Sports

Long road leads Gavin Tucker from playing music to mixed martial arts

Gavin Tucker left his Newfoundland home 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 the 30-year-old 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 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.

Derrick (The Black Beast) Lewis faces Travis (Hapa) Browne in the main event at Scotiabank Centre. 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.

Tucker (9-0-0) is originally from Ship Cove N.L., and grew up studying traditional martial arts. He moved to Antigonish, N.S., to study music and that's what brought him to Halifax on weekends before he made the move there permanently seven years.

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 to Gabriel Martinez and Dooho Choi.

"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."

Other Canadians on the card are strawweight Randa (Quiet Storm) Markos of Windsor, Ont., bantamweight Aiemann Zahabi of Montreal, and middleweight Ryan Janes, a native of Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., who fights out of Victoria.

Zahabi, the younger brother of renowned trainer Firas Zahaba, is making his UFC debut.

Montreal-based French welterweight Nordine Taleb is also on the card, the UFC's second in Halifax and 23rd in Canada. Other cities to host events are Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Saskatoon, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

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