Now that I’m fully rested from my Canada trip (and then some), I got back in touch with UFC welterweight fighter, Dustin "McLovin" Hazelett.
I had spoken several times with Hazelett over the last few weeks, trying to get him to comment on his upcoming fight with Josh "The People’s Warrior" Burkman. As instructed by the UFC, Hazelett wouldn’t comment on his next opponent until the fight was made official.
Now that the fight is official, Hazelett opened up about the upcoming fight, responded to Burkman’s "I’ll even retire if it does go to a decision" comments, and even addressed his new nickname. The following interview is a conglomerate of our three previous conversations.
Dustin Hazelett faces Josh Burkman at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 7 Finale on June 21.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I’ve been trying to get you to comment on your upcoming fight with Josh Burkman at The Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale on June 21, but you wouldn’t budge. This didn’t stop Burkman from talking about it, though, including saying that he would retire if the fight goes to a decision. Do you find this disrespectful?
Dustin Hazelett: Yeah, I found it pretty insulting. I think it shows a lack of respect for myself. But also, he might be concerned with the UFC cutting so many people. With his last five fights going to decision, he might be worried about getting cut if he loses or goes to a decision. So I think that might be why he said that.
To me, I don’t think it matters if a fight goes to a decision, as long as it’s an exciting fight. Of course everybody wants to finish, but if it’s an exciting decision, I don’t think the UFC cares about that. So I think it was still a pretty insulting comment.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Word is that Burkman left his camp in Utah to go train with Xtreme Couture in Vegas for this fight.
Dustin Hazelett: Yeah, I heard that.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Given that it is one of the top MMA camps in the world, does that draw up any additional concerns for you?
Dustin Hazelett: No, that doesn’t add any additional pressure. You know, Burkman’s a tough opponent. I’m not taking this lightly by any means. But it doesn’t add any additional pressure that he’s going there.
A lot of times when you go to a camp, especially your first time going there, sometimes it doesn’t work out well — people don’t know you, so it can be hard to get the adequate help you need. So it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s going to be that much more beneficial for him or not.
I don’t know how they do things there, I’ve never been there. But I’m not going to worry any extra about that, I’m just going to worry about what I have to do — worry about my training.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Burkman was quoted as saying that he wasn’t going to try to clinch or take this fight to the ground. He said, "I’m going to try and knock this dude out. So much for not giving away a game plan … there’s my game plan."
Dustin Hazelett: (Laughs)
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Personally, I’m not buying it. I find it hard to imagine a Burkman fight without him trying for one of his trademark slams. What’re your thoughts on it? Do you think he’s afraid to go to the ground with you?
Dustin Hazelett: I don’t know, I mean, he might be. I don’t know if he’s afraid to take me to the ground, but I would say that he probably realizes that he stands a much better chance of winning if he keeps it standing.
Personally, I think people kind of over-estimate my ground game. You know, I’m not even a black belt. But I’ve pretty much been fighting all wrestlers lately, so I’ve looked really good (on the ground).
I think (Burkman) realizes his best chance to win is to keep it standing. But I don’t like to commit to things like that, to saying, "I’m not going to do this," or "I’m not going to do that," or "I’m going to do this." You know, because what if he gets rocked and decides, hey, I need a little time to recuperate. A takedown would give him that opportunity, or a clinch, but then it looks like he’s going back on his word.
So personally I think saying stuff like that is a bad idea. Whether or not he’ll actually follow through with it, I don’t know. I didn’t think Koscheck was going to stand as much as he did, but he did, even when I rocked him, he just started firing back more instead of taking me down. So it’s hard to say exactly what (Burkman) is going to do.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): How do you think you’ll fare in a stand-up battle with Burkman?
Dustin Hazelett: I think I’ll do well with him in a standup battle.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well you did with Koscheck, you caught him with a kick.
Dustin Hazelett: I feel very confident in my standup abilities. I’ve been working extremely hard on my standup because I know I’m getting to that point where everyone worries about my ground game and realizes that it’d be easier to fight me standing than take me down, because if you put me on my back, that’s where I’m strongest. So I realize that everyone’s going to want to start standing with me. Plus, I love doing kickboxing anyway. So I always do a lot of that. But I’ve been working really hard on it.
You know, I did really well with Koscheck standing until he caught me. And Burkman fights a lot like Koscheck, only he’s not as explosive. So I think (the Koscheck) fight was a really good experience for me, because now I know exactly what I have to do. I knew going into that fight not to paw my jab, but I did it anyway, and that’s when he caught me. But that’s a mistake I won’t make twice.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Burkman has lost two of his last three fights and desperately needs a win. He also hasn’t finished a fight since January 2006. However, 10 of your 14 fights have ended in the first round—a complete 180 from Burkman. Given that he needs a win—and, as he’s stated, not a win via decision—he could act in desperation to try and finish you. Do you think that presents an opportunity and has it played into your preparation at all?
Dustin Hazelett: I realize that he’s probably going to come out really hard. Even in a lot of his fights that have gone to decision, he’s actively tried to finish people. Looking at his last couple of fights, especially in the UFC, his opponents haven’t been cans and nobodies. One of his least known recent opponents was Forrest Petz, who’s a really tough guy. He’s from around the same area that I train in. (Burkman) beat (Petz) in a decision, and I thought it was an exciting fight.
I definitely think he’s going to come out hard in this fight. And I always come out hard and come out aggressive. So I think it’s going to be a hard clash in the first couple rounds. You know, I’m not gonna really, you know, pace myself too much, because if I’m trying to pace myself and he’s going full go, then I’m gonna lose. It doesn’t matter how much energy I have if I get finished.
I think it’s going to be a really exciting first round, for sure. But like I said, it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s going to do, but in the past, he’s always come out very aggressive in the first round.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): …Which sometimes has worked to his detriment, because he has, in the past, gassed a bit by the third round. Do you think that conditioning will be a factor at all?
Dustin Hazelett: Yeah, I’m working my conditioning extremely hard for this fight. I know he comes in shape, and like you said, sometimes he gasses in the third, but the pace in the first and second is pretty high. Anybody at that pace is going to gas out, it’s just a matter of time. So I’m really hitting my conditioning hard so that I can keep up a very high pace for this fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You’re now 3-2 in the UFC (10-4 overall). It’s safe to say you need a win. How many fights do you have remaining on your contract?
Dustin Hazelett: Three.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I was at your UFC 82 fight against Josh Koscheck. You looked impressive and seemed to have won the first round. Your striking looked much improved. How much had you worked on your stand up?
Dustin Hazelett: I worked on my standup a lot for that fight. I realized that taking (Koscheck) down would be extremely hard, so I had to be able to win the standup. So that was my first priority for that fight: to win the standup. I did a lot of work on it.
I made a lot of mistakes, though. They weren’t really obvious mistakes, they were smaller mistakes. But where I was fresh in the first round, I was getting away with them. But in the second round, it kinda looked like I lost the standup…I don’t really remember much of the second round, but it looked like my pace slowed a little bit, and with a fast guy like (Koscheck), if you’re making a mistake, you can’t get away with it. And he caught me. But if I would’ve done it like I was supposed to, it would have been much better.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): In the second round, Koscheck caught you with a head kick to set up the win. How badly were you rocked?
Dustin Hazelett: What happened was, he threw a big right hand. I blocked it, but it knocked me down to my right some. It knocked me down to my right a little bit—just a bend to the upper body. Then he threw the head kick. So the right hand knocked me right into the head kick. I had my hand up to block the head kick, but his foot still caught me behind my hand and rocked me. It knocked me down. I started to stand back up, but he kinda jumped on me and started hitting me. It didn’t look like I was out, but like I said, I don’t really remember the second round.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well in the first round, it looked like you were close to submitting Kos. How close were you?
Dustin Hazelett: The triangle was decently close. I messed up — I got preoccupied with underhooking the leg so he couldn’t slam me, and ended up letting the arm go, so he had some room to move around there. If I had kept the arm trapped, and then underhooked the leg, it would have been a lot closer, but I messed up there.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): The loss snapped your 3-fight win streak inside the Octagon, but the fight also placed you on the map for a lot of fans who might not have been aware of you before that fight. And you’re also, what, just 21, 22 years old?
Dustin Hazelett: Just turned 22 in April.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): How’s it feel to be fighting in the UFC and to have seen so much success so early in your career?
Dustin Hazelett: I mean it feels really good, but I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I’m not too thrilled coming off a loss like that. But the thing about that loss…the same thing that makes me feel better about it is the same thing that really pisses me off about it. And that’s that I messed up, and that’s why I lost. It’s not like he was better than me and he was beating me the whole time. I could have won that fight, but I messed up.
I learned a lot from it. The reason I wanted that fight was because I want to fight tougher guys, I wanted hard fights; I want to fight the best out there. I don’t regret wanting that fight or taking that fight. I definitely learned a lot from it. The next time I fight, I’m not going to make the same mistake.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): How did you first get into fighting?
Dustin Hazelett: When I was in middle school and early in high school, I got bullied a lot. I had my head shoved in the toilet a couple times. So I got into martial arts more as a necessity, more of a survival thing. Then I just fell in love with it and wanted to train all the time.
I was originally doing traditional jiu-jitsu, and then I saw the UFC and I was like, "Ah man, that’s what I want to do, I gotta do that." I then realized that the traditional jiu-jitsu that I was taking wasn’t effective for mixed martial arts and it wasn’t that effective in general. So I quit that, and I started training in my garage for a little bit because I didn’t have my license yet. I was learning off of Maurice Smith instructional tapes.
Then finally I got my license, and I started driving to Huntington, WV, which was a 45 minute drive from the part of Kentucky I lived in, and started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu there. They didn’t teach striking there, so they said, "If you want to fight, you gotta get really good at jiu-jitsu first, because we don’t teach any striking." I was like, "Alright." So I started doing jiu-jitsu in the gi, no gi, doing tournaments almost every weekend, and fell in love with jiu-jitsu.
And then one day, they were just like, "Hey, you wanna fight?" And I was like, "Hell yeah, I wanna fight."
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): And now you’re with Team Gurgel.
Dustin Hazelett: Yeah, the gym I was at was an affiliate of Jorge Gurgel.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): How do you like training there?
Dustin Hazelett: Oh, I love it. It’s a really great place to train. They got everything you need to make it big. Plus you got a lot of good guys to work with, and you know all the guys there are highly motivated and all really want to be there. So it’s a really good atmosphere.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Have you thought about training outside of Ohio?
Dustin Hazelett: I planned on travelling around a little bit and learning from different places, but I would never leave the team. You know, just to go somewhere just to learn for a couple weeks to learn, maybe a month or so. Definitely. But the problem with that is funding and timing. I don’t want to go right before a fight. And funding is kinda limited for fighters. But eventually I’d like to travel around and learn some stuff from some different people.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): What’s the story with your new nickname "McLovin"? Are you a fan of SuperBad?
Dustin Hazelett: (Laughs) Yeah, it was probably two or three days before I fought (Jonathan) Goulet. We were out at the Palms — that’s where they had us staying because that’s where we were fighting at. They had a movie theater downstairs. So Jorge and I just kept going down to watch movies out of boredom.
We watched SuperBad and we were walking out, and I said, "McLovin’s an awesome name, I’m gonna change that to my nickname," just jokingly. And he was like, "Ha! Now you can’t go back on it." So he called Bruce Buffer and had him put it on my card. I was kinda worried about it at first, but he was like, "Ah, don’t worry, it’ll be cool."
Then my mom watched the movie, which she wasn’t a huge fan of the movie because she’s a pretty strict Christian. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know that there’s some pretty bad scenes in it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yes, there are.
Dustin Hazelett: But she watched the McLovin parts and was like, "That was just like you in middle school." I didn’t realize it was that much like me, I just thought it was a cool nickname, but apparently it was pretty similar to me.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Back when you were getting swirlies?
Dustin Hazelett: Yeah.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Did you ever go back and kick those bullies asses?
Dustin Hazelett: No, I wanted to, but I realized if I went back and kicked their asses, then I’d be the bully. I went to a really small school. I’m from a very rural part of Kentucky. It’s Lawrence County in eastern Kentucky. It’s a town supported mainly by coal mining. My dad and my brother are both coal miners.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well Dustin, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Would you like to thank any sponsors, and do you have any parting words for your fans?
Dustin Hazelett: Thanks for the support. Sorry for the poor performance in my last fight, but it won’t happen again.