UFC heavyweight contender Tai Tuivasa celebrates mentor Mark Hunt: ‘He raised me in this game’

Tai Tuivasa is eternally grateful to Oceanic MMA pioneer and fellow Samoan Mark Hunt. Tuivasa, who is coming off a career-highlight knockout of Derrick Lewis at UFC 271, celebrates how much Hunt did for his career.

There are many parallels to draw between heavyweight sluggers Tuivasa and Hunt, from their win statistics to their career trajectories. Tuivasa and Hunt have never notched a submission win as pros, but they have finished almost all of their wins by knockout. More importantly, both bounced back from career-worst losing streaks to punch their place among the heavyweight elite.

“He raised me in this game,” Tuivasa told CBS Sports. “I was in a bad spot in my life. I’ve fought for my whole life, but he took me in. He took me around the world and he showed me what this career could actually do for you. He punched my face a lot along the way. That’s why when people ask me who hits the hardest, I’m like, ‘Mark Hunt is a legend. He is known for [his power].’ I was his sparring partner for years. He punched the shit out of me for f—ing years, so I know what it’s like to be punched. It’s nothing new.

“I’m more drawn to him as a person and who we are as people. Fighting is what we do. It’s about channeling it. I think something with us, it’s more like once we’re kind of written off, it puts a bit of extra drive into what we do. I’ve watched him just never give up and just keep going. It’s been a massive help for me. Life is like that. F— life is shit sometimes. If you lay down and let it run over you then you’re going to just keep getting shit I suppose.”

Check out the full interview with Tai Tuivasa below.

Tuivasa expanded on the wealth of knowledge Hunt offers.

“It helps massively. It’s insight. He’s already done it before,” Tuivasa said. “I like to listen to people who have done it. I grew up around a lot of talk and a lot of ‘You should do this and should do that.’ But no one has ever really done in it. Them people shut the f— up. I just listen to the people who have done it. He helps me out heaps and not just the fighting, other things as well.”

Tuivasa played for the Sydney Roosters in the National Rugby League. He developed a gambling addiction during his rugby days, leaving the sport after losing $20,000 in one night, per The Daily Telegraph. “Bam Bam” elaborated on how the fight game healed him.

“I can be myself. I get locked in a cage and punch someone’s head in for entertainment for a living, Maybe there’s something wrong with all of us,” Tuivasa said. “Everyone has different wits about them. I think with what I do now and what I used to do is there are very different rules. Footballers have to listen to certain things. They can’t act in certain ways. Now I can fight and be myself. If I want to say something, I can say something. If I catch backlash then I catch it. Usually, I catch love, so f— it.”

Tuivasa is the only heavyweight among the UFC’s official top 10 contenders on an active winning streak. Tuivasa broke down his options considering the uncertainty of champion Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones’ fight futures.

“I’ve heard the names that are there. You have Cyril Gane, you’ve got [Stipe] Miocic and stuff like this,” Tuivasa said. “I’m a fighter. I want to rock up and I’m going to fight any of them. I’m always going to give it my best, but obviously Gane and Miocic are there. They’re still on the roster and they’re in front of me. I’m willing to crack on with any of them.”

He also praised Tom Aspinall, who is scheduled to fight Alexander Volkov in a UFC Fight Night headliner on March 19.

“I actually watched Tom Aspinall a little bit. I’m a fan of his,” Tuivasa said. “I have to watch guys like that because we’re within the same age limit. Do you know what I mean? There are a couple of the older fellas that are headed on their way out. They had him on their way out.”

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