History-making Tai Tuivasa has eyes on a rise up the heavyweight rankings in 2019, if he can upset former world champion Junior Dos Santos on the UFC card in Adelaide on Sunday.
Fast-tracked Sydneysider Tuivasa will become the first Australian indigenous fighter to headline a UFC show when he clashes with the Brazilian veteran at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
Tuivasa is ranked 11th, four places below Dos Santos, who held the title in 2011-12 and unsuccessfully challenged for it last year.
In little more than a year, and in just his fourth fight, unbeaten Tuivasa will meet a second former world champion after outpointing Andrei Arlovski in his last bout.
“I never thought that (would happen so quickly) but anything is possible if you work hard,” Tuivasa told AAP.
“I definitely would love to be one of the top five or top three (in 2019), but I’ve got to worry about Sunday.”
With both men preferring to fight on their feet rather than go to the ground, it’s expected to be an exciting stand up contest between two powerful strikers.
“It’s going to be fireworks,” Tuivasa said.
Dos Santos, who at 34 is nine years older than Tuivasa and is a slight favourite with betting institutions, also expected a stand up slugfest.
“I think it’s going to be a great fight not just for the fans, but for the division,” Dos Santos told AAP.
“The winner is no doubt going to have an important move in his career.”
While there was some animosity in the months leading up to the fight with Dos Santos referring to Tuivasa as a street fighter, they have been civil towards each other of late.
The card will also feature the final UFC fight of legendary heavyweight Mark Hunt. He clashes with American Justin Willis, who at 15 is ranked five players below the Sydneysider.
Hunt and Willis exchanged words at the weigh-in before going backstage where Tuivasa, a friend of Hunt’s, could be heard raising his voice.
In another Australia-Brazil showdown, Tyson Pedro fights former light heavy weight champion Mauricio Rua.
Pedro, who is coming off a loss, is ranked 14th – one spot below Rua.
The card is stacked with Australian talent.
Jake Matthews fights Tony Martin in a welterweight bout, highly-rated UFC debutant Jim Clute tackles Scotsman Paul Craig in a light heavyweight contest and Brisbane-based American Ben Nguyen takes on Brazilian Wilson Reis in a battle of world-ranked flyweights.