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Phil Hawes explains rift with former friend Israel Adesanya: ‘I’m hunting for the belt’

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Phil Hawes believes he already has what it takes to be a world champion, which naturally puts him at odds with UFC’s top man at 185 pounds, Israel Adesanya.

But as Hawes tells it, that wasn’t always the case. When Hawes was just starting to make his way to the UFC, he and Adesanya were actually on good terms, but things have changed since Hawes began making a name for himself in the promotion. “Megatron” is 3-0 now since earning a contract on the Contender Series, most recently picking up a unanimous decision win over fellow up-and-comer Kyle Daukaus at UFC Vegas 26 earlier this month.

Hawes’ main goal now is staying busy, staying ready, and working his way towards the UFC title (in fact, he already has his next fight booked for July 17 against Deron Winn). Right now, Adesanya is the name standing in the way of that goal.

“Like I always say, it’s not Izzy I’m hunting for, I’m hunting for the belt and Izzy happens to have the belt,” Hawes said in a recent interview on What the Heck. “There’s no ill will towards Izzy, we were friends back in the day. We used to follow each other on Instagram, but then when I started winning fights in the UFC he unfollowed me. I know, it’s weird. I know he’s watching.

“How close am I? Crazy things happen in this sport. Remember we had Al Iaquinta, he wasn’t in the top-15, he fought Khabib for the title. We have Joe Soto, it was his first fight in the UFC, he got a title shot. Ray Borg, he got a title shot… crazy opportunities happen all the time in this sport and if the opportunity pops up I’m definitely gonna be there to seize it.”

Hawes and Adesanya weren’t exactly close friends, but Hawes appreciated how Adesanya helped him prior to joining the UFC. The 32-year-old was viewed as a blue chip prospect when he turned pro in 2014, which made it difficult for him to find opponents and led to him being rushed into opportunities like an invitation to The Ultimate Fighter 23 after just three pro bouts (he lost in the entry round to eventual season winner Andrew Sanchez) and his first Contender Series try in his sixth pro bout (he lost to Julian Marquez).

It was Adesanya who worked with Hawes to get him fight offers and the two even briefly trained together with the now-defunct Blackzilians team in Florida.

“He came down to Blackzilians when [Anthony] ‘Rumble’ Johnson was supposed to fight Jon [Jones] back in the day,” Hawes said. “I was at Blackzilians at the time. We weren’t best friends, but we clicked, he showed me some techniques, he’s got high, high-level striking. He showed me one of the techniques I still use to this day and that was maybe five or six years ago.

“We followed each other on Instagram, I had a hard time finding fights and I hit him up and he hit me up with promoters, he gave me the names, tried to help me find fights and things like that. We were always cool, then one day I was like, ‘What? Izzy doesn’t follow me?’ A little weird, but I know he’s watching, it’s cool. … I guess it’s competition now, so let’s get it.”

Hawes insists that he wasn’t overlooking Daukaus, nor is he overlooking Winn when the two fight in July. However, with respect to Daukaus, Hawes saw that tough win as both an opportunity to impress fans and to keep maturing as a contender.

“I didn’t look at Kyle as the next step, I looked at Kyle as just the opponent in front of me,” Hawes said. “I believe I’m the champion of the world as we speak, right now. So I knew Kyle Daukaus was tough, I knew what he brought, his durability, and I like to face that adversity. I still thought I was gonna knock him out, not because he’s a bad fighter, just because I believe in myself.

“I didn’t get the finish, but I got the win and I got to showcase some more of my skills and gain more experience and then all coming intuition to get me prepared for my five-round fight with Izzy.”