Long before he arrived in the UFC, Canadian MMA fans were familiar with Hakeem Dawodu, the Calgary-born striker who carried the “best prospect in the country” label as he made the transition from Muay Thai to mixed martial arts. Following a 6-0-1 run under the World Series of Fighting banner, “Mean Hakeem” signed with the UFC and matriculated to the Octagon, where his highly anticipated debut ended in a 39-second loss.
But as Alfred has explained to Bruce Wayne in countless comic books and film adaptations, we fall so that we learn to get back up, and since Dawodu stumbled out of the gate, the 29-year-old has found his stride, stringing together four consecutive victories heading into his Saturday night showdown with Zubaira Tukhugov.
Dawodu does his best work behind punishing kicks and crisp punches at range, wearing the opposition down over time, rather than landing singular blows that shift the momentum of a fight on a dime. He’s technically sharp and builds confidence steadily as the fight progresses, as evidenced by his third-round stoppage win over Yoshinori Horie at UFC 240. Though he could stand to offer a little more volume at times, Dawodu lands with such impact and obvious force that it often makes up for his efficient offensive approach.
This bout with Tukhugov is a solid step-up in competition for the Calgary resident, who enters off a split decision victory over durable veteran Julio Arce last November in New York City. Tukhugov is a well-rounded, battle-tested competitor who has gone 4-1-1 in six UFC starts and arrives at UFC 253 following a first-round stoppage win over former LFA champ Kevin Aguilar.
The featherweight division is loaded with talent and breaking into the rankings is a chore at the moment, but a five-fight winning streak capped by a triumphant performance against a talented foe like Tukhugov could be just what Dawodu needs to force his way into the Top 15 or, at the very least, a date with one of its residents next time out.