Tai Tuivasa v Derrick Lewis, heavyweight division, win streak, knockouts, prediction, shoey celebration
As Sergey Spivak wheeled away in celebration having submitted Tai Tuivasa, the Australian UFC sensation was sat up against the wall of the fabled UFC octagon, wondering where he would go to from there.
The submission loss was Tuivasa’s third in a row, having embarked on a blitzing 9-0 run to start his MMA career.
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Little did he know in that exact moment that the trio of defeats was “the best thing that’s ever happened” to him.
“Those few losses have been a really great thing for me,” Tuivasa told foxsports.com.au.
“Obviously not at the time. You feel like s*** and everyone thinks you’re a loser.
“But in hindsight, I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
“It knocked me off my high horse and put me back in my place.
“I think that was the best thing I needed.”
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Tuivasa is speaking from Dubai ahead of his blockbuster heavyweight bout against perennial contender Derrick Lewis in the co-main event for UFC 271, which is headlined by Israel Adesanya taking on Rob Whittaker in a rematch for the middleweight championship.
The 28-year-old in a buoyant mood, full of belief ahead of the biggest fight of his career so far.
He also has every reason to be: he is riding a four-fight win streak, all ending via KO/TKO.
On the surface, the vibe seems no different than to what he’s always been like: a loveable larrikin that fans across the world can get behind.
But inside his head, he’s a whole different animal than he was a few years ago.
“I used to just fight for the sake of it, because I was good at it,” Tuivasa said.
“Obviously I love fighting.
“I love the challenges it gives and I love the fact that it’s either me or some other man that’s going to win.
“That really attracts me to the sport.
“There was a lot of s*** happening outside of the cage and in my own head (during the losing streak).
“Maybe rushing it, maybe thinking I was the man too much.
“That happens in life. Life knocks you down when you need to.
“I just had to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I wanted to do.”
Part of Tuivasa’s rebuild has seen him undertake gruelling fitness sessions, often posted to his social media.
The Dubai heat no doubt has played a factor in helping him become a fitter and stronger animal than he’s ever been.
For Tuivasa, his new approach to training boils down to simply “doing the s*** you don’t like to do”.
“Usually in life, that’s how it kind of works,” Tuivasa said.
“The s*** you don’t like to do is usually the s*** you have to do.
“I had to get out of that mindset and thinking I was alright, that I could get by.
“Now, I get into the long runs, I get into the jiu-jitsu, the sweating with other men, doing all that s***.
“The thing for me now is I’m enjoying it, I’ve become better at these things I never thought I would like or that I didn’t want to like.
“I’m starting to enjoy what I do now and I’m really getting into the hang of it.
“I think the best of me is yet to come.”
Against Lewis, Tuivasa is facing a man who is also a relative fan favourite.
Instantly quotable post-fight interviews, a magnetic personality and knockout power that send any opponent face-first to the canvas below.
Lewis is also somewhat of a UFC veteran, fighting in 23 bouts under the banner of MMA’s premier promotion.
He holds the record for most knockout wins in UFC history with 13 and has fought for the heavyweight championship on two occasions.
It is a monstrous task that awaits Tuivasa in over a week’s time, but he knows what he has to do to secure a victory that would rocket him into the conversation for a title shot.
“Just do what I do, stick to my own game,” Tuivasa said.
“Everyone knows what Derrick is good at, everyone knows what I’m good at.
“His time is coming to an end as the knockout king.
“He’s done very well, I’ve got a lot of respect for Derrick.