Photo from Facebook/Justin Tafa (@MMAjustintafa)

UFC 243: Dubbed as “The Next Mark Hunt” — Justin Tafa set for UFC debut

After Mark Hunt’s turbulent departure from the UFC, it seemed as though Tai Tuivasa was next in line to become the new heavyweight showman from the land down under. But with the Tuivasa hype stalled by a two fight losing slump, there is another “Bad Man” in the New Zealand trenches raring to get his UFC career underway.

As his nickname clearly explains, Justin Tafa (3-0) is a bad man — particularly once the cage doors lock behind him. And having taken the XFC Heavyweight division by storm, the UFC’s return to Melbourne is the perfect opportunity to push the latest Australasian prospect out in front of the spotlight.

Standing at 6 feet tall, Tafa’s resemblance to Hunt is uncanny, not only in their overall in-cage presence, but particularly in their fighting styles. Boasting an undefeated record with all three of his wins being KO’s, Tafa is equipped with legit one punch knockout power — something that was almost trademarked by Hunt during his UFC tenure.

Hunt’s fights were always thrilling because you just knew that no matter how the fight was going, he had the ability to shut his opponents lights off at any given moment. Looking at the limited, but still impressive, tapes of Tafa, it looks like the “Bad Man” has similar weapons in his arsenal.

You don’t have to analyze Tafa’s fights too deep in order to establish his style. He is deceivingly athletic in spite of his stocky posture, and relentless in walking down his opponents in pursuit of the bomb that will see the contest waved off.

Tafa’s preferred weapon? A right uppercut that has put all but one of his opponents beyond the realms of consciousness. The other victory on his flawless record came through ground and pound, in a fight which showed off some respectable grappling transitions on the mat. But make no mistake, shooting for takedowns is not something you should expect from Tafa.

Having recently been promoted to open up the main card, all the eyeballs will be on Tafa, 25, and he will have the ideal platform to make a statement by taking out a fellow undefeated UFC debutant in Yorgan De Castro (5-0). Seven years the elder (32), De Castro will be the first ever fighter out of Cape Verde to set foot in the Octagon, and he is also a Dana White’s Contender Series alum. The latter should add even more incentive for Tafa, as getting a win over a fighter that was hand picked by the boss himself could throw the New Zealander right into the heavyweight mix.

De Castro also likes to mix it up in the cage. His Contender Series victory came via a vicious leg kick. But despite the undefeated record, he has also managed to pick up some damage on the way. De Castro has a couple of three rounders and a decision win under his belt, which could in a way play in his favor should this fight drag out, but will instead see Tafa enter this contest as a betting favorite (-125).

Looking at the scrappy nature of these two heavyweights, blinking would probably not be advised throughout the viewing of this bout. There is pressure to impress on both of these fighters shoulders, but for Tafa, an emphatic win could really push the “Next Mark Hunt” narrative, and set him up for some interesting fights going forward in a division that is once again beginning to look a little top heavy.


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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