Ever since moving to the continental United States to train full time in mixed martial arts (MMA) Brad Tavares has seen a tremendous leap in his development as a fighter.
The native Hawaiian got off to a very early start, fighting for the first time professionally when he was still in his teens.
Now at 24 years old and training as much as four times a day at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, he feels he's finally starting to reach his potential in the "Mecca of MMA."
The Ultimate Fighter season 11 alum was stifled in his last bout, a grueling affair against former Division I All-American wrestler Aaron Simpson and he'll finally be returning to the Octagon tomorrow night (May 15, 2012) for the first time in over 11 months when he battles Dongi Yang on the Facebook portion of the UFC on Fuel TV 3 undercard in Fairfax, Virginia.
Tavares spoke to MMAmania.com about convincing his mother that MMA was okay, the learning experience from his last fight against "The A-Train" and what he feels he needs to do to find success against Dongi Yang tomorrow night in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you moved out to mainland America from Hawaii for MMA training, what was it that convinced you to head out here?
Brad Tavares: When I first started training MMA, my old coach, Brandon Wolff, a big mentor to me, he saw the big picture. He's a fighter himself and actually had a few fights in the UFC and he's kind of older and he was wise to what was happening for the younger generation of fighters at our old gym in mixed martial arts development, he kind of set up a plan so to speak about picking up as much experience as we could and then eventually moving out to someplace like Vegas.
Vegas is like a mecca. Everyone is going to Vegas, whether it's at Couture's or Drysdale's or Throwdown or other places. It's just a prime location in Vegas. After a few years went by, I got a job opportunity in America and I basically came out here to live with friend who gave me a place to stay until I got on my feet and whatnot. It all kind of lined up and I just made the most of it. Once I got my job situated, I started training again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): And what was the biggest difference between training 2-4 hours a day in Hawaii to training full time in Las Vegas. What's the biggest advantage of being a full-time fighter?
Brad Tavares: The advantages are huge. Being a full time fighter, the primary advantage is the amount of time I get to work and improve. Typically, a day in Hawaii for me, i used to wake up at 3 a.m. and I'd start work at 4 a.m. and I'd work until about 12 p.m. and then I'd go home and by then I just wanted to take a nap because I was exhausted and then I'd have to train right after that from 5-7 o'clock. That was typically every day.
On my days off, I could go for a run or something but in Hawaii, everyone has to work because there's not a lot of training partners out there for you to train with in the mornings so when they're available, you take advantage of the situation. If someone's on vacation or working a different shift, you take advantage.
Everyone out here in Vegas are full-time fighters. That's what they do for a living so from the time the day starts until the day ends, they're training and it's just a big help to be able to go into the gym in the morning and not have to worry about working a normal day job, but to wake up early, do conditioning, do mitts, so a wrestling or jiu-jitsu workout or whatever it may be, go home, eat, rest, recover and then go back again and do it again in the evening.
I train at least two times a day and sometimes up to 3-4 a day. That's like a week's work in Hawaii so that's a huge advantage for me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I heard that your mother wasn't exactly very positive about wanting you to get into fighting but now she's totally got your back. What was it that convinced her it was okay? Did you have to do it without permission at first or what?
Brad Tavares: I'm always looking for my mom's approval, her consent, her permission so to speak but it's something that I was always interested in growing up. My mom had to work full-time and we didn't exactly live close to the town that she had to work in on the big Island about 26 miles away from the town I went to school and played sports and stuff so it wasn't always easy for her when I was young because her and my father had to work. It wasn't always easy for me to want to do boxing, kickboxing, wrestling or anything like that.
I always wanted to do it but it just didn't happen that way and it's something that she didn't want me to do. I'm a momma's boy, I'm her first born and she really baby's me and she doesn't want me to get beat up. She still has a hard time getting around the fact that I'm gonna be in there fighting and I could potentially get knocked out, choked out, get my face smashed in bloody and cut. She didn't really want me to do it but it was something that I wanted to do so it was something I started getting into.
I took like a kickboxing fight, that was my first fight back in the day and I told her about it. I was like, "Hey mom, I'm gonna do this," and my uncle and my grandma came to watch and my mom was on the big island, this was on O'ahu and she couldn't come. I didn't think she was ready to come anyways. They told her I was actually good at this stuff so that kind of keeps her mind a little bit at ease. I told her this was something I'm passionate about.
I explained to her that it's legal, it's pretty safe with the rules and referees and judges watching out for you and it's something that I wanted to pursue. Being the good mother that she is, she stood behind me and said "okay" even though she wasn't comfortable with it at the time. It's something that she learned to deal with and she does.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming fight a little bit. Dongi Yang, he's a compact middleweight, but his two career losses are to two guys that competed on your season of The Ultimate Fighter in Chris Camozzi and Court McGee. Does that give you a little bit of confidence heading into this one?
Brad Tavares: Definitely. It makes me want to keep the streak going. He's fought TUF 11 alums and he's 0-2 so far so why not make it 0-3? I just look at Dongi's fights and I think he's a really awesome fighter. He brings a good fight, but when I look at him, I just see that I'm a better fighter than he is. I'm not saying it's gonna be an easy fight. I'm not saying it's gonna be a walk in the park, but I definitely think I'm better than him in every aspect of the game. Striking, wrestling and jiu-jitsu.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, I would say the biggest thing to be concerned about is potentially his power. He's kind of got that good one punch ability to really turn the tide. Is that your biggest concern heading in as well?
Brad Tavares: Not so much. I train with a lot of tough guys that hit hard. I've been hit hard in fights. Baroni hit me really hard, he sent me to the mat but I recovered quickly. I don't know yet if I have a Chris Leben type of chin. I did get that flash knockdown from Baroni but I didn't feel like I was in any trouble. I got right back up, didn't feel dizzy or out of place or have that feeling of not knowing where I was so I'm not worried. In this sport, with four ounce gloves, it doesn't take much to knock somebody out. It's like that saying, "Any given Sunday."
At this level, everybody is so good and training so hard, anybody can knock anybody out really. It's not something that I'm so concerned about. I know that he's dangerous. He has the power and he has the potential to knock people out. Look at his record. It's not something I'm overly concerned about. Do I have to be cautious, yeah, of course. I'm not gonna go in there stupidly with my hands down and swing from the hips but it's not something that keeps me up at night shaking in my bed or anything either.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Working at Xtreme Couture, you've said that Ray Sefo has done a great job of pointing out some of your flaws in your striking game and not just the "what" but the "why." What I want to know is, what's one thing, big or small, that you've really been able to focus on and improve, like a flaw, with Sefo's help?
Brad Tavares: Like Ray tells me, it's nothing real bad that I do, but it's a lot of little things that I can do better. It's just sharpening. It's not one big thing that we spend hours on in the gym and he says, "Oh you need to fix this, this and that," it's just sharpening. He tells me, "This is good, but if you tweak this thing this way, it'll be even better." He's a very good instructor and I believe I'm a pretty good student so I take his instruction well. I love learning especially from such a credentialed trainer like him. He's a six time world champ, a hall of famer. I'm all ears when he wants to talk and teach me. I want to do something similar, win multiple world championships like he's done.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): After such a grueling and tough fight against Aaron Simpson in your last bout, do you feel any pressure to have a more exciting performance or do you feel like that's all dependent on your opponent?
Brad Tavares: It was kind of hard to have a good fight against Aaron Simpson. I couldn't really throw big punches like I like, swinging bombs because he'd take me down. I tried to keep my chin under myself and it was really irritating for me to have someone do that to me but it was a good learning experience. I know now what to do in that situation. I've worked on it a bunch. I know how to not get in that position. With Dongi, I don't think he's a boring fighter at all. You look at all his fights and he comes out to bring a fight. He doesn't try to just lay on somebody or hold them against the cage. He wants to swing and he wants to go and get it. I can't see this being a boring fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you visualize success, when you're picturing victory against Dongi Yang, what do you see?
Brad Tavares: I definitely can't see myself losing this fight no matter where it goes but I like to play with the scenarios, what could happen it if goes to the ground, what submissions I could get or maybe a TKO by ground and pound. I can't predict the future. I don't know exactly how the fight is going to go but I'm hoping and I'm always looking that finish, always trying for it so hopefully I can get a finish and I can be the first person to finish Dongi Yang.
Brad would like to thank his sponsors HeadRush, Hayabusa and Xtreme Couture, his coaches Ray Sefo, his training partners Martin Kampmann, Mike Pyle, Jay Hieron and everyone that's helped him get ready for this fight. He'd also like to thank the fans of now just him but of all of MMA. You can follow him on twitter @BradTavares.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Tavares be the first man to finish Dongi Yang? Or will he not be able to match "Ox's" strength?