TORONTO — After running his UFC win streak to five with a split decision win over Zubaira (Warrior) Tukhugov at UFC 253 last September in Abu Dhabi, Calgary featherweight (Mean) Hakeem Dawodu was asked who he wanted to face next.
"Give me someone who ain't going to run," he said after Tukhugov elected to get on his bicycle in the third round. "This is five straight (victories) now. I need a top-10 (contender) and give me someone who ain't going to run no more."
The 29-year-old Dawodu, now ranked 15th among 145-pound contenders, will find out Saturday if that was a — sort of — be careful what you wish for moment.
Dawodu (12-1-1) takes on No. 14 Movsar Evloev, a Russian who has won all 14 of his fights including four in the UFC. Evloev won a split decision over Nik (The Carny) Lentz last time out, prompting the 36-year-old Lentz, a veteran of 25 UFC fights, to retire.
Evloev, a former M-1 bantamweight champion, connected on 82 of 170 significant strikes against Lentz, who took the fight on short notice. The Russian got busier as the bout wore on, landing 47 of 100 significant strikes attempts in the third round. That's one more than Lentz landed in the whole fight (46 of 127).
"He looks like he's got some good cardio, decent wrestling," Dawodu, an accomplished striker, said of Evloev. "I respect him as an opponent but it's nothing I haven't seen before."
"The fights I have seen with him when he does get pressed in the striking, he doesn't really like it," he added. "So I expect him to mostly grapple with me. But if he wants to strike it out, that's cool."
At five foot eight, Dawodu has a one-inch edge in height and reach.
"I can't complain too much, At least we're getting into the ranking system now," said Dawodu. "So all I've got to do is get past this guy and then I'll get an exciting fight after that."
Dawodu originally wanted to fight No. 13 Shane (Hurricane) Burgos but was sidelined by a shoulder injury suffered in his last fight and aggravated during training. He rehabbed his shoulder after the Tukhugov win but plans to visit the UFC Performance Institute after Saturday's bout to see what's needed.
The main event of the pay-per-view show at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., sees Israel (The Last Stylebender) Adesanya defend his middleweight title against No. 3 Marvin (The Italian Dream) Vettori. In the co-main event, flyweight title-holder Deiveson Figueiredo faces No. 1 contender Brandon (The Assassin Baby) Moreno.
Also on the main card, welterweight Nate Diaz fights for the first time since November 2019 when he takes on No. 3 Leon (Rocky) Edwards.
Dawodu has won five of six in the UFC but believes he is still flying under the radar.
"I feel like I deserve a little more respect, but if they're not going to give it to me, I'm just going to keep taking it fight by fight."
Born in Calgary to a Nigerian mother and Jamaican father, Dawodu has authored more than a few storylines. He started martial arts to get out of house arrest as a teenager for some juvenile missteps.
After failing to complete the anger management course that was his way out of house arrest, his probation officer offered him martial arts as an alternative. The plan worked and Dawodu found an outlet at Mike Miles MuayThai and Kickboxing. He still trains there today.
He has spoken out in recent months on social injustice, calling out fellow fighter Colby Covington, an unabashed supporter for Donald Trump, for controversial comments about Black Lives Matter and those that support the movement.
"I've always wanted to be in a position where I could use my voice and my platform to spread awareness of what's going on," Dawodu said. "I'd definitely like to continue that. There's a lot of issues that I've been dealing with, that the community's been dealing with.
"It's definitely nice to be in a position where I can use my voice and spread some light on some of these things."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11,, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press