Fresh off his tenth win after he knocked out Yoshinori Horie on July 27 in Edmonton, local Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight "Mean" Hakeem Dawodu is hard at work preparing for the next time he steps into the octagon.
Dawodu will take on American Julio Arce in the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City on Nov. 2.
After taking some time off to recover from his last bout, the 28-year-old fighter got back into the gym with his trainer Eric de Guzman who owns a private training centre known as Teofista Boxing Stables, just northeast of Cochrane.
"Training has been going good. It's not too far after my last fight in Edmonton so my weight isn't too high and this training camp was a lot more natural and easy because I was already in shape and my weight was already good," Dawodu said. "So the main focus behind this camp was staying healthy and not getting injured ... I had a bit of an injury going into my last fight, but if I'm able to stay healthy, everybody knows what I'm capable of."
The average fighter will take four-to-six months between fights to find the weight they're fighting at and take care of any injuries before they begin preparing for their next match.
"After my last fight, I had a little bit of a hard weight cut and then obviously got injured so I went down to (Las) Vegas to the UFC Performance Institution, ran some tests to fix up my diet, fix my neck and get my muscles straight in order to see what I could do for the next camp in order to make everything easier," he said of what his post-fight regiment looks like.
"I came back to Calgary with the knowledge of the nutrition diet I need to follow, how much weight I need to lose per week and then just get back into the same grind ... I took about two weeks off to heal (after my last fight) and got right back to training camp. This will be my 70th fight total in my career, so I'm very familiar with how things go."
Madison Square Garden is one of the most well known sporting venues across the world. This is Dawodu's first time competing in the historic venue, he's not really sure what to expect from the building or the crowd when he lines up across from Arce.
"I think it hasn't really hit me yet. I know about the venue and its history, always hearing about the (Muhammad) Ali and (Joe) Frazier fight," he said. "I've never been there before so I don't really know how big it is, but hearing people talking about, everyone keeps telling me 'this is big, this is big'. It's a big fight, I feel honoured and I'm just so focused on my training, I haven't really thought about the magnitude of the event and the venue."
"I'm guessing the crowd will be on his (Julio Arce) side. He's American and he's from New York but I've been in that situation plenty of times. I expect it to be really loud, people yelling ... it's a big fight but as I've said, this is my 70th career fight so I'm made for this, I'm built for this, it's my time and I'm going to do me and worry about that. I don't really get surprised anymore."
There are under 30 male and female Canadian UFC fighters, with the majority of those fighters hailing out of eastern Canada. While it took some time, the humble, rising star said he's trying to be the best role model he can be for kids in Canada as a whole, but especially those who come from western Canada like he did.
"I was born in Calgary, I've been training here at Cochrane's Teofista Boxing for at least six years now ... at first I never really looked at myself like that (as a role model), but when people come up to you saying that you inspire them to train, you have so many people behind you and looking up to you, I guess I see it now," Dawodu said.
"I definitely want to use this stature that I have to set a good example and to keep inspiring people. I didn't do this to be a motivational speaker, but if I can do that, I'm more than happy to do it along the way of carving out my path."
If anyone knows the struggle of making the best out of your life and what it takes to be a good role model, it would be Dawodu. He was living in Calgary with his mom, who was struggling to make ends meet, while his father wasn't in his life after he was deported back to Jamaica. Dawodu was kicked out of the house at 13 and was in and out of juvenile centres between the ages of 13 to 17 due to theft and armed robbery. He was charged with aggravated home invasion with a weapon when he was 17.
The light at the end of the tunnel took place when his probation officer told him to try martial arts in place of anger management classes. Martial Arts turned his life around and he's never looked back. He's turned that into a 42-5 amateur Mauy Thai kickboxing record as well as going 10-1-1 in his first 12 UFC bouts.
"I didn't really have a father growing up, I got kicked out of the house when I was really young too so I kind of raised myself," Dawodu said.
"I learned a lot of things the hard way through making mistakes and paying for it. By the time I was 17, I had already been through so much, I was in and out of juvy (juvenile hall), I was on house arrest, probation, all that kind of stuff and I got into martial arts to get it written off as anger management so my probation officer wouldn't breach me and send me back to juvy. Literally three months later I had a fight at Mike Mile Mauy Thai Kickboxing and just haven't stopped since ... it exploded. This is my 70th fight so I've been so busy this year fighting, that it's kept me out of trouble."
Dawodu has a message for kids who are currently in the situation he was in when he was a child and are looking to get their lives back on track.
"I would just say the most important thing is trust the process and be patient," Dawodu said. "It's really now that I'm benefiting the rewards of all the work I've put in ... coming up in my early years, it was a struggle. I was broke, I wasn't getting paid the most but I was durable and I stuck through it. I didn't take the easy way out. I know a lot of people who want to do the right thing but the money isn't coming proper so they tend to do some other things because they don't want to wait it out. Now, I'm a good citizen, my money is legit and I'm having fun. I'm getting paid to do what I love because I stuck with it and trusted the process ... for all the young kids coming up, just stick with it, hustle and your rewards will come."