For a young fighter competing on the biggest stage in mixed martial arts, momentum can be a difficult thing to build.
Progression under fire presents unique challenges, and the learning curve typically involves several setbacks as a fighter attempts to settle into their career.
On the other hand, there are some young talents who find their rhythm in the early stages, and Brad Tavares certainly fits this description.
Since making his UFC debut in 2011, the Hawaiian-born fighter has become one of the most highly touted prospects in the middleweight division. The 25-year-old has been on a steady climb up the divisional ladder, winning five of his first six outings and showing steady progression in the process.
While Tavares' success has garnered praise, the buzz surrounding the Ray Sefo-trained fighter has amplified in recent months as he's collected three consecutive victories over quality opposition. In his most recent showing, Tavares defeated veteran Riki Fukuda at UFC on Fuel TV 8 by neutralizing the AKA-trained fighter's wrestling and imposing his will throughout the three-round affair.
When the final bell sounded, the Xtreme Couture product earned the unanimous-decision victory and added the Japanese grappler's name to his growing resume.
Defeating Fukuda may not have pushed Tavares into the top-10 rankings of the 185-pound weight class, but he has the perfect opponent in mind to ensure this becomes reality. Tavares knows the best fighters in the division are waiting just around the corner, and he wants to make sure the next step of his career is the biggest one yet.
"I want to fight Wanderlei Silva," Tavares told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "I think the fight with Wanderlei makes a lot of sense and it would be awesome stylistically. I've been coming up the ranks and getting to fight someone I've looked up to for so long would be an awesome opportunity. It is the fight I really want and I hope I get my wish. It would be a dream come true to fight that guy.
"There is a lot that goes in to me wanting that fight. A lot people might not know this aside from my coaches and close friends, but Wanderlei has been my favorite fighter since I was a kid. There are a lot of fighters who have come along since I enjoy watching, but Wanderlei has always been my favorite. When I was growing up he was dominating over in Japan and I wanted to be just like him. I idolized the man. I wanted to fight viciously like him and the persona he carried blew me away back then."
While Tavares is typically reserved and stays away from the increasing trend of calling other fighters out, the opportunity to face Silva is one he can't help but go after. The chance to face a fighter he idolized as a youth would be a dream come true, and Tavares wants to do everything in his power to make the bout happen.
At the same time, he's not alone in the quest to land a fight with Silva, as British slugger Tom Watson recently called out "The Axe Murderer" as well (h/t vendettafighter.com).
But where Tavares' intentions come from a place of respect and admiration, "Kong" used a much different approach in calling out the legend. Watson took to his Twitter to challenge Silva, telling him to either "stay on his supplements at 205 [pounds] or come to 185 and get knocked the f*** out."
Tavares believes every fighter is going to take a different approach to get what they want, but feels where a bout with Silva is concerned, he's far more deserving than Watson.
"Tom Watson went ahead and called out Wanderlei too but I really wasn't a fan of the way he did it," Tavares said. "Everybody is going to go about things in their own way and Watson kind of took that Chael Sonnen approach to try and get that fight. I think Watson can compete with Wanderlei but I don't think with where he is at that he deserves that fight. I feel I'm way more deserving and I asked for the winner of the Stann versus Silva fight leading up to Japan. I did it hoping I would get a great opportunity.
"Wanderlei responded to the Watson call out and said as long as a fight made sense he would take it. He said it didn't matter how big or little the name was; the fight just had to make sense. That's where I feel me asking for Wanderlei fits that category.
"It would be a matchup where an MMA legend is a facing an up-and-comer trying to breakthrough. He lives in Vegas. I train in Vegas, and there is an event this summer at UFC 162 with a lot of middleweights already on the card. Let's make the fight with Wanderlei Silva happen and add another great middleweight fight to that event.
"I have nothing but respect for Wanderlei," Tavares added. "I could never go out there and talk trash about him the way Watson did. Like I said, everybody has their own approach to how they try to get fights, but that's just not me. I typically wouldn't ask for a specific opponent but Wanderlei is an exception. I want to fight that guy and I say that with the utmost respect. It would be an honor to face Wanderlei Silva."
As the bout with Silva remains an uncertainty at this time, Tavares has undoubtedly earned the right to face a high-profile opponent. Where a matchup with one of the fighters currently residing in the upper tier of the division would be highly unlikely, Tavares could certainly find himself squaring off with an opponent on the outer edges of the top 10 in the 185-pound weight class.
This scenario would appear to be the most likely outcome, but a major issue arises as the majority of the top middleweights on the UFC roster are all scheduled to fight in the coming months. As disappointing as that may be, Tavares feels these factors only serve to strengthen his case to make a bout with Silva a reality.
"I'll fight anyone of those top 10 guys but everyone is already booked up," Tavares said. "If I can't get one of those top guys, why not let me fight Wanderlei? I don't know if he's currently ranked in the top 10 but he's dangerous to anyone he fights, and I would love to test myself against him. He always comes to fight his heart out and I love competing against guys like that.
"When I fought Watson I got excited because he is the type of guy who is going to bring the fight. He wants it to be a brawl and I get excited to face guys who want to stand up with me.
"Going into the fight with Riki [Fukuda], it was in the back of my mind that he might want to try to take it to the ground and stall things out. With guys getting cut, you never know how that is going to affect the way they approach a fight, because they are either going to be looking to get the win any way they can or they are coming out to put on a show. Fortunately, Riki was looking to put on a show and it ended up being a great fight.
"With Wanderlei, there is not one bit of worry in my mind he would show up to bring the fight. He would be coming in there looking to take my head off and I would be looking to do the same to him. It would be an awesome fight and I really hope it happens.
"If all the stars aligned perfectly it would be me standing across the cage from Wanderlei Silva on July 6 in Las Vegas at UFC 162," Tavares added. "I've been fighting on under cards and Facebook prelims and I believe I'm ready for a really big fight. I hope the UFC gives me the opportunity to take a big step in my career and fighting against Wanderlei Silva would certainly be the chance to accomplish that."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained first-hand unless noted otherwise.
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