In the mixed martial arts game, respect is earned not given, and Brad Tavares is on a quest to make his mark in the sport.
The 25-year-old Hawaiian born striker has emerged as one of the middleweight division's hottest prospects, as he's gone from a participant on the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter to finding success in five of his six showings inside the Octagon.
The Ray Sefo protege's most recent showing resulted in a victory over gritty Japanese grappler Riki Fukuda at UFC on Fuel TV 8 in March, and following the victory, Tavares immediately set his sights on much bigger fish in the 185-pound division.
While his efforts to court a matchup with MMA legend Wanderlei Silva fell on deaf ears, the truth remains that the Xtreme Couture product is barreling toward the next tier of the division. He's knocking on the door of bigger things, and he knows with each step he takes, the respect he's after will come with every rung up the ladder he climbs.
"The UFC knows I'm a tough fighter, but at the end of the day, it's a business," Tavares told Bleacher Report. "Fighters have to win and do it in impressive fashion to get noticed. I try to do that and put on good fights, and my goal in this fight is to get that finish. I'm going to push hard to get it. You see guys come in and get a few good finishes and boom, they are getting a title shot. That goes to show the fashion in which you finish fights and how you get the victory does matter. That is what I have to do. The gave me three tough S.O.B.s back-to-back-to-back and I beat them.
"My goal is to break into the top 10 and I'm on my way there. I have to keep winning and I believe I will achieve that goal. At the end of the day, this is also my career, and I need these fights regardless of who they are against. I need these fights to support my family and keep living. This is my life and I'm not going to be detoured. Sooner or later I'm going to be there and I think a finish over Bubba will make it four in a row. I'm climbing that ladder."
Where the biggest challenges of the division remain over the hill and are still out of sight, the top 10 of the 185-weight class is a destination that is materializing on the horizon ahead. That being said, Tavares understands he is still a few steps away from solidifying himself in that particular collection, but is willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
This means there will be no room for error on the journey and his bout against Bubba McDaniel at UFC Fight Night 27 becomes all the more important. His fellow TUF alum may not carry the biggest name in the sport, but he's still a challenge Tavares needs to conquer to in order to continue his run.
"I'm looking at this fight the same as every other," Tavares said. "There is going to be a guy standing across the cage looking to hurt me and I need to put him away before he gets the chance. While he's not the opponent I asked for or preferred, this is the fight game and it's a business. They put somebody in front of me and it's my job to go in there and take them out. I've trained hard and I'm taking this guy very seriously.
"It's a big opportunity to be fighting on the main card in front of millions of fans on Fox Sports 1. I'm looking forward to putting on an entertaining fight and hopefully a win here will get me one of the bigger names for my next fight. I feel like they are giving me the stage to prove myself and that is what I have to do."
In the matchup with McDaniel, the versatile striker will face an opponent who is starting out on a familiar path. The Jackson's MMA-trained fighter was a member of Team Jones on the 17th season of TUF, and while he was successful in his bout against Gilbert Smith at the finale in April, his bout with Tavares will be his first time facing an established opponent on the UFC roster.
That being said, even though Tavares is the more experienced veteran inside the Octagon, McDaniel has been double the fight experience of the young Hawaiian. Tavares doesn't see that being an issue in Indianapolis and is looking forward to bringing the scrap to McDaniel.
"[McDaniel] has more submission victories than I do fights and that is something you really have to respect about this guy," Tavares said. "But at the same time, the caliber of opponents he's faced haven't been the same as what I've competed against. He's never faced a fighter like me. I don't think he's faced anyone as well-rounded and wants it as bad as I do. I'll never give up in there and I'll never stop. I don't care how tired, bruised, battered...it doesn't matter. I take that warrior's heart in there with me and will win this fight.
"He's been talking on Twitter that this is going to be a good fight and I hope he really means it. If he's coming in there to do the one, two, clinch game then it is going to be tough. I'm not saying he needs to abandon his game and keep it striking, but I hope it's not one of those situations I end up in like when I fought Aaron Simpson. He just held me against the cage. That being said, that is the way guys are going to try to beat me and I've been working on it since that Simpson fight and it's not going to happen again."
With a hot winning streak and a bright future ahead, Tavares is keeping stride with a rapidly growing sport. He still has several years before his athletic prime materializes and his rise through the middleweight ranks is coming just as the UFC begins the next chapter with Fox Sports 1. These circumstances have Tavares excited for what is to come for both him and the sport he loves.
"It's a great time for MMA," Tavares said. "It feels good to be on the rise along with the sport and we are reaching so many more homes now. Before, it was only the die-hard fans who followed the sport and knew when the fights were, but now it's on everyday television. You can have basic cable and watch fights for free. It's amazing to see how far our sport has come and I'm excited to see where it is going to go from here. I'm definitely happy to be a part of that and be one of the many fighters who are helping the sport grow."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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