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UFC Vegas 71 - New Blood: Can’t stop ‘The Juggernaut’

UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich v Blaydes Weigh-in Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is quite often a family affair, and the latest example is just one day away from making his first Octagon walk. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where promotions who only put up highlights instead of full fights will be first against the wall when I conquer the world, we check out a heavy-handed Glory veteran who joins his brother in UFC’s Heavyweight division this weekend (Sat., April 22, 2023) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 74 On ESPN+

STRAWWEIGHT CONTENDERS COLLIDE! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns home to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., May 20, 2023, with No. 7-ranked women’s Strawweight contender, Mackenzie Dern, testing her high-powered submission skills against No. 13-seeded Angela Hill. In UFC Vegas 73’s ESPN+-streamed co-main event, Anthony Hernandez will lock horns with Edmen Shahbazyan in a showdown between talented Middleweight up-and-comers.

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Junior “The Juggernaut” Tafa

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Age: 26
Record: 4-0 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Tsuyoshi Sudario

Tafa — younger brother of fellow UFC Heavyweight Justin Tafa — put together a 20-5 kickboxing record and a seven-fight stint in Glory before the age of 23. He ultimately made his MMA debut in July 2022 and fought four times in under six months, including a 98-second finish of Tsuyoshi Sudario in the RIZIN ring.

Slugging appears to run in the family, as “The Juggernaut” is just as willing as his brother to trade heat. He’s got a definite predilection for hooks and uppercuts over straight punches, throwing heavy shots to the head and body from either stance. That said, he’ll flash a jab at times and I’ve seen him use it to set up his preferred looping left hook to the head. He doesn’t use it often, but his head kick is solid as well.

He’s not short on killer instinct, either. He’ll straight-up maul opponents once he’s got them hurt.

Despite his pedigree, I’m not seeing a ton of craft behind the violence. He’ll still rush in with his punches, his weight ahead of his hips as he wings bombs, and I’m not sure he’s fully fixed the vulnerability to low kicks that Benjamin Adegbuyi exploited to stop him back in 2018. On top of that, his fight with Fitial showed that he’ll still lean on a high, static guard under fire, which both opened up his hips to takedowns and allowed Fitial to sneak punches around and under his forearms.

To his credit, he’s much fitter and more mobile than in his kickboxing days (to the point where he wants to drop to 205 after his debut), but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The same can be said about his grappling. While he does know how to use under hooks and sprawl, he got taken down more than once by opponents who got in on his hips by either driving through his initial defense or shooting while his guard was up. He did manage to use the fence to stand against Nicolas Djurdjevic two fights back, though, so he’s not totally helpless off of his back.

He’s got some good punches and elbows if he winds up on top, but seems to prefer letting his opponent up after the initial flurry if the finish isn’t there.

Tafa is still a neophyte in this sport and looks to be a legitimately dangerous striker. That said, I’d still rate him below fellow kickboxing imports like Carlos Ulberg at the moment because he still needs to shore up his grappling and further adapt his striking to MMA if he wants to be a player. Luckily for him, he’s up against a man in Mohammed Usman who relies heavily on athleticism in lieu of technique, which should allow “The Juggernaut’s” power and experience to carry him to victory.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 71 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 71: “Pavlovich vs. Blaydes” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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