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Former top 15 middleweight Brad Tavares will look to get back on track when he takes on Caio Magalhaes at UFC 203. After over a year off, Tavares will look to bounce back from a knockout loss to Robert Whittaker last May when he takes on the Brazilian Magalhaes in Cleveland.

Tavares was slated to face Thales Leites on August 6th in Salt Lake City but was forced to withdraw due to a rib injury. Now fully healed, he’s excited to get back in there with the “tough” Magalhaes.

“I think he’s a really tough gritty guy,” Tavares said. “He’s a heavy handed puncher and swings really hard. I’ve seen him get submitted but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a good ground game but when I look at him I see him as a very heavy handed brawler. I see him go for his takedowns and try to get guys to the ground so he has that aspect too but he’s just a really tough guy.”

Tavares who hasn’t been active since May of last year, decided to take some time off following the loss in order to let his brain heal. He is well aware of fighters that get right back in there and suffer knockouts and doesn’t plan on experiencing the same feeling again.

“You see a lot of fighters, they come off a knockout loss and come back too fast,” Tavares explained. “All of a sudden you have these fighters that have amazing chins and can take a punch that suddenly get hurt or knocked out again. It’s one of those things where you don’t really know what’s going on in there. It’s not like a cut or a bone injury where you can see what’s going on. You feel fine the next day.”

“I care about my life after fighting. I just really wanted to give my brain a chance to heal so I decided to take some time off. There’s no sense in rushing back. Then when I was coming back, it was just unfortunate, I suffered a rib injury but I think everything happens for a reason and maybe that wasn’t the right fight at the right time for me. I’m very happy with this fight and I feel like I’m on a really good card. I like the match-up and I like the opponent so I’m happy about it.”

While the likes of Robbie Lawler and Cowboy Cerrone have vocalized their opinion on sparring and how they’ve reduced it, Tavares feels there are too many benefits to have it removed from his training regimen.

“Personally I love sparring,” Tavares said. “I think it’s one of the most fun days of the week. Obviously you can’t go in there and have a fight every sparring session, you have to have good partners and controlled sparring. In fight camp, when it’s MMA sparring top to bottom, takedowns, ground and everything, I think that’s the best way to see where you are as far as what needs work or anything you need to sharpen and even conditioning. You can hit mitts or wrestle but putting it all together is a completely different thing. It’s the closest thing to a fight so I enjoy it.”

Tavares, who started off his UFC career with an impressive 7-1 record, has dropped his last 3 of 4 fights. A five fight win streak was stopped when he lost to current top contender Yoel Romero followed by a loss to Tim Boetsch, a fight which he was winning. He rebounded with a win over Nate Marquardt only to be stopped by Robert Whittaker the following fight. Despite the lack of consistency in his past few fights, Tavares feels like he’s in a good place and pegs the losses to underperforming in those specific nights.

“When I look at it, it doesn’t really feel like that,” Tavares said. “When I was on the win streak, I didn’t really think about it. It was brought to my attention by media but for me I fight to win. I don’t expect anything less than a win so when I was on a streak I was like okay I’m winning and that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

“For me I don’t feel like I fell off or like I’m on some downhill slide. That’s just the way it was in that stretch of my life. I’m more than ready now, I’m ready to get back in there and get right back on the winning track. I want to keep perusing my goals of being the best in the 185 lbs division.”

A lot has changed in the UFC since Tavares took some time off as the UFC signed a new Reebok deal as well as employing an early check in for weigh-ins. The middleweight division also crowned two new champions in Luke Rockhold then Michael Bisping but in the past year, Tavares was focused on healing and improving his overall game.

“I wanted to keep growing. It’s really that time in between fights that you can start playing with stuff, try new things and add things to your game. I was still in the gym training with my training partners. Right after my last fight, I took a lot of time off from sparring and wanted to give my brain some time to heal. I feel sharp in this camp as I always do but I feel a little more explosive and stronger.”

“I haven’t experienced it myself but I love the idea,” Tavares said on the early weigh-ins. “I think it’s an awesome idea, rather than waiting all day dehydrated. I like it like that, your team can go rehydrate, eat and come back to weigh-ins doing the whole TV part of it feeling good.”

Fighting out of Xtreme Couture under the tutelage of Ray Sefo, Tavares is confident wherever the fight goes. He’s even had a couple of top contenders help him in preparation for his fight versus Magalhaes.

“This camp obviously I’m with Ray Sefo, that’s my head coach, more like a big brother to me. Uriah Hall has been more steady at our gym and I think he’s fighting out of Xtreme Couture for his next fight and he’s been there steady and helping me out a lot. Kelvin Gastelum was in for a little bit and I got some work in with him too.”

The proud Hawaiian will step into the octagon in just over a week in Cleveland. While he’s happy to be a part of the big PPV card which includes the likes of heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, challenger Alistair Overeem, former WWE superstar CM Punk and Urijah Faber, he was hoping that a UFC card in Hawaii would materialise in time for his return.

“Another reason it took so long for me to fight is because I kept hearing rumours that there was going to be a UFC Hawaii card,” Tavares said. “BJ announced that he’s returning, Max is on a crazy win streak and he’s a title contender. You have Travis Browne, Yancy Medeiros, Kailin Curran, Louis Smolka, Russell Doanne. You have all these Hawaiian fighters and a bunch of up and coming fighters that are fighting in smaller shows that aren’t in the UFC yet. I trusted it and I waited around so I said I might as well wait to be a part of that but it never ended up happening. When it happens, I need to be a part of that card; it would mean the world to me.”

The dream to fight in Hawaii could be a reality very soon and a win over Magalhaes on September 10th would put Tavares right on track to re-enter the top 15. The ultra competitive division is finally getting back the attention it once had when Anderson Silva reigned supreme and now would be a perfect time for Tavares to make a run.