Mixed Martial Arts: UFC-bound Kiwi Aaron Tau primed to shine on MMA's biggest stage

Aaron Tau.
Aaron Tau. Photo credit: File

You might have heard this story before.  

Promising fighter moves to Auckland, ends up under Eugene Bareman's tutelage at the famed City Kickboxing gym, proves himself as a force on the local stage and earns himself a call-up to the UFC - the pinnacle of mixed martial arts.

Enter the latest pending export off the CKB conveyor belt - Aaron Tau.

Going by the moniker 'Tauzemup' - a nod to his lifelong fearless approach to combat - the 30-year-old from the Hokianga is teetering right on the precipice of promotion, with a multi-fight deal with the UFC which, at this stage, is a mere inevitability.

With good reason.

Since making his professional debut in 2019, Tau has resembled a buzzsaw through both the New Zealand and Australian regional scene.

All but two of the South Islander's seven bouts have ended inside the distance and all of them ended with his hand raised in victory an emphatic celebratory pukana from the proud Māori of Ngāpuhi descent.

Ask Tau himself about his future and he'll tell you with a matter-of-fact demeanour that his destination has long been pre-determined - but with a refreshing dose of down-to-earth perspective.

"I've believed that [I should be in the UFC] probably for a longer period of time than I should have," Tau laughed.

Aaron Tau.
Aaron Tau. Photo credit: File

"I believe it's going to be undeniable. The more fights I have before that, the more chance that I get to prove it.  

"To me, it's inevitable. To me, it has to happen, so the moment that it does happen isn't as important to me.

"I just know it's going to be true, but I don't want that to affect any of my future decisions and judgement, and the way that I carry myself. I just treat it like another organisation, but obviously give it the respect that it deserves.  

"I definitely know that it's going to be a lot more dangerous environment, and I'm excited to see how I fare and deal with those opportunities.  

"I respect it and I'm grateful that my name's in the hat. Just the way that my mind's set up, I don't give it that that leverage on my spirit."

A former Queensland Māori rugby league representative, Tau has become a protege of Kiwi UFC lightweight veteran Dan Hooker, who awarded him a scholarship to join him at his Combat Academy gym in East Auckland back in 2019.

He immediately downed tools in Brisbane and returned to Aotearoa to learn firsthand from 'The Hangman', who has forged a deserved reputation as one of the most hard-nosed and entertaining fighters in the UFC through his 10-year (and counting) career at the sport's top level.

The results speak for themselves. Tau has finished his last five opponents, en route to capturing both the bantamweight and featherweight titles with Australia's XFC, becoming the burgeoning promotion's first dual division champion.

Tau has since joined Hooker fulltime at City Kickboxing, where he was thrown into the deep end and quickly proved he's a highly capable swimmer.

Aside from the obvious technical fighting expertise on offer, sharing a mat on a daily basis with the likes of Kai Kara-France and Israel Adesanya has taught Tau invaluable lessons about the kind of consummate professionalism that competing at the elite level requires.

It's also provided the ideal litmus test, reiterated his long-held belief that he belongs with the best.

Aaron Tau shows off one of his two XFC titles.
Aaron Tau shows off one of his two XFC titles. Photo credit: File

"It's just a great measuring stick... a constant measuring stick about where I am and where I need to be in order to do the things that I want to do.  

"It gives me massive confidence, because obviously I have this internal dialogue where I believe I'm the best but to actually feel like we're getting closer to that goal, it's changed the way that I treat the game and even changed the way that I fight.  

"I'm a lot more confident in my own ability now than I've ever been and that confidence is irreplaceable."

Tau returns to the cage on Friday at Auckland's Eventfinda Stadium as one of the feature acts on the innovative Arsenal X event, which combines multiple combat disciplines, with bouts under boxing, K1 kickboxing, Muay Thai and MMA rules.

Recent trends suggest fight fans will be treated to another show-stealing victory, perhaps his last on NZ soil for the foreseeable future, as the big leagues Stateside beckon.

And unsurprisingly, Tau - who describes his fight style as "built to kill" - is adamant he wouldn't just survive amid the current crop of UFC bantamweights - he'd thrive.

"I've watched the last few weekends of bantamweight fights and I genuinely believe I can do some damage," said Tau.

"Not only just hang with those guys, but actually show them something different and put them away. That's just based off my measuring stick that I have now and the confidence that I've attained from those experiences."

In the ultimate endorsement, Bareman concurs.

"Aaron has consistently shown both the talent and the work ethic required to not only compete in the UFC, but to make it all the way to the top," said Bareman, one of MMA's most highly acclaimed coaches.

"He's already giving established UFC stars a hell of a time in the gym, so the step up is a matter of when, not if."

Further empowering Tau is his Māori heritage. Crediting his upbringing in Te Tai Tokerau for moulding him into the man he is today, he's determined to do his tangata whenua justice under the brightest of lights – wearing his new Tā Moko as his taiaha.

"I wear my Maori heritage quite proudly and that's because of the way that I was raised," said Tau. "That's the culture that raised me. That's the people that raised me... the traditions and customs that I was born to and exposed to as a kid.

"And I with it was massive money and pride, just because I want to pay homage to the people that got me to spar.

Joining Tau on the card on Friday will also be former PFL combatant Genah Fabian and three-time King in the Ring champion Nikora Lee-Kingi, both of whom are City Kickboxing teammates.

All going to plan, Friday may well be Tau's Aotearoa swansong. Catch him while you can.