Tai Tuivasa drops home comforts for UFC Fight Night preparation

Having stepped outside his comfort zone, Tai Tuivasa says he is ready to rattle off multiple fights in the UFC heavyweight division -- starting with Don'Tale Mayes in Las Vegas next month.

The 27-year-old Australian has switched training bases to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after a short stint alongside Daniel Cormier at the American Kickboxing Academy at the start of last year, as he looks to "pump out" consecutive bouts in 2021.

Tuivasa (10-3) was able to snap a three-fight skid with victory over Stefan Struve last October in his only fight of 2020, the win helping to solidify some of the changes he had made and convince him that a switch to the Middle East was necessary.

"I think I'll be fighting for as long as I'm alive, whether it's in the cage or not," Tuivasa told ESPN when asked whether a loss to Struve could have spelled the end of his MMA career. "But I wasn't thinking of that; I had to go back to myself and think 'why am I losing, there has to be something bigger than me just losing.'

"I think there were bigger issues maybe within myself and how I was living and what not. But I kind of fixed all that up last year and felt better than ever."

Asked to elaborate on what he had discovered with the warts-and-all self-assessment, Tuivasa said: "I just got comfortable. I work best when I'm uncomfortable; just sitting still, getting comfortable, making stupid decisions businesswise and whatnot, I just had to step back and think why do I really want to do this, why do I really want to fight, and stuff like that.

"So I did that and I felt that I put in a good performance for my last fight."

The emergence of Fight Island as one of two UFC destinations amid the coronavirus pandemic also played into Tuivasa's decision to depart Australia, albeit one he hoped would lead to a first fight in Abu Dhabi in 2021 and not Las Vegas.

If things go well, he will have that chance after seeing off Mayes (8-4) on March 19, with a victory over the American just the start of what Tuivasa hopes will be a string of bouts throughout 2021.

"The reason I came here was because I thought the fights were going to be on Fight Island, but now I'm fighting in Vegas, so that was a bit of a U-turn," Tuivasa said. "But other than that, I knew a few people were over here in Dubai training-wise, a few friends from back home, so I thought 'why not, I may as well come here and train and fight in Abu Dhabi, which is just over there.

"[I can] pump out fights this year because last year was a bit slow; I had one fight for the year. As fighters we need to fight to make money, so it kind of stretched me last year and I wanted to get on a bit of a roll and try and pump them out. So I thought I could come to Dubai and train and pump a few fights out before I get locked down."

Tuivasa had climbed inside the top 10 of the UFC's heavyweight rankings ahead of his loss to Junior Dos Santos back in 2018, with that result setting him on a path of two further defeats and a slide out of the top 15.

While he says he is happy to fight anyone anytime, the Australian doesn't necessarily see his fight with Mayes as an automatic ticket back to a ranked opponent.

"Yes and no -- I think any couple of wins in the heavyweight division will get you a good fight," Tuivasa said. "For myself, now, I think I rushed that at the start.

"But to be honest, I'm a prizefighter. I don't care if they're ranked or not; if they're paying me my money, I'm going to rock up and fight.

"So my next goal is to win these next couple of fights and renegotiate a good contract and then go from there. I'm in this to feed my family and set my son up. So I'm definitely looking to get back in the winning category and sign a new contract, and then I'll fight whoever the f--- they want."

A renowned partier, particularly postfight, Tuivasa said he did have one minor concern ahead of the trip to Las Vegas.

"The flight might get missed, we might not rock up for the fight," he said with a laugh. "I fight my birthday week, so if I win by first-round KO, I might be extending the trip."