Ship Cove native Gavin Tucker went to Nova Scotia to study music at St. FX, but ended up becoming a professional MMA fighter
©TC Media file photo/Jeff Harper
Newfoundlander Gavin Tucker left his home on the Northern Peninsula to study jazz in Nova Scotia. But one guitar after another was sold to keep him in the gym as mixed martial arts became his focus.
That sacrifice, combined with years of hard work, has led Tucker to MMA's biggest stage. On Sunday, the 30-year-old featherweight will make his UFC debut against American Sam Sicilia on the main card of Fight Night 105, a televised show in Halifax.
“I stayed in the gym because of those guitars, so I guess that's a good thing,” said Tucker. “I do miss them sometimes. I'll pick up the one acoustic I have left and play a little bit but no gigging, nothing really serious anymore.”
It's not often you meet a music buff with a penchant for a left knee to the liver.
Tucker (9-0-0) is from Ship Cove and grew up studying traditional martial arts. He moved to Antigonish, N.S., to study music at St. Francis Xavier University and that's what brought him to Halifax on weekends before he made the permanent move there seven years ago.
He soon found a gym in Titans Fitness Academy and his MMA education was on, with music taking a backseat to training.
“I just decided to reduce the quality of life, just accept what it was, do what I had to do to be in the gym as much as possible,” he said. “I'm a real nerd for this stuff. I love to study and I want a future as a coach as well as a fighter.”
That search for knowledge has taken him to Thailand twice to train.
“Thailand's been a huge influence on me,” he said. “I plan on going back shortly after this fight.”
Tucker has endured serious shoulder and knee injuries along the way. Opponents have dropped out and cards have collapsed, further delaying his career. But he kept on training.
Along the way, he became a vegan.
“My reasons for going vegan were definitely more compassion-based. I love animals a lot. The health side of things is a real bonus and it definitely has helped with my weight and feeling good. I'm able to train more and longer, at least I feel like I am.”
The 31-year-old Sicilia (15-7-0) is 5-6-0 in the UFC, losing his last two fights.
“He's got a lot of fights, that's definitely his advantage. He's been in there before,” Tucker said. “But to be quite honest I think that's his only advantage. He's got a big right hand and he may have a little size and be a good wrestler but I truly think the only person that's going to beat me in this fight is me. And I'm not going to do that to myself.”
Tucker isn’t the only Newfoundlander on the card. Middleweight Ryan Janes (9-1), who is originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, takes on Gerald Meerschaert (25-8).
The 35-year-old Janes, who fights out of Victoria, B.C., where he moved a decade ago, is the first Newfoundlander to compete in the UFC. He was part of Fight Night 102 in December and defeated Keith Berish in a unanimous decision.
Derrick (The Black Beast) Lewis faces Travis (Hapa) Browne in the main event at Scotiabank Centre on Sunday. Lewis (17-4-0 with one no contest) is ranked eighth among heavyweight contenders while Browne (18-5-1) is No. 9.
Lewis, a six-foot-three former tow-truck drive, has won his last five fights. The six-foot-seven Browne has lost four of his last six, albeit against elite opposition in Fabricio Werdum (twice), Cain Velasquez and Andrei Arlovski — all of whom have held the UFC title at some point.
Former champion Junior Dos Santos, currently ranked fourth, was originally set to meet No. 11 Stefan (Skyscraper) Struve in the main event. But Struve needed shoulder surgery.
In the co-main event, former welterweight champion Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks tries his hand at middleweight after a run of problems making 170 pounds. He faces Hector Lombard (34-6-1 with two no contests) at 185 pounds.
The 33-year-old Hendricks (17-5-0) needs a win. He has lost three straight and has just one win since losing his 170-pound title to (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler in December 2014.
In other Canadian main card action, Toronto middleweight Elias (The Spartan) Theodorou meets Brazil's Cezar Ferreira and lightweight Alessandro Ricci of Woodbridge, Ont., takes on Paul (The Irish Dragon) Felder.