do their best work when forcing opponents to fight with their backs to the fence.
Since Tuivasa does his best work up close, he often looks to clinch with opponents against the cage. Something to notice is his entries into the clinch. Instead of simply grabbing the clinch and risk getting hit, Tuivasa will throw a quick combo to get the opponent retreating and use his punches to place his hand behind the head and grab a single collar tie or double under hooks. This is very similar to how Daniel Cormier initiates the clinch, albeit with more finesse.
Once Tuivasa has his opponent trapped against the cage or in the clinch, he will fire off wild combos while never allowing the opponent to circle off the fence. Against Asker, Tuivasa routinely backed him up and patiently looked for openings while mixing his attack to the head and body. Generally, young fighters will have opponents in a favorable position like this and throw wild punches looking for the finish, but Tuivasa proved he can stay patient in these moments and slowly pick apart his foe while never being out of position to defend.
Although he is usually the leading attacker, in his scrap with Arlovski, Tuivasa showed some decent countering skills. His go-to is a counter lead hook while taking an angle to his left, but he will also look for a quick counter combo if the opponent overextends.
Although Tuivasa has been a glimmer of hope in the UFC’s most depleted men’s division, he showed some concerning defensive holes in the Arlovski fight. Despite winning, Tuivasa was beaten to the punch multiple times during exchanges in the pocket by a man 14 years older and 10 years out of his prime. His hand speed was lacking, and he often looked flustered when trading in the pocket and ended up fighting more patiently on the outside than usual in fear of getting caught. Tuivasa is still one of the most exciting prospects in the division and at only 25 years-old he has plenty of time to tighten up his defense, round out his game and one day become a legitimate title contender.