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Hakeem Dawodu admits Movsar Evloev not most exciting opponent, but ‘it’s nothing that I can’t handle’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Following five consecutive wins, Hakeem Dawodu was rewarded with a matchup against Shane Burgos in a fight that almost assuredly would have delivered post-fight bonuses to one or both of them.

Sadly, Dawodu was forced to drop out of the fight after he suffered a shoulder injury that required him to take several months off as he went through rehabilitation. In his absence, the UFC moved on from the fight and booked Burgos against Edson Barboza, while Dawodu was offered a bout against undefeated featherweight prospect Movsar Evloev at UFC 263.

The fights were only separated by a few weeks, but as much as Dawodu would have loved to face Burgos, he understands why the New York native opted to move on without him.

“We asked for them to rebook it, but he wanted to be on that card and that’s just what happened,” Dawodu explained in an interview with MMA Fighting. “Of course, we wanted to rebook it, but I can’t blame the dude. He probably trained a certain way to peak at a certain time and he wanted to fight at that time.

“I can’t hate cause it’s not his fault I got injured. Sometimes those fights that everybody wants to see, the fight gods mess them up like that.”

Worse than the fight being scrapped was Dawodu needing that much time off due to his shoulder injury, which was a new experience for him.

Thankfully he didn’t require surgery, but the 29-year-old Canadian definitely had to put a lot of time and effort into get his body back to full strength again.

“It was terrible,” Dawodu said. “I lost a lot of strength during that period. I couldn’t train. I couldn’t throw my right hand. Luckily it wasn’t a grade 5 tear, so I was able to rehab it, and I’m still going to rehab it after this fight. It’s tricky and it’s scary and it’s definitely one of those things you’ve got to treat serious.”

Once he was ready to compete again, Dawodu signed to fight Evloev. He seeks to extend his winning streak and hand the Russian wrestler his first professional loss.

Dawodu would be lying if he said the stylistic matchup against Evloev was as exciting as the fight he previously had booked with Burgos. But he realizes they’re necessary.

“I picture this guy pretending to want to stand with me for maybe a little bit but then try to take me down,” Dawodu said. “The way I look at it, if I want to get to the top and I want to get to the belt, I’m going to run into these Dagestani and Chechen wrestlers. I’d rather take them all out now.”

Thus far, Evloev has yet to earn a finish in the UFC in four appearances, which means Dawodu has to be prepared for the possibility of a grueling, three-round affair. As much as he’d love all of his fights to feature a highlight-reel finish, Dawodu can only raise his stock by finding a way to beat tough opponents.

“I think it proves that I’m versatile and I’m champion material,” he said. “Whatever comes my way, I’m able to deal with it and deal with the adversity. Even though it’s not my favorite matchup, that’s just MMA.

“You’re going to be fighting all styles. You’ve got to be good enough with your well-roundedness and game plan to face anybody. At the same time, it’s not my favorite, but I know it’s nothing that I can’t handle and nothing I won’t be able to handle.”

Regardless what Evloev has planned for the fight, Dawodu promises that he’s got what it takes to finish him. But getting the win is ultimately the only thing that matters.

“I’m always gunning to end it in spectacular fashion,” he said. “We’ll see how it plays out. My last fight, the dude was running from me so it was hard to end the last round with a bang. Hopefully this dude doesn’t run.”