Sport | UFC

Ngāpuhi warrior Aaron Tau: From Northland to the UFC, bringing Māori culture to the world stage

Aaron ‘Tauzemup’ Tau selected for Dana White Contender Series

From the bush to the octagon: A Ngāpuhi descendant is bringing te Ao Māori to the world stage.

Aaron ‘Tauzemup’ Tau is one step closer to the UFC, following his selection for the Dana White Contender Series in September.

If successful, he will be the first UFC fighter to wear a mataora.

Speaking to Te Ao Māori News, Tau said the milestone had been, “13 years in the making”.

“It felt amazing. As soon as I got out of a public area I was able to call my Mum and have a bit of a tangiweto with her and let her know like ‘yeah Mum, I did it’.”

Tau was raised in the Northland township of Rāhiri but moved to Australia when he was 15.

It was there he found his passion for mixed martial arts (MMA).

“I just started it because my rugby league coach sent me in this direction,”

“He [realised] my natural aptitude for being physical and obviously, te ao o Tūmatauenga (the Realm of War) kinda breathes through me.”

Despite living overseas, Tau held strong to the cultural values instilled by his grandparents, which he said was the framework for everything he does.

“They taught me about certain things in te ao Māori that have completely shaped my core values and my mindset and the way that I carry myself,” he said.

“So [achieving] was a way to give back to them, and to give back to my people - if I’m gonna go out there and do something like this, I’m gonna have to make sure people can’t deny where I’m from; they can’t avoid who I am.”

Tau also hopes to showcase different aspects of Māori culture.

“Having a mataora and having press conferences and stuff, I’ll be able to share the other parts of te ao Māori like manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and [a] bit [of] a broader scope about who we are as a culture.”

City Kickboxing in Tāmaki Makaurau is known for producing some of Aotearoa’s best combat fighters, including Israel Adesanya, Kai Kara-France and Dan Hooker.

With Tau’s selection, he may well follow suit.

“We were ecstatic because we know he’s on the precipice of achieving that lifelong dream,” head coach Eugene Bareman said.

“We know what it means for someone who’s been striving and chasing that goal to get one foot in the door, which is essentially what this is, just one foot in the door.

In his five-year career so far, Tau has suffered no losses but admits culture shock when moving from home to Australia was one of his biggest challenges.

“That was probably the hardest thing I had to deal with, and now it’s made me who I am.

“If you don’t know who you are, if you don’t know what you value it can definitely sway your mindset.

“So, when I come back into City Kickboxing, everyone knows they can’t influence me. There is no way you could change the way that I feel, and I’m unapologetic about myself. "

When asked about the gym’s success, Bareman said consistency and hard work were key.

“Just show up every day, and Aaron for the most part has done that. And I said that because I believe in the system being created here,” Bareman said.

“I believe that, if you throw yourself into the system every day consistently, you will eventually find success, so that’s the secret.”

Tau shared his aspirations for the future - a journey he hoped would bring him back to Northland.

“The next five years I will go and win a world title, bring it back to the bush and, then after that, [just] go back to paradise.

“Build me a house in Rāhiri and go hunting again - eeling and fishing and diving with all my whanaunga and become a part of the marae and, yeah, that’s just pretty much my game.”