Stop, drop and roll: Bellator's Rick Hawn is ready to take the lightweight tournament by storm (MMAmania exclusive)

Pictured: Rick Hawn. Photo via Sherdog

Rick Hawn has been successful at nearly everything he's put his mind to.

The Tristar fighter made the 2004 United States Olympic team in judo so when he decided to transition to mixed martial arts (MMA), it was no surprise that he quickly found success there as well.

Hawn burst out of the gate with an 11-0 record, scoring dramatic victories like his toss of Levon Maynard or his upset of former champion Lyman Good in the Bellator season four welterweight tournament. The judoka made it to the finals but came up short in controversial fashion to Jay Hieron, losing a split decision that many felt he'd deserveed to win.

After a tweaked knee prevented him from competing in the season five tournament, Hawn moved out to Montreal to train with fighters like Georges St. Pierre and Rory MacDonald at Tristar Gym and he decided it would be best to make the cut to 155 pounds.

The former Olympian will be making his lightweight debut tomorrow night (March 23, 2012) at Bellator 62 when he takes on Brazilian prospect Ricardo Tirloni in the quarterfinals of the Bellator season six lightweight tournament. Hawn spoke with MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission this past Sunday about dropping a weight class, preparing himself mentally and utilizing judo techniques in MMA.

Check it out:

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): First thing's first, you and Brent Weedman both have a similar situation, being competitive at welterweight and now you're dropping down to lightweight, proved you could hang with the bigger guys so what was the motivation to drop down a weight class?*

Rick Hawn: It's true, yeah I was able to hang with those guys even though I was undersized. My main for dropping down was probably because of my new coach, Firas Zahabi. He thought it would be a good idea and I would obviously have more success at lightweight because these guys are more my size if not smaller than I am. I wasn't sure if I could actually make the cut but the cut's going great. I'm almost there now and I've got to thank my nutritionist George Lockheart for helping me get to where I'm at now with my diet.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mention the new coach, Firas Zahabi at Tristar. What made you want to branch out and train up in Montreal with those guy, some of the best welterweights in the world?

Rick Hawn: Well it's always been one of my best philosophies throughout my career to seek out the best trainers and coaches available and that's where the best coaches are. I had a good camp here in Boston but I was moving on to the next level and I needed to get past that group of guys and get to a new area and test the waters somewhere else. The best in the world train there and that's what I need, top notch guys and top notch coaching and it's paid off. I feel great. I'm excited.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The guys at Tristar, they're known for their ability to mold fighters and develop their skills. Especially recently, we've seen a lot of guys out of Tristar really have a great jab. Is that something that Firas and them have been focusing with for you, establishing the jab? It seems like that it something that's really important to Tristar fighters.

Rick Hawn: I think the jab sets up everything else in fighting so I think if you have a good jab, you're able to really be effective and work everything off that. It's no wonder they have the jab, guys like Firas and other boxing coaches showing them what to do and telling them what's best. All around, it's great coaching and the amount of skills that the guys have up there. I'm learning a lot.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were going to be in the season five welterweight tournament last year but you had the knee injury and you had to back out. I read that you just had to do rehab, so you didn't have to do surgery or anything, right?

Rick Hawn: Yeah, it was just a partial tear so it was no surgery required. It was just a couple months of rehab and I was good to go after that. It hasn't bothered me since and it's feeling good so I'm excited about that.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Going back to your judo roots, was it difficult transitioning from Olympic judo to MMA judo because of your opponents not wearing a gi? How much of a difference does the lack of a gi make things?**

Rick Hawn: Well it is a big difference because of the obvious reasons that there's no gi to grab but I've been doing a lot of jiu-jitsu and wrestling leading up to the start of my MMA career so learning how to throw people without a gi and all that was a pretty simple transition for me. You've got to change a couple subtle things and you can't do every technique obviously but it was a fairly easy transition I'd have to say.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): With how often fighters spend time in the clinch in MMA fights, are you surprised that fighters don't employ more judo techniques and throws?**

Rick Hawn: I'm not surprised because judo is not as well known or practiced as much as wrestling. Wrestling is that base that kind of goes with MMA. It's a great base to have but the throws and the takedown are obviously different. The judo stuff is not as common but I am seeing an increase in some types of throws as guys add more of a judo base so it's exciting. I try to do as much as I can too to kind of show the world and get the word out there about judo throws and how effective they can be in mixed martial arts.

Gerry Rodriguez: Did you leave on good terms with Mark Dellagrotte? Was everything cool with you guys?

Rick Hawn: Everything was cool. He was very understanding. He knew my situation and what my thought process was about relocating and getting some training partners and different competition to train with. He's a busy guy and he works for the UFC and is in a lot of movies lately, filming and stuff, so I think it was good for both of us. I'm still cool with him and the guys down at the gym so it's all good with that.

Ben Thapa: What's your fight process? How do you get in the mood to compete on these tournament nights? Are you more of an open guy or are you more of a recluse a bit?

Rick Hawn: I guess I would say I'm kind of a recluse. I kind of go back to my preparation from judo. I stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand and try not to get sidetracked or distracted by family and stuff. I deal with them early in the night and several hours before I have to get ready, I get in the mindset and prepared.

Ben Thapa: Is this process something you built from the days you competed in judo and the OTC center?

Rick Hawn: Yeah absolutely. I competed a lot all over the world and preparation is very important because you don't want to have a bad performance, especially in an MMA fight. I've definitely learned a lot from my years of training and traveling to be well-prepared and focused and get the job done.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Back when we first talked before the season four tournament, I asked if there were any other judo Olympians to keep an eye on for MMA and you said, "Yeah, there's this girl, she's pretty good. She was on the team with me and she's starting MMA too. Her name is Ronda Rousey." I listened to your advice and followed her career but I never interviewed her before she became this big sensation and that's one of my biggest regrets. What are your thoughts on how quickly she's been able to use her judo and become a superstar in women's MMA?

Rick Hawn: Well it's not a surprise for any of us that trained with her. Myself and my coach, Jimmy Pedro who coached her, we knew this would happen. She's an elite athlete going against other girls who basically are not. Her success is definitely earned. She's a great athlete. She's great for the sport. It's not surprising and I'm happy for her. It's exciting to see a judo person make that impact in women's MMA.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When people think judo, they just think tosses but there's so much more to it. Yours was a more wrestling/throw based style and hers was more of a takedown/submission style. There's so much more to judo that people don't know.

Rick Hawn: Absolutely. There's a big ground aspect like jiu-jitsu in the sport of judo. Yes, judo is primarily standing and jiu-jitsu is basically all on the ground but Ronda's made her mark. Even in judo, she won most of her matches on the ground with that armbar. That was her game and she sticks to it and that works for her and she's gonna continue to round out her game as time moves on. I've been in it a little longer and no longer have to completely rely on judo.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's transition to your upcoming fight. You're facing Ricardo Tirloni who's a really dangerous Brazilian fighter. What are your expectations heading in against this guy?

Rick Hawn: Well I expect him to be dangerous and aggressive. He's gonna come at me. He's a jiu-jitsu guy. If everyone's watched my fights, I don't move backwards. I move forwards and everyone runs away from me. We'll see when I lay my hands on him how much he wants to move forward and be aggressive. I'm thinking he's not going to want to be too aggressive after I catch him a couple times. It's definitely gonna be a tough fight and I'm prepared and looking forward to it.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Tirloni, he's very well-rounded. He's almost even in the amount of knockouts and submissions. He's had head kicks, he's all over. When you're facing a guy that's that well-rounded, do you just have to focus on being ready for everything? What are you most worried about?

Rick Hawn: I'm just worried about myself more than anything. I know what I have to do. He's well-rounded but I've fought well-rounded guys before. Jay Hieron was a pretty well-rounded guy in the last fight and I did okay with him. It's definitely not gonna be an easy fight but I had a great training camp and I'm feeling good so it's gonna be a good day for me.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you picture a perfect victory, I know Firas Zahabi is really good about the mental imagery and visualization, what do you see against Tirloni?

Rick Hawn: I see myself going out there and doing exactly what the gameplan is: Go out there and just fight my game, what I've been training for an improving on and sticking with that. If I fight smart, I feel I'm unbeatable.

Rick would like to thank everyone at Tristar, Renzo Gracie New Hampshire, Firas Zahabi and Jimmy Pedro and the guys at Pedro's Judo. He'd also like to thank his sponsors Zebra Mats, Fuji Sports, Skin Compression Gear, Game 7 Sports Therapy, Strong Man Security, Green Apple Cleaners and Lexani. You can follow him on twitter @RickHawnMMA.

So what do you think, Maniacs?

After a successful run at welterweight, will Rick Hawn be unstoppable at 155? Do you like his chances to win this whole tournament?

Sound off!

If you'd like to listen to the complete audio of our interview with Rick Hawn, click here (begins at 37:00 mark).

* question via scarnon
**question via Alfxtream

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