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Tai Tuivasa aware of underdog status ahead of UFC Paris: ‘Everyone reckons I’m going to get smashed’

Tai Tuivasa has the biggest challenge of his career ahead of him, and he knows it.

The No. 5 heavyweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings headlines UFC Paris opposite No. 3 Ciryl Gane this Saturday, a bout that pits Tuivasa against a former interim UFC champion coming off of his first loss.

On The MMA Hour on Monday, Tuivasa was asked for his thoughts on the matchup, and he acknowledged that based on the chatter he’s heard, he doesn’t stand a chance.

“I suppose I’m getting written off left, right, and center,” Tuivasa said. “Everyone reckons I’m going to get smashed, so it should be pretty easy for Ciryl. But we’ll definitely go in there and have a crack.

“I’m just seeing a lot of s*** on the internet,” he continued. “Usually nerds behind their computer who have never had a fight before, but you know, sometimes [I’ll read it]. I don’t mind it, I like to get involved. A bit of banter.”

The results have been undeniable lately for Tuivasa, who struggled through a three-fight losing streak from 2018-2019. However, “Bam Bam” turned things around at UFC 254 with a first-round knockout of Stefan Struve, the first of five straight wins by KO/TKO that have carried Tuivasa to a historic main event in Paris.

Even given Tuivasa’s recent success, which includes a knockout of two-time UFC title challenger Derrick Lewis this past February, he enters Saturday’s contest as a huge underdog, hovering around 4-to-1 according to the latest odds from DraftKings.

Having the odds against him makes sense for Tuivasa, as he doesn’t expect Gane to be negatively affected by his title fight loss to Francis Ngannou at UFC 270.

“I think it would drive him to work harder or train harder,” Tuivasa said. “Plus, it’s such a big event, it’s the first time in history, it’s his hometown, it’s his hood. He’s a great athlete and I think he’s going to come prepared.

“But I’m going to bring something that I don’t think anyone’s really gave him yet, and that’s a f****** fight. I’m going to bite down on my mouth guard and go forward.”

Tuivasa’s win streak has turned him into a surprising championship contender, a position that he hasn’t been overly concerned about up to this point in his career. A win over Gane could put him in line for a shot at Ngannou — or make him one-half of an interim or vacant title bout in the near future, given Ngannou’s uncertain status with the UFC — and Tuivasa has found a reason to chase gold.

In a recent conversation with his son, Tuivasa realized that if he wants to be viewed in the same light as professional wrestling stars like John Cena and Brock Lesnar, he needs to bring a championship belt home to show off.

“My son, he loves John Cena and he was like, ‘I love them,’” Tuivasa said. “I was like, ‘You know daddy would give them a hiding?’

“He’s like, ‘Dad, you don’t even have a belt.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, I’m a s***-c***, thanks son, now I’m going to try and get a belt.’”

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