Of course, traveling 33 hours to have your fight end in a no contest 29 seconds in isn’t the way that Justin Tafa hoped his fight against Austen Lane in Jacksonville would end earlier this year. But that doesn’t mean he has any hard feelings toward Lane ahead of their rematch in Sydney at UFC 293.
“I thought wholeheartedly it was an accidental eye poke,” Tafa said. “I've got no ill will towards him, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to knock him out. It's just business and then he can come have a beer after, but after I knock him out.”
When the two were scheduled to fight in June, it was in Jacksonville, Florida, where Lane resided. But now, the rematch is set to happen on the turf of Tafa, who is from Brisbane, Australia, just a few hours away from Sydney. For Tafa, it seems like everything is working out the way it is supposed to.
“I think these things happen for a reason and it wasn't meant to go down there,” Tafa said. “It was meant to go down under.”
The rebooking between the two heavyweights wasn’t immediate, either. Tafa was going to have shoulder surgery before the UFC reached out to him with a contract to fight Lane in Sydney. It was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.
Earlier this year, Tafa fought at UFC 284 in Perth, where he secured a first-round knockout over Parker Porter. And even though that moment was special for Tafa, he believes this is really his homecoming and that the Sydney crowd is going to bring it.
“I think it's going to be a lot rowdier here in Sydney,” Tafa said. “This is a diehard UFC city. They've got a lot of good fighters here and a lot of them are fighting on the weekend, so it's going to be bumping.”
Tafa and Lane were only in the Octagon for 29 seconds before the fight was ruled a no contest due to an accidental eye poke that left Tafa unable to continue. It was a short amount of time, but Tafa felt that was still something to take from it.
“You feel energy in the in the Octagon and I felt his energy and he felt mine and so we know what it is like,” Tafa said. “Let's just say I'm confident going into this fight. I've trained hard. I've had a good camp, so I'm just ready to finish the job on the weekend.”
There’s no doubt about it that both of these men are bringing the power to the fight inside Qudos Bank Arena. All six of Tafa’s wins have come by way of knockout, while Lane has earned 11 of his 12 wins by knockout. Prior to the no contest, Lane was riding a six-fight win streak and Tafa had secured back-to-back knockout wins in the first round.
“We both look for finishes and we both swing hard, so one of us are going to hit that canvas and it's going to be fireworks,” Tafa said.
Being able to fight in a place where the crowd is going to be on your side is something is special. Tafa hopes to draw energy from the crowd as he makes his walk on Sunday afternoon in Sydney.
“I think the crowd's going to love the song I'm going to walk out to,” Tafa said. “It's one that is close to me, and it means a lot to myself and my family, so it'll be one that the crowd will love. I'm going to use that as good energy and go out there and put on the show.”
Tafa has his sights set on taking home the victory over Lane and continuing to make his way up the heavyweight division.
“I really want to make my case as the next prospect coming into the heavyweight division and someone to be seriously looking at,” Tafa said. “I know that there are a lot of names going in the heavyweight division, but I feel like I have every tool that's needed to be up there with all the other big names, and I just got to show it. I'm coming off two knockouts, besides that no contest, and I want to make it three.”
UFC 293: Adesanya vs Strickland took place live from Qudos Arena in Sydney, Australia on September 9, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!