Boston Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla Showing UFC Footage to Inspire His Team

“It’s the approach to what happens to you and how you handle it.”

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla drawing inspiration from the UFC

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla is one victory away from bringing his storied franchise championship no. 18, which would stand alone as the most in NBA history.

Mazzulla is a passionate MMA fan. He even draws inspiration for his players by showing UFC bouts.

Speaking with media before Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Mazzulla discussed the parallels between a fight and holding a lead in a basketball game–“If you’ve ever been in a fight with someone and you think you’re about to beat them, you usually get sucker punched. And so the closer you are to thinking you’re going to beat him up, the closer you are to losing.”

Joe Mazzulla (left) is outcoaching counterpart Jason Kidd
Joe Mazzulla (left) is outcoaching counterpart Jason Kidd / Getty

As it turned out, those were prescient words from Mazzulla. His Celtics jumped out to a 21-point lead in the third quarter, and it appeared that the Dallas Mavericks were on the brink of falling behind three games to none, a deficit from which no NBA team has ever recovered.

Yet it was far from away. Just like Mazzulla noted, that’s when you usually get sucker punched–and the Mavs stormed back to cut the lead to only three.

One particular clip Mazzulla showed his players was Alex Pereira knocking out Jamahal Hill at UFC 300.

“Pereira gets hit in the nuts,” said Mazzulla in an endearing manner. “Looks at the referee, knocks the guy out five seconds later.

“So it’s the approach to what happens to you and how you handle it.”

The Celtics showed genuine resolve last night, thwarting the Mavs’ comeback attempt and winning a pivotal Game 3. Boston now holds its first three-games-to-none lead in the NBA Finals since 1959, which is when the team swept the Minneapolis Lakers.

Similar to how the WWE sends out belts to championship teams, UFC should send a custom belt to Mazzulla when the Celtics win the title.

Tatsuro Taira seeks to extend undefeated streak – and enter title picture

Tatsuro Taira
Tatsuro Taira / Zuffa

Tatsuro Taira headlines Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in a flyweight bout against Alex Perez.

In five UFC bouts, Taira (15-0) has trampled his competition. And in a division lacking clear contenders for flyweight champ Alexandre Pantoja, a sound win against Perez should place Taira right in the title mix.

Last month, Pantoja defeated Steve Erceg in a very competitive fight. Had Erceg done enough to earn a title shot? In any other division, probably not. Yet the field is wide open in flyweight, and he came incredibly close to winning the fight.

If Taira, 24, can defeat Perez on Saturday–and no, that is no certainty as this is his toughest test to date–then he will find himself beside Amir Albazi (who is still recovering from a neck injury) and Muhammad Mokaev (who defeated Perez in March) as the top contenders for Pantoja.

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Justin Barrasso


Justin Barrasso has been writing for Sports Illustrated since 2014. While his primary focus is pro wrestling and MMA, he has also covered MLB, NBA, and the NFL. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.