Junior Tafa will have his second MMA fight in the space of just over a month when he faces Tsuyoshi Sudario at Rizin 40 on New Years Eve. It represents a big opportunity as well as a quick turnaround for the 26 year old who comes from a long line of fighters.
His older brother Justin competes in the UFC, and having spent the majority of his career as a kickboxer, the hard-hitting Australian wants to show he can replicate his success,
“I’ve been training with Mark Hunt since I was 19. I signed to Glory at 20 and I was locked in with a contract for the last three to four years so I just had to fight out my contract. If not for that contract I would have been fighting MMA a long time ago.”
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Tafa also has experience in professional boxing but it sound like MMA is the sport that he really wants to focus on now,
“I’ve been training MMA for a very long time with my brothers with Hunt, Tai Tuivasa, Carlos Ulberg… With UFC guys before they were UFC I was training with them. I’m a fighter. I want to go to the pinnacle of fighting. The best crowds and the best countries,” he said.
Hunt is a legend in Japan having competed in Pride, Dream and K-1 at the start of the century. It sound like the veteran has passed on plenty of wisdom to his protege,
“I’ve been a fan of Rizin for a long time, many years (and) I’ve always wanted to compete in Rizin. It’s been a goal on the bucket list. Mark Hunt told me, ‘Japan’s the greatest’ he said if ever you get an opportunity to fight in Japan, take it.”
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Him or me
Tafa has amassed a 3-0 record in MMA. All of his wins have come via knockout including his first round finish against Nicolas Durdjević in November. Despite being relatively inexperienced the Sydney-native clearly believes in his abilities.
“I’m very confident. I’ve been training MMA longer than I’ve been training boxing. I just fought a grappler last week in Bali, I fought a Serbian from France (and) in the first 20 seconds he went for the takedown. My goal is to never initiate a takedown. I wanna knock guys out. I wanna put them out cold. That’s the goal. I don’t want to wrestle with guys, I don’t want to win by points.”
Given his credentials as a kickboxer Tafa knows opponent are going to try and take him down. At Rizin 40 he faces a former sumo wrestler who will presumably waste no time in trying to put him on his back.
Sudario has finished six of his seven MMA fights inside the distance and Tafa clearly has a lot of respect for the former sumo star. The Australian sees someone winning by stoppage and knows who he thinks it will be,
“I think he’s a really tough opponent. Very strong guy, but I’m coming to knock his lights out. It’s him or me, it’s gonna be me.”