Samoan heavyweight Junior Tafa (18-1, 14 KO’s) may be young, but he has big plans.
“After I win this tournament in Chicago I’m gonna call out Badr Hari!” he says when asked about what he wants to get out of next month’s GLORY 50 CHICAGO Heavyweight Contender Tournament.
“I’m a huge fan of Badr, I watched him all the time when I was coming up. For me he’s the best kickboxer that there’s ever been and to be able to get in there with him would be amazing. I’d love to be able to look back when I’m old and say I fought Badr Hari.”
Tafa is a member of Team Juggernaut, the training outfit put together by UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt, a fellow Samoan. Tafa was scouted by Hunt at the age of 17 and has been part of his training setup ever since.
At present the team is in Adelaide, Australia, where several of its members are preparing for fights. It has a strong Samoan element not only because of a shared heritage but because Samoan males tend to be on the larger end of the scale, and heavyweights like training with other heavyweights.
“Us Samoan boys, we’re born fighters. We’re nice guys but we’re competitive, especially in individual sports. We’re built for fighting. Look at all the Samoan fighters: Mark Hunt, Ray Sefo, Tai Tuivasa in the UFC. And Joseph Parker, he’s going over to the UK to take that heavyweight boxing title off Anthony Joshua!”
Sefo is a particular favorite of Tafa’s. A legend from the K-1 era of kickboxing, Sefo is now based in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he works with fighters at the Xtreme Couture facility.
“He’s amazing man. I was out there for a month or two a while back and I learned so much off him. And you know what, watching him work out and move around, I’m telling you, he would still give a lot of guys problems now if he was still fighting,” laughs Tafa.
Sefo is of course long retired now, whereas Tafa is just starting out. Next month he goes into what will be his first professional heavyweight tournament in the big leagues. He’s hoping it will be the start of him carving out his own legend.
“Yeah I’m really happy to be in this tournament with these guys man. I’m excited to show what I can do. I’m only 21 years old and I’m already in a tournament with names like these, it says a lot I think,” he says.
In the semi-finals, Tafa is matched with Brazil’s Guto Inocente (34-8, 17 KO’s), known for his unorthodox style and his highly dangerous spin-kicking. Tafa had already identified Inocente as an opponent of interest when he joined GLORY; now he gets the chance to fight him.
“Like with Badr, when I call guys out its because I want to say I’ve fought them, I want to test myself against them,” he says.
“I said I wanted to fight Guto because I like his style, all that spinning stuff he does. He’s tricky. I’d have preferred not have him in the semi-final but whatever, it’s OK. We’ve brought people in who have that similar style, we had a Capoeira guy in to do some work with.
“You’ve just got to close his space down, keep him on his heels. If you watch him against Jamal Ben Saddik, Jamal keeps him on his heels the whole time and so he can’t get onto the balls of his feet and get those spin kicks going, it takes his game away.”
In the other semi-final, #1-ranked contender Benjamin Adegbuyi (28-4, 16 KO’s) meets with the rising D’Angelo Marshall (17-2, 9 KO’s). Despite Marshall having a tournament win to his name and coming off a win over Ismael Londt in December, Tafa isn’t sold on him.
“I don’t really rate Marshall, he’s just kind out of there throwing hands. He’s just kind of a brawler I guess. But I think Adegbuyi is really good, he should take that fight pretty easy and then be in the final. So I think it’s going to be me and him in the final. And then we will see. Tough fight, but I’m not here for easy ones.”
GLORY 50 CHICAGO takes place Friday, February 16 at the UIC Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.
The card is headlined by welterweight champion Murthel Groenhart defending his title against Harut Grigorian. It is a rematch and follows their highly publicized encounter last year, which ended with Groenhart scoring a controversial knockout.
GLORY 50 Chicago will be carried live on ESPN3 at 11 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. PT on Friday, Feb. 16, with a replay on ESPN2 at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 18.