Brisbane heavyweight Justin Tafa will be feeling a lot of pain when he steps into the octagon against Marcos Rogerio de Lima at UFC 298 this weekend.
The 30-year-old is knocking on the door of a place in the heavyweight rankings, and is not lacking in motivation, but has added even more motivation following the tragic death of a young boy in Logan, where Tafa lives, in December.
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Tava joined the rest of his close-knit community in a frantic search for the seven-year-old, who disappeared from his home just a week before Christmas.
“I didn't know him, but I have a child who is one year younger than that boy,” Tava said in the major announcement. “He disappeared from his home. He was autistic and unable to speak, and when he disappeared, a major search began.
“The whole community was there until midnight, searching, and then everyone came back out at 5 a.m., looking around the river near his house.”
After 18 hours of desperate searching, the worst fears of the boy's family, the local community and Tava were horribly realized.
“Unfortunately, they found his body the next day,” Tava said. “I couldn't sleep all those days, just knowing that a little boy was helpless like that.
“My thoughts are always out there, and I always try to represent the neighborhood and the community, but I will definitely think of him when I'm there.”
Among the senseless tragedy, Tava says the simplest positive moments were watching the region come together.
“That was the only positive thing you could experience and come out of it,” he said. “Just that the whole community was there, seeing the love that everyone had.
“To come together in the busy times – and the tough times too – but everyone dropped everything.”
Community and his Samoan roots are at the heart of everything “Justin Bad Man” Tava does.
Born in Auckland to Samoan parents, he now calls Australia home, proudly representing all three countries when he fights.
It's a tradition taught to him by his grandfather, who, as a boxer in his younger days, became one of the first Samoan fighters to leave the island.
“In those days, it was a big deal,” Tava said. “It wasn't just plane rides everywhere, sometimes it was catching boats to other countries.
“He was a proud fighter. He really loved it and understood what it meant to fight.”
After growing up in Samoa, Tava's grandfather moved to Auckland with 14 children to become a truck driver.
This is a different kind of pressure to fight, and Tava says he feels a responsibility to make the most of his talents and advantages that his fathers and grandfathers did not have.
“You see that kind of struggle, and you think, ‘Man, I need to strive for better. I need to do more, so the next generation can do more, too.’ “I have two kids, and that can be a struggle as it is, and it can be a struggle. We got everything – electricity, everything.
“You're humbled coming back to Samoa, seeing where they live and how hard it is. It makes you appreciate it a little bit more, and not worry about the bullshit.”
Tava will use all that history as inspiration and motivation when he faces 16-fight UFC veteran De Lima in the lead-up to Alex Volkanovski's featherweight title defense against Ilya Topuria this weekend.
Tafa is undefeated in his last four fights and is the underdog, but he could vault into the top 15 in the division with an impressive win.
“Marcus has been in the UFC for almost 10 years, so he's more than just a veteran, but this is a youth sport,” he said. “It's dangerous, but it will be a good fight.
“It was a great match, because the main card is stacked as it is, but they needed someone to set off the fireworks in the preliminaries.
“They knew what I was bringing. I've been on some big cards – a lot of pay-per-views – and that's a testament to how I fight. I'm coming to bring the fireworks and show what I'm good at, and that's what knocks people out.