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UFC 271: Adesanya v Whittaker 2 Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Paris’ Tai Tuivasa

Australian slugger, Tai Tuivasa, will take on French kickboxer, Ciryl Gane, this Saturday (Sept. 3, 2022) at UFC Paris inside Accor Arena in Paris, France.

I fully understand that it’s my job to describe all the various ways Tuivasa has improved since his 2019 rough patch. After all, there’s a reason that Tuivasa went from losing three in a row to winning five straight in roughly 20 minutes total, right? Not to spoil this article in the opening paragraph, but truthfully, Tuivasa is still mostly the same fighter as he’s always been. The primary difference appears to be the benefits of a bit more experience and plenty more confidence. The technical aspects of “Bam Bam” will of course be discussed, but it cannot be overstated just how much the above count for in mixed martial arts (MMA), particularly at Heavyweight.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

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Striking

Tuivasa is a powerful hitter with a solid jawline. Realistically, Tuivasa works from the distinct ranges, so let’s go through it from furthest distance to closest.

The Aussie does nice work from the kickboxing range. For such a large man, Tuivasa is actually pretty light on his feet. He bounces and pulls at an angle away from his opponent’s power, which can lead to a couple setups. If his opponent doesn’t take the bait, Tuivasa is happy to chop the lead leg with an outside low kick. In general, Tuivasa’s low kick is quickly devastating — it’s part of what separates him from the Heavyweight pack. Back in his UFC debut, Tuivasa chopped apart Rashad Coulter’s lead leg before stunning him with a jump knee.

UFC Fight Night: Coulter v Tuivasa Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The other purpose behind this setup is to bait Tuivasa’s foe into counter shots. If his opponent tries to fire on the initial feint, Tuivasa is already pulling away from the power and into an advantageous angle to throw back. Sometimes, he’ll pull straight back, which is a bit riskier, but hey, it worked against Greg Hardy (GIF)!

In the pocket, Tuivasa is far more chaotic. He’s not a complete brawler without any semblance of technique or reason; “Bam Bam” moves his head a bit more than the average slugger. He doesn’t just alternate left and right hands, as Tuivasa will occasionally mix up the timing on his bombs. Against Derrick Lewis, for example, Tuivasa did nice work in catching him off-guard with a small level change before unloading a massive overhand (GIF).

For the most part though ... yeah, Tuivasa is a brawler, willing to trade shots.

Still, we have to give Tuivasa credit for smartly making the most of opportunities. He’s not dumb, as “Bam Bam” generally knows when and where to throw down. He’s consistently surprised opponents with his willingness to stand his ground and fire back after getting cracked, for example. On the flip side, Tuivasa is extremely willing to flurry on opponents who seem even the slightest bit uncomfortable in the exchange, which is how he flattened Augusto Sakai along the fence (GIF).

UFC 271: Lewis v Tuivasa Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Finally, Tuivasa’s best, most consistent range is likely the clinch. From close quarters, Tuivasa works well with his head position and can create big connections without needing a ton of space. Against Lewis, he landed quite a few knees to the mid-section while their torsos were nearly connected. That’s typically not an ideal range, but Tuivasa nevertheless was managing to make an impact, and Lewis didn’t seem to like it one bit. In addition, Tuivasa understands well how to break the clinch with a flurry of punches before re-entering with an underhook.

Tuivasa’s right elbow is a considerable weapon. Often, Tuivasa is attacking on the overhook side, as there’s a clean line from his arm to his opponent’s face. However, he’s also interrupted clinch attempts with the strike, which he times quite well. Often, Tuivasa looks for the elbow after pressing his foe to the cage, relying on the bounce of the fence to run his foe into the connection.

Wrestling

Tuivasa has defended a mere 50 percent of the takedowns that have come his way, and he’s yet to score a single offensive takedown inside the Octagon. Still, I would say Tuivasa’s general takedown defense has improved. Sakai is not a tremendous wrestler, but he’s decent, and Tuivasa didn’t have too much trouble preventing him from getting anything going in the clinch.

UFC 243: Tuivasa v Spivac Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The big problem for Tuivasa seems to be balance. It’s one thing to get tossed around by Sergei Spivac, who has proven himself really damn good with trips and throws for a Heavyweight. The fact that Derrick Lewis twice tripped him up in the clinch in the very first round, however ... that’s worrying. Lewis’ takedowns simply are not great, so it’s concerning to consider that Gane is a far slicker wrestler.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Tuivasa has yet to show much in the way of offensive or defensive Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When taken down, he’s still very quick to belly out and stand up, which often isn’t the worst move at Heavyweight. Still, considering his mount defense against Junior dos Santos involved trying to throw punches from his back, it feels safe to assume Tuivasa isn’t yet a secret grappling threat.

UFC Fight Night: Dos Santos v Tuivasa Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Conclusion

Tuivasa flattening Derrick Lewis felt like a changing of guard moment, in which Tuivasa assumed Lewis’ role as the heavy-handed brawler in the Heavyweight Top 10. However, it remains to be seen whether or not he can surpass “The Black Beast” and succeed in becoming a true title threat.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Paris fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Paris: “Gane vs. Tuivasa” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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