Nova Scotia·Q&A

Halifax UFC fighter Gavin Tucker reflects on his Edmonton redemption

Halifax-based UFC fighter Gavin Tucker opens up about fighting back from his first MMA loss, training with Georges St-Pierre, and ignoring Conor McGregor.

Featherweight explains why he insisted on returning to Edmonton, the scene of his first loss

Gavin Tucker punches Seungwoo Choi during UFC 240, in Edmonton on Saturday, July 27. Tucker won with a third-round submission. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

UFC fighter Gavin (Guv'nor) Tucker comes from Ship Cove, N.L., and trains out of Titans MMA in Halifax and Tri-Star Gym in Montreal. He returned to action recently, two years after he suffered his first loss.

He fought again in Edmonton, the same arena where he suffered that crushing defeat, and this time beat South Korea's Seungwoo Choi on a third-round submission. Tucker spoke to CBC about his journey back to the cage. The interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Two years ago in Edmonton, you suffered your first loss in mixed martial arts. What were you thinking after that fight?

It's always tough to take your first loss ever. Definitely not an enjoyable experience, but you know it's going to happen eventually. The sport you're in is not forgiving. Every single fight in MMA is a tough fight.

You have one bad night, or one bad weight cut, or you go in less than 100 per cent and these things can happen. You take the risk for the paycheques and hope you've done enough to carry you through. 

If you let the victories pick you up too high, they'll drop you. If you let the losses bring you down too low, they're going to destroy you. I'm lucky to be fighting, because I want to fight. I got to show a different side of myself, showing my durability and grit.

What's going through your head in a tough fight like that? You could stop the fight at any moment. What keeps you going?

That's a hard question to answer. The preparation keeps you going; you don't decide, you just go. All the work that people put in doesn't get seen. That work has to mean something. People want to matter. They want the time they've invested to matter.

There is no "out" when it comes to that, whether you're doing well or not. One of my coaches, Firas Zahabi, told me there's only two reasons people ever quit — especially when it comes to combat sports. One, they sustain a serious injury that's going to prevent them from being athletic. Two, they lose heart. And that's just never going to happen for me. 

On July 27, you went right back into the same Edmonton arena. Did you do that on purpose?

I tried my best to do that because I wanted that rectification. I wanted the same crowd that saw me at one of my biggest lows to be able to see it's possible to bounce back from that. It's not easy and it certainly plays on you mentally, but I still don't believe my opponent was a better guy. I have every intention on getting that back, too. 

You kept taking Sung Woo Choi down, and he kept getting back up. How did you end the fight?

He did keep popping up, but we intended for that — the plan was to wear on him. The guy's athletic. He had 50 Muay Thai wins, a pro boxing record. Ultra-athletic dude. You've got to keep on him like a wet blanket. I knew I was going to break him down.   

When I got him in a position with both knees on the mat, I stayed patient, listened to my coaches, put both hooks in and got the [choke submission].

Tucker takes down Choi during en route to victory. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

How'd that feel when the ref pulled you off and you'd won?

It's hard to describe. It's almost like you're happy, but you just simulated murder on another human. You're relieved, more than happy, because the weight gets lifted. It's certainly a good feeling. 

Tucker celebrates the win over Choi. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

You mentioned your new coach, Firas Zahabi. He's a legendary MMA coach who trained Georges St-Pierre at Tri-Star Gym in Montreal. Have you met Georges?

I've met Georges and trained with Georges. Georges teaches classes there and he's an absolutely beautiful human, as is Firas. I go back and forth between there and [Titans MMA] in Halifax. I really like the boxing and feel that Halifax gives me and the technical and strategy and physical approach that Tri-Star gives me. 

Your long-time coach, Peter Martell, was with you as well. Was that the first time you had them both in your corner?

Yes, first time they've worked together and they got along splendid. I've got a full-on power corner. I didn't really realize what I had until I looked back and I was like, 'Holy crap: that's Firas in my corner with us now.'

Obviously it worked out. Whatever Firas says, even if I have a tendency to question it at first, it always turns out to be true. I just wished that I had drilled more of what he told me to, because I might have been able to end that fight in the first round. 

He's like a military tactician. He knows where to put his archers, when to send in the cavalry. He's cornered thousands of fights. People don't realize that he gets in there and jams with us. This guy's UFC level. I'm trying to convince him to take a fight. If you drop him in the UFC's 155-pound or 170-pound division right now, he'd clean up.

George St-Pierre spars with his head trainer Firas Zahabi in Montreal. Tucker says the two men have been a huge help to him, along with his long-time trainer Peter Martell. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

What was it like training with Georges St-Pierre? 

Everything he shows is absolute gold. I did have the opportunity to wrestle with him, which went exactly as you would expect. I got very politely rag-dolled and then complimented afterward. He's just a beautiful human. We're pretty lucky to have an ambassador like him for Canadian MMA. 

UFC star and former two-division champion Conor McGregor watched your fight and tweeted about it. What did you make of that?

I don't really think about that. It's just people trying to stay relevant. The comment always seems negative to someone else's positive situation. I don't really care. It brought out the loyal McGregor fans and just continues to spread mass idiocy. 

I actually turned off all social media three weeks before this fight just to avoid the smut and keep myself in a focused mindset.

Conor McGregor is a former champion in Tucker's 145-pound division. He watched Tucker's fight and started a minor online Twitter storm after it. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

What's next?

I'm really hoping to get on the Vancouver card in five weeks, or Denmark [on Sept. 28]. I would absolutely love to fight in Denmark. I know [UFC fighter] Daniel Teymur is from Sweden. He's coming off a win as well. I asked for him. He's a banger with big knock-out punches. I think we should meet up and make some money.

Are you going to make it home to Ship Cove, N.L., this summer?

I don't think I'm going to make it all the way to there, but I do hope to meet my family in Corner Brook. 

I'll be in at the Boston Pizza for my after-party and celebration on Aug. 17. Stipe Miocic vs Daniel Cormier. If anyone's reading this around the Corner Brook area, it'd be great to see everybody and watch the fights. 

I'm super-blessed to have the team around me. Everyone from the Halifax area, the Montreal area, and Newfoundland, it's constant support. Especially through the not-so-great times. They stuck with me and I'm ultra-appreciative to be able to get up every day and do martial arts.

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