Hakeem Dawodu is one of the most fearsome strikers to be found in the featherweight division anywhere in the world, and at 26 years old, he has the record(s) to prove it. 42-5 as an amateur kickboxer, Hakeem made a seamless transition to the professional ranks, where he has racked up an outstanding 9-0 mark. In MMA, Dawodu holds an undefeated 7-0-1 record having fought exclusively for World Series of Fighting. Now, however, Hakeem stands at a crossroads.
“Right now I am a free agent,” Hakeem confirmed to The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “We have been talking to the UFC and most likely will go there, I thinks it’s were I belong, and they are only going to take my career to the next level,” he intimated, before adding, “But for now anything is possible. I just might go back to the Professional Fighters League [PFL, formerly WSOF].”
With such an outstanding prize fighting background, it’s hardly surprising Dawodu has attracted interest at the highest level; it’s also no surprise that Hakeem refuses to rule out a deal with his most recent employers. Fighters like Hakeem are worth their weight in gold if marketed correctly, and his blistering tear through WSOF’s 145 lb division speaks for itself.
“[Regarding] my run in World Series of Fighting, what it means to me is I have proven I’m definitely the best featherweight fighter out of Canada, and it proves I’ll fight anyone. I don’t baby-pick my fights and I can go in there with wrestlers, jiu jitsu guys, strikers it don’t matter.”
True to his word, Hakeem has fought a wide variety of opponents presenting vastly different threats. From his most recent opponent, 45-fight and former UFC veteran Steven Siler, to Makhachkala-based wrestler Marat Magomedov, to Nigerian knock out artist Chuka Willis, Dawodu has underlined what fight fans in Calgary, Alberta have known for some time; Hakeem Dawodu is legit, and he isn’t here to pad his record or make up numbers. He’s here to prove he’s one of the best in the world.
The fact is, however, Dawodu’s start in martial arts was largely unplanned. The result of having to meet certain conditions after making a deal with his probation officer following spells in a juvenile detention centre, Dawodu’s full-time training schedule, as it worked out, served as an alternative to attending anger management courses. Looking back, it was also infinitely more productive.
Growing up as Hakeem Dawodu, though, wasn’t easy: “I was born Calgary Alberta, raised by a single Mom who had me at 14, my dad got deported when I was 6 years old, and I grew up with not a lot of money,” Hakeem told The MMA Vanguard. “I was a hungry kid, and you can see it transfer over to my fights.”
No doubt. With the kind of drive that, if misused, could prove a destructive force in Hakeem’s life, it was fortunate that martial arts focused Dawodu on a more positive path. “MMA has changed my life,” Hakeem states. “It got me off the streets and doing something productive, and now what drives me is [striving] to be the pound for pound best featherweight of all time.”
A lofty goal, but one that, on the evidence so far, could become a distinct possibility.
In professional MMA terms, and with his outstanding track record in kickboxing enticing the World Series of Fighting to pick him up pre-debut, it all started in February 2014. At a WSOF event in Edmonton, Alberta, Dawodu debuted against then 5-3 Behrang Yousefi, a competitor who began his MMA career on a 4-0 tear, with all four fights finished inside the distance. Despite a pair of losses heading into the Dawodu fight, Yousefi hadn’t suffered a stoppage defeat in either bout, losing both times on the scorecards.
Against Dawodu, the officials would not come close to being troubled, however; responding to an early Yousefi leg kick with a much harder one of his own, Dawodu was out to prove his striking was on another level to the local fighter. Avoiding a head kick from Yousefi, Hakeem did just that with a left hook-right cross combo that put his opponent flat on his back, his leg bent awkwardly underneath him. An academic follow up punch was all the referee would tolerate. Debut statement made; ‘Mean’ Hakeem was here to make waves.
Four months later, WSOF were back in Edmonton, and so was Hakeem Dawodu. This time, 3-0 Jake MacDonald, a man with three straight TKO wins to his credit, stood across the cage, equally ready to make an impact. Unfortunately for Jake, he would not prove to be competing on the same level as Dawodu. After a dominant first round that left MacDonald bloodied and flailing for a way out of dodge, Dawodu finished the job with a terrifying succession of precision elbows, followed by a pair of huge right hands on the ground that sealed the deal via an emphatic KO.
Dawodu was for real, and the WSOF featherweight division was collectively on notice.
Mike Malott would fare no better at WSOF 14. Despite an impressive 4-0 mark, the man from Halifax, Nova Scotia found himself the victim of more active, higher volume approach from the surging Hakeem Dawodu. Responding to every individual shot with a combo of his own, Hakeem mixed his punches with leg kicks to ensure Malott was left guessing where the next attack would come from. Despite a successful takedown and a brief rear naked choke attempt, Malott found Dawodu impossible to keep grounded. A right-left combo followed by a big right hand stunned Malott, sending him to the cage where a swarm of punches elbows to the head and body left him unable to intelligently defend; still stood, Malott saw the fight mercifully waved off for the first time in his career.
Now 3-0, Hakeem was ready for a step up in competition, and got it in the form of 14-fight veteran, the experienced Nova Scotia native Tristan Johnson at WSOF 1 in February 2015. Hakeem would not be intimidated. Showing his now trademark lightning fast hands and stellar technique, Hakeem quickly made a statement catching a body kick of Johnson and dumping him on his backside with a beautiful Muay Thai sweep. Despite the quality of his opposition, it was Dawodu who was out to prove that his speed and technique were unmatched in the WSOF featherweight division. After getting the better of several exchanges and buckling the knee of an unprepared Tristan Johnson, Dawodu landed a superb counter left that wobbled Johnson, but failed to leave him defenceless. Johnson, in effect, woke up to the scale of the challenge facing him.
A left hook from Johnson with half of the first round remaining then gave Hakeem some food for thought, but it was Dawodu who continued to get the better of the striking. Despite a significant height and reach advantage for Johnson, Hakeem’s speed and timing were continually on point, and Johnson found himself rocked not for the last time with around 90 seconds to go. As Dawodu continued to land hard shots, Johnson had no choice but to change levels. With Dawodu focussing his efforts on the front foot, Tristan dropped for a double leg, completing the takedown. He would not, however, be able to maintain the position.
Showing excellent counter wrestling in addition to his undeniably high level striking, Dawodu was quickly back to the feet to see out the rest of round one. Round two would see Dawodu trade kicks with Johnson, utilize the Muay Thai clinch much more, ravaging the body of Tristan with hard knees. In what was becoming a one-sided affair, Dawodu continued the onslaught into the third and final round, where he a succession of hard elbows flattened Johnson, with Tristan toughing it out momentarily. A couple of level changes later, and Dawodu did what Dawodu does best; an endless, high pressure onslaught of right hands eventually took their toll, a third round KO declared with just under two minutes on the clock.
It was a beautiful performance in the biggest fight of Hakeem’s young MMA career, and would be followed up with an impressive second round TKO of fellow 4-0 prospect, Nigeria’s Chuka Willis at WSOF 21.
Having clearly done his homework, Willis scored a takedown in the opening exchange, and tried to work the back. With Dawodu once again showing excellent counter wrestling, however, even a second Chuka Willis takedown couldn’t ground the outstanding kickboxer. Landing shots and defending takedowns from that point on, Dawodu hurt Chuka with good clinch control and a seemingly endless, ever-evolving sequence of knees to the body to see out the first round.
The second round saw Willis’ will to win begin to wilt. Hurting Chuka early, Dawodu momentarily had the back of his opponent, but that wouldn’t prove the way to win. Denying Willis any kind of physical control, Dawodu continued to rough up his opponent before Willis succumbed to a series of knees and elbows against the cage.
It was another devastating performance, and one that would bag him a ticket to Las Vegas, Nevada, site of WSOF 26. With the Canadian MMA scene holding little left to offer, WSOF looked to Russia and undefeated Marat Magomedov (7-0).
“My toughest opponent was probably when I fought Marat Magomedov,” Hakeem told us. “He was a really good wrestler, and I could tell he worked with Khabib Nurmagomedov,” he says. That toughness bore itself out in a career-first draw for both men.
Controlled throughout most of the first and second rounds by well-timed takedowns from the Russian featherweight, Dawodu could have been forgiven for losing heart while unable to utilize his outstanding skill set and inevitably trailing on the scorecards. He did not, however, give up. Shutting down almost all of Magomedov’s takedown attempts, it was Dawodu’s conditioning and superior striking that turned the tables quite drastically in his favour. Landing punches at will on the feet, stuffing takedowns with comparative ease, Hakeem defied the previous ten minutes of the fight with an outstanding final stanza that turned a sure defeat into an extremely creditable draw. While not quite able to finish the Dagestani native, Hakeem did enough to convince two of the three judges to score the round a 10-8.
Not happy to accept that outcome, both fighters would meet again at WSOF 32 some 8 months later. This time, while the first round went largely in Magomedov’s favour, Hakeem was able to achieve verticality late in the first round, and continued the theme of roughing up the Russian in the stand up. Needing just 40 seconds to bloody Magomedov, Dawodu took his momentum into the second stanza hurting his opponent with a wide variety of strikes. Combos, knees, stuffed takedowns, and uppercuts left Magomedov an increasingly bloody mess, before Hakeem finished the job once and for all with 2:03 on the clock.
It was a gruelling two-fight series that saw Dawodu overcome the toughest challenge of his career – but things would not get any easier as Steven Siler (29-15) stepped in at WSOF 35.
An early spinning back kick saw Dawodu drop Siler, and though Siler would score points courtesy of takedowns and ground control, it was Dawodu who scored virtually all strikes of note, including right hands that rocked Siler late in round one. Round two and three saw Siler fade as the damage dealt by Dawodu accumulated, though for the first time in his MMA career, a dominant performance was not rewarded with a finish. Siler, exhausted, battered, but unbroken, saw out the final frame. It was clear, however, that Hakeem had put in the superior performance.
Following the elementary decision victory, Hakeem now stands at an exceptional 7-0-1 mark, and he is far from done. “The future holds a lot more knockouts, more belts, and a still unbeaten record,” Hakeem told The MMA Vanguard. On how he can continue to achieve his goals, Hakeem told us that: “I’m always pushing the action and going for the knockout, and honestly you never want to miss any of my fights. I am the best fighter at featherweight, and I’ll prove that.”
“My next fight will be announced soon, make sure to follow my Instagram @MeanHakeem, my Facebook fan page @MeanHakeem, and my Twitter @MeanHakeemKO!”
Here at The MMA Vanguard, we only have this left to say: do it!