If something can be labelled as a gateway fighting style to MMA, it was Muay Thai kickboxing for Calgary-based MMA featherweight fighter, Hakeem Dawodu. Training at Ajarn Mike Miles’ kickboxing gym in Calgary was a turning point for Dawodu, giving him an opportunity to channel his anger in a positive way and pulling him out of the juvenile detention rut.
“I guess that the first sport I ever did was Taekwondo,” says the 5’8, 145-pound Dawodu, who recently signed a four-fight contract with the UFC. “I did take Taekwondo as a kid and then as I was in my junior high, I took boxing. And then when I really started to take fighting seriously, it was with Muay Thai kickboxing.”
Kickboxing was a natural fit for Dawodu:
When I first walked in, I just knew Muay Thai. I picked things up. I tried wrestling. I used to wrestle Junior High a little bit. And I used to be in a lot of street fights. I have a decent understanding. But I didn't really know much. I was blind. In my mind, I don't think I advanced very quickly. Other people wouldn’t say so. I still think I can be better. I am always trying to be better.
He had already established himself as a respected Muay Thai fighter, building an impressive 42-5-0 amateur record with 15 knockouts and a perfect 9-0-0 professional record with 7 knockouts in his kickboxing career.
Highlights included an impressive string of Canadian, North American, and world titles, including WMC Welterweight Intercontinental MT Champion in 2014.
This, combined with Dawodu’s growing interest in MMA and training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, caught the eye of former UFC fighter, Nick Ring, who himself has fought six times on UFC cards. Ring suggested Champion's Creed as a gym for Dawodu to hone his MMA skills.
Bird explains: “[Ring was the] first and only UFC fighter out of Calgary [who] was produced by us, Champion's Creed. He saw the potential. That is the story you're talking about. Nick saw him at a fight card. Talked to Hakeem afterward. Said, ‘You're really good, have you thought about MMA?’ Which he had.”
“Mike Miles was the one who got [Dawodu] into a frame of mind. He got him out of trouble. Made him a very strong fighter in Muay Thai,” says Bird.
For Dawodu, however, Champion's Creed was a rude awakening. “I think that my first rounds were with Ring and all these MMA fighters and the first time I sparred, I got beat up,” says Dawodu. “But I kept coming back and went from there.”
Bird describes Dawodu’s experience as a much-needed wake-up call: “[Dawodu] didn't do very well. At first, he thought he would. He thought he'd be killing everybody. He didn't, because MMA is a very different animal,” Bird says. “He had a very strong area but the other areas of fighting, he didn't know.”
Dawodu, however, adapted well. “He ended up becoming a part of our team,” says Bird. ”I trained him in jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and MMA in general.”
“That is when Steve Fader came into the pitch and I think [he] should get credit for that,” adds Bird. “He was the owner of the World Series of Fighting in Canada, and the promoter. And he was the one that basically took a chance on Hakeem because of the relationship we had and he got him his first fights.“
Dawodu’s situation was a unique one. Here was a professional kickboxer with dozens of fights under his belt, so he couldn’t be considered a true newcomer to martial arts.
Dawodu explains in the third person: “How do you match this guy here, he has over 70 kickboxing fights—60 or 70 kickboxing fights—but he is still new to MMA?”
He matched Dawodu with Edmonton’s Behrang “Brown Sugar” Yousefi in a February 2014 fight card. The fight ended in a knockout for Dawodu in just 67 seconds.
It was a sign of things to come.
“After that, Hakeem had all eight fights that he has had in MMA under the World Series banner,” says Bird. “At that point, that is when he got signed by the UFC.”
Dawodu, who now has a 7-0-1 MMA record, is confident in his readiness for the top tier of MMA fighting.
“When I went into the gym everybody thought I was a natural,” Dawodu says.
I had never had any experience in the ring but I had many street fights and I think I was a natural fighter regardless. Everyone thought I was a natural and after my first three months of training I ended up fighting and I won. I never stopped fighting since.
The Champion's Creed-trained Dawodu signed on with the UFC in November 2017, and his first UFC fight is scheduled for March 17, 2018, in London, England against Danny Henry (11-2) from Scotland. He is currently training in Dublin with Conor McGregor’s world-class coach, John Kavanagh.
Did you miss Part 1 of Hakeem's Journey?
“[Champion's Creed is] simply a world-class martial arts gym.” -Michael Simmins