“I'm feeling really, really good!” are the first words Junior Tafa exclaimed into the microphone when UFC.com asked the simple question, “How are you?”
Along with “I'm a heavyweight, I can eat whatever I want.”
I mean, he’s not wrong. I think it’s safe to say Junior has a personality to match his 6’3” stature.
Tafa is making his promotional debut this Saturday, but he’s no ordinary rookie. “I signed to Contender Series last year with no MMA fighting and then was told last year, ‘We’re not going to re-sign you on Contender Series; you need to go and get some fights,’ so I did.”
The kickboxer enters the Octagon with four knockouts and zero losses.
The 26-year-old almost had no choice in his career path. The Tafa fighting pedigree goes back generations. The Samoan last name may ring a bell, as Junior’s older brother, Justin, is a 6-3 heavyweight that’s been in the promotion a little over three years. The two get trained by their oldest brother Gerard back home in Queensland, Australia. Their grandfather was a national boxing champion and uncles were world kickboxing champions.
I imagine that “fighting with your siblings” was taken to a whole new level as they were growing up.
Being the brother to a man nicknamed “Bad Man,” you can only imagine the instruction the young mind has been given to pursue such a daunting career.
When we asked if his brother has given him any advice coming in, he sarcastically said, “Always, always. Stop drinking, stop smoking.” There’s that personality again. He quickly recovers and says that his brothers give him all the advice he needs to come in and get the job done. Being around such seasoned competitors really gives him a veteran mindset in a newcomer’s body.
It seems like Tafa doesn’t have to look far for inspiration, considering fighting is in his blood. But coming from the Oceania region that has birthed some of the most successful fighters in the sport, like current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, who else motivated him to start this career?
“[Volkanovski and Adesanya are] people I got to see throughout my years of training coming up, so I got to spend some time with them in camps. It’s inspirational, motivating. A lot of the Polynesian fighters coming up - Tai Tuivasa, Carlos Ulberg - those guys inspire me to be a great fighter.”
For a lot of people, this will be the first time we see the youngest Tafa in the Octagon, so what should we expect? Simply put, “Electrifying!”
“I go in kill or be killed, I put it all on the line, I play my cards all-in.”
Seems like we have something to look forward to when The Juggernaut meets Mohammed Usman in the APEX. It’s another name that may sound familiar, as Usman is the younger brother of former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. The battle of the brothers should be an interesting one, as we’ll see how the mixed martial artist stacks up against the kickboxing power of Tafa.
“I enjoy fighting in places like this, quiet, intimate,” said Tafa. It seems like a smaller stage is just what he needs to be successfully inducted into the UFC, and the big red letters that will be displayed don’t seem to faze him in the slightest, “[My] mentality is still the same, I take each fight as it comes and just enjoy the challenge.”
As far as making a name for himself, he could care less. The nonchalant attitude is something we all strive to have. It brings a confidence that someone in his position could benefit from.
“I kinda don’t want to be remembered; I kinda just want to make my paycheck and go home. Yeah, I don’t want to be famous or nothing, this is a ways of making a living for me, so I hope I can just make a lot of money and then disappear into the sunset.”
UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs Blaydes took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas on April 22, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!