Thiago Tavares has been fighting professionally for 15 years, but his main goal has changed a little bit over the past couple of years.
Tavares competed inside the UFC Octagon for almost a decade before he decided to embrace new challenges when he was released by the UFC two years ago. After studying nutrition for some time in Brazil, one of his classmates convinced him to drop it and move to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to study medicine. The Brazilian joined the Hector Barcelo Foundation, and now dedicates up to 10 hours of his day to study.
”It’s not easy. I had a lot of tests two weeks ago… it was rough [laughs],” Tavares told MMA Fighting. “Sometimes I can only train once a day, sometimes I can day twice a day. It’s not like it used to be in the past when I dedicated full-time to my gym.”
Tavares has only fought once since leaving the UFC, scoring a quick TKO victory 14 months ago in Brazil, but opted to turn his focus back on the MMA world with Professional Fighters League.
One of the lightweight talents in the roster, Tavares faces Robert Watley at Thursday’s PFL 2 card in Chicago and aims to score a quick finish to move to the playoffs and the million-dollar prize.
”I’m always after new challenges,” Tavares said. “I’m studying medicine, and also agreed to enter this league. There’s nothing else I do except studying and training now, getting ready for my next fight.”
The 34-year-old veteran is studying physical education, too, to have an option when his MMA career is over. When he retires, Tavares says, he will choose to continue working with sports, likely as an endocrinologist, or move away from it and become a pediatrician.
”Medicine became a dream for me,” Tavares. “I don’t see myself without it anymore.”
Ready to enter a MMA cage for the 30th time, Tavares celebrates PFL’s format which he says is based on meritocracy instead of UFC’s current business model. Having fought some of the best under the UFC banner for years, from Khabib Nurmagomedov to Brian Ortega to Clay Guida to Nik Lentz, Tavares gets fired up about UFC’s recent choices, in particular about prospect Sage Northcutt.
”We know that this sport needs marketing and business to survive, but it becomes a problem when business is more important than the sport, and that’s what’s going on right now,” Tavares said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are as a fighter, if you have 500 ‘Fight of the Night’ bonuses; what matters is if you’re shaved, if ranking panelists are your friends, if you live in California, if you post videos kicking car windows on Instagram like that idiot who can’t even defend an arm-triangle choke.
“(Northcutt) has three UFC fights and is getting paid the same I was making with 18 UFC fights. I was one of the top 15 fighters, yeah, I was never a champion, no, but they are putting these idiots to fight and all they do is post their new haircut on Instagram. It’s messed up.
”PFL is a meritocracy. Maybe I’ll go in there and lose in a minute and that’s it, it’s over, go back home. If I perform what I’ve always performed, it’s meritocracy, nothing else matters. ‘Oh, but he posted a picture with the UFC princess.’ Doesn’t matter. And I’m only talking about one guy, but there are plenty more. They put this guy now, CM Punk, on a pay-per-view main card. He has never won anything in his life… It’s complicated.”
Tavares doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. Not paying attention to anything other than his medicine school and MMA career, the Brazilian is honest about his upcoming fight with Watley, a 10-1 fighter with 10 straight wins.
”He’s tough, has knockout power, he’s young,” Tavares said of the former LFA champion. “It’s fifty-fifty. Maybe he’s the favorite. Yeah, I’m aware of that. He’s good.”
The Florianopolis native is confident, though, and doesn’t plan on wasting any time inside the cage in Chicago. Looking for a quick finish to score extra points and advance to the playoffs, Tavares wants the million-dollar check to finish his studies in the United States.
”This is why I’m here,” Tavares said.