I was always telling myself that if I got into a fight and someone knocked off my tooth, I would put in a gold tooth.
Newly signed UFC fighter “Mean Hakeem” Dawodu was talking about the inspiration of his Jamaican grandfather. As Dawodu tells us, his grandfather was a major influence on young Hakeem.
He had a nice physique, and I remember he had a couple of gold teeth. I would always ask him how he got the gold teeth and he would always say that they were from fighting.
The 5’8, 145-pound featherweight, who signed a four-fight contract with the UFC in November 2017, may as well have been talking about his own approach to life.
Dawodu’s story is an inspiring one. Born in Calgary to a 14-year-old mother from Nigeria and a father from Jamaica, Dawodu had a troubled childhood during which his father was deported when he was just 6 years old, leaving his mother to raise him alone.
“In all honesty, I grew up with just my mom,” Dawodu said. “I never met my dad. I feel like I was always kind of a leader. I didn’t follow anyone. I just did my own thing. I even moved out at a very young age. A lot of times I feel like I've raised myself, created myself.”
However, Dawodu often found himself in trouble. When he was 14 years old, he was put into a juvenile detention centre for the first time, and at 16, his counsellor registered him in Muay Thai training at Mike Miles’ kickboxing gym in Calgary as an outlet for his aggressions rather than anger management classes.
“My probation officer worked out a deal and wrote that off as my anger management to stop me from breaching,” Dawodu adds, crediting this as a factor in turning his life around. “Ever since then, I stopped getting into trouble.”
Not only did Dawodu get out of trouble, he started to find success; he built an impressive 42-5-0 amateur record and 9-0-0 professional record in his kickboxing career. Ultimately, he ended up working with Brian Bird at Bird’s Champion's Creed gym, also in Calgary.
Bird, who also credited MMA as a way out of a difficult childhood where he was picked on and bullied as the “new kid”, tells us about how his gym’s mutually supportive environment helped Dawodu not only in training but in overcoming his own life challenges.
”This is a question that I often ask my students,” Bird says. “We are training and we are about to spar, and I would ask: ‘Who's the most important person here?’ And they know what the answer is. The answer is: ‘My partner’.”
Bird says this is one way to keep his fighters honest.
“This is one of those questions, because often in training we end up with people who go too hard or too aggressive, maybe have a bad attitude, or are selfish. That is unacceptable within my gym,” he adds. “I try to say that: ‘When you're training here, again the most important person here is your training partner. You need to take care of that person; you need to treat them with respect. You need to recognize that you could not train without that person,’” Bird says, elaborating on the concept of “the rising tide raises all ships.”
Bird adds: “You need to have a mind frame of ‘I am going to protect you and in turn, I trust that you're going to protect me, so we are going to get better together.’”
Bird may well have been talking about all the positive influences in Dawodu’s life, from Dawodu’s mother to his grandfather to his probation officer to Bird himself.
While Dawodu also gives credit to his coaches, including Bird, he recognizes that it’s ultimately up to himself. This is Dawodu’s fight in the end, and he’s filling the gaps with the proverbial gold teeth.
“At the end of the day,” Dawodu says, ”who pushes me is me.”
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.