Nathan Cleary, Tai Tuivasa, Tyson Pedro, sign beer deal with UFC boss Dana White

Three years ago they were busted giving away free beers, now Drink West are on the cusp of an amber explosion after signing with the UFC, with a brewery under construction.

Nathan Cleary has never given away free beer from the back of a car boot.

Yet you should know this is exactly how his new business venture, Drink West, was born.

Roughly three years ago, give or take.

And the out front of a heaving hotel.

Where every punter who happened by that open car boot was handed a cold, yellow can and encouraged to drink up.

“Although legally, you can’t just give people free beers,” laughs Tyson Pedro, the UFC fighter who, this particular day, was doing exactly that.

Not only from one car boot, either.

But a convoy of them.

With the Sydneysider having brewed so much grog with fellow UFC slugger Tai Tuivasa – the other inaugural Drink West owner — that eventually even the hotel publican wandered outside, looking to find the source of all those bright, yellow tins.

“So we told him they were sports drinks,” Pedro grins.

Did he buy it?

“Nah,” the fighter concedes. “Called the cops”.

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Drink West owners Nathan Cleary, Tai Tuivasa and Tyson Pedro. Picture: Justin Lloyd.
Drink West owners Nathan Cleary, Tai Tuivasa and Tyson Pedro. Picture: Justin Lloyd.

Which can be chalked up to one of the many hiccups initially experienced by this newest Australian beer label whose first cartons were too small for the cans because, well, the boys misjudged the measurements, if only by millimetres.

Same as when ordering their first run of stock, the fighters went so ridiculously big — “just having a mad crack,” Tuivasa cackles — somebody joked they would need a restaurant to move it all.

So guess what?

“We opened a restaurant,” Pedro says. “Sold nothing but Drink West and chicken wings.

“Because what goes better with beer than wings?

“Yet even after a few weeks, I can still remember thinking ‘how the f … will we move all this’.”

But not anymore.

No, today Drink West is on the cusp of an amber explosion.

With these two most popular of Australian fighters – and a pair both hailing from the Penrith region — having now partnered with great mate and Panthers No.7 Nathan Cleary for a beer, and story, that is quintessentially western Sydney.

Despite initially starting out with car boot giveaways, the Drink West trio are now in the process of building a $1.5 million brewery within 3km of Panthers Stadium.

Tai Tuivasa is on a tear of five straight UFC wins, all by KO. Picture: Justin Lloyd.
Tai Tuivasa is on a tear of five straight UFC wins, all by KO. Picture: Justin Lloyd.

Elsewhere, a new commercial featuring Shannon Noll, the trio, and a group of mates singing What About Me has also gone viral — at last check, boasting over four million views — while on Thursday morning it was announced even UFC president Dana White wants in, with Drink West now an official beer partner of the UFC.

“Which is absolutely crazy,” says Cleary, who only signed on himself in January.

Yet after recently inking a new Panthers deal worth $5.5 million, the 24-year-old describes a 10 per cent ownership share as his “perfect landing spot” into the business world.

Aside from a small property portfolio, Drink West is the NSW Origin half-back’s first major foray into business investment.

Which is why when asked about the company’s big plans, Cleary immediately deflects all praise to Tuivasa and Pedro — who not only devised the idea after a 2019 training session, or selected the brew during a looooooong tasting day, but also went and stickered every label, by hand, onto that initial batch numbering in the thousands.

“Because Tai and Tyson, they’re all about western Sydney,” Cleary says.

Which, coincidentally, is also the whole point of Drink West.

Drink West is Nathan Cleary’s first foray into the business world after inking a new $5.5M contract extension
Drink West is Nathan Cleary’s first foray into the business world after inking a new $5.5M contract extension

Billed as a beer for all those blue collar types out west, the lager — of course, it’s a lager — is quickly proving as much a local success story as Cleary’s Panthers winning the 2021 title with a host of homegrown talent.

Or Tuivasa, a product of Mt Druitt Housing Commission, not only right now on a UFC tear of five straight knockout wins, or earning cult status among American fight fans — thanks largely to his shoey celebrations — but also sitting just one more win from a heavyweight championship fight.

All this too before getting to Pedro, the tattooed light heavyweight who last month returned to the Octagon, and won, after being sidelined by injury for over three years.

A comeback which, put simply, can now be hailed the greatest of its kind in UFC history.

“But that’s how we break through out here,” says Pedro. “Despite having to endure so much adversity, we work through it and use those lessons. That’s why nothing stops us.”

Tuivasa agrees.

“Nobody’s ever taught me a thing about business,” he shrugs. “But still, we’ve got ourselves a business anyway.”

Cleary, too, sees real connection between his own western Sydney story and this inaugural business venture.

UFC fighter Tyson Pedro, who now boasts the greatest injury comeback in the company’s history. Picture: Justin Lloyd.
UFC fighter Tyson Pedro, who now boasts the greatest injury comeback in the company’s history. Picture: Justin Lloyd.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed most (about Penrith’s ongoing success) is being around those boys from Mt Druitt,” he says, referencing a crew including the likes of Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton and Brian To’o.

“To see them not only becoming successful, but role models for their community — and guys who are now giving back to their communities — it’s really cool.

“Same with Tai and Tyson.

“They have a real pride in western Sydney, are always repping the area.

“And I love that.

“I’ve been here since I was 14.

“This is my home.

“And I know there aren’t too many places like what we’ve got out here.

EXCLUSIVE: HOW NRL STAR MADE UFC’S GREATEST COMEBACK POSSIBLE

Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita has been outed as the man responsible for aiding one of Australia’s great sporting comebacks this Sunday – when Tyson Pedro returns to the UFC after more than three years out with injury.

Once regarded among the nation’s most promising fighters, Pedro will rewrite the UFC record books when he ends an absence stretching over three years — and as many surgeries — against gritty Texan Ike Villanueva in Las Vegas this Sunday (AEST).

By the time Pedro enters the cage, it will have been exactly 1239 days since the Sydneysider tore his ACL against Brazilian legend Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua at UFC Adelaide in 2018.

In UFC history, no fighter has returned after a longer injury lay-off.

While former UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz has long been credited with the company’s greatest injury comeback — returning to the cage in 2020 after being outed for over 40 months — Pedro beats even his time by 13 days.

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Tyson Pedro, left, has been training in Windang with UFC featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski and fellow Aussie fighters like Arlene Blencowe.
Tyson Pedro, left, has been training in Windang with UFC featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski and fellow Aussie fighters like Arlene Blencowe.

Yet more than numbers on a page, the Australian’s absence represents a horror run that saw the gutsy light heavyweight endure three major knee surgeries and countless more setbacks — including twice tearing his meniscus in training.

During his time outside the cage, Pedro has also worked as a delivery driver, a sparring partner for Paul Gallen, become a father, bought a restaurant, started up a beer label, Drink West, with UFC heavyweight Tai Tuivasa and even spent time competing in triathlons in a bid to get his body right for a return.

However, the biggest blow came midway through his hiatus, and during a conversation with close mate and Sharks enforcer Fifita, who remarked that Pedro’s initial ACL surgery was not healing like it should have been.

“There was a certain point in my recovery, about 18 months in, where we were talking about what I could and couldn’t do,” Pedro recalls.

“And he (Fifita) said to me ‘bro, this isn’t right … you should be able to do (a lot more) by now’.”

So concerned was the Cronulla prop, he immediately booked Pedro in for an appointment with the Sharks NRL medical team.

Andrew Fifita with UFC Fighter Tyson Pedro during the Tim Tszyu v Joel Camilleri title fight at The Star, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello
Andrew Fifita with UFC Fighter Tyson Pedro during the Tim Tszyu v Joel Camilleri title fight at The Star, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello

“He wanted me go see the Cronulla physio, and got me in to see him,” the fighter continues.

“And it was so lucky he did.

“Because the Sharks eventually sent me off to a different surgeon who said my ACL, it wasn’t in the tunnel properly.

“And this was after 18 months recovery.

“The new surgeon told me they could do (an operation) which would sort of support the knee or they could start from scratch again.

“So we started again from scratch.”

Which had you feeling what?

“There were some tears,” Pedro concedes after having to undergo a second ACL surgery, and recovery.

“Throughout my entire time out, that was definitely the toughest point – having to start over.

“But (Fifita and the Sharks) were absolutely amazing … they’ve really been instrumental in me getting back here.”

Previously in the UFC, the greatest comeback from injury was that of Cruz, the former bantamweight champ who endured two major lay-offs in his Octagon career — the latter of which lasted 1226 days.

Elsewhere, UFC greats like Brock Lesnar, Miesha Tate and Georges St Pierre have all had longer lay-offs between fights, but none of those were because of injury.

Tyson Pedro during the UFC 221 weigh ins at Perth Arena in 2018. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)
Tyson Pedro during the UFC 221 weigh ins at Perth Arena in 2018. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

Asked about breaking the record, Pedro said: “I actually wanted to find that out.

“I knew Dominick Cruz had a massive lay off too but I didn’t know if anyone else had been out for over three years.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so proud of myself – not folding.

“It’s almost bringing me to tears now talking about it.”

In preparation for his return, Pedro initially began training camp in Dubai with Australia’s favourite heavyweight Tuivasa, before returning home for a stint at Alexander Volkanovski’s gym in Windang. While there, he also trained with members of Auckland’s famed City Kick Boxing team when they visited, including fellow light heavyweight Carlos Ulberg.

To round out preparations, Pedro headed north to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, where he sparred heavyweight brothers Justin and Junior Tafa.

Asked if there was even a sense of pride that came with his new UFC record, Pedro replied: “F…ing oath, man.

“No one knows how tough some of those times have been for me.

“It’s been rough.

“But I just can’t wait to get back in there now.”

Originally published as Nathan Cleary, Tai Tuivasa, Tyson Pedro, sign beer deal with UFC boss Dana White