Rick Hawn was inches away from being the Bellator season four welterweight tournament winner.
So it was no surprise that when he dropped down, he was an instant threat to take the season six lightweight tournament title.
Even so, no one expected him to make it look that easy.
Hawn obliterated his first two opponents, knocking out Ricardo Tirloni badly in the quarterfinals and blasting Lloyd Woodard in the semis. He had a stern test in Brent Weedman in the finals, but "Genghis" still prevailed, winning a unanimous decision earn $100,000 and a shot at champion Michael Chandler.
The former United States judo Olympian was recently a guest on Bloody Elbow Radio where he discussed his recent tournament victory, how it compared to his last run at welterweight and what he needs to work on if he's to defeat Chandler for the title later this year.
Check it out:
Matt Bishop: How does it feel to be the Bellator season six lightweight tournament champion?
Rick Hawn: It feels great. I was really close last year in losing the finals but I was able to put it together this year in a new weight class. I'm really excited, looking forward to getting that chance to fight for the title so I'm really happy.
Matt Bishop: Did the disappointment from last year's tournament and how that all went down motivate you in the lightweight tournament this year?
Rick Hawn: Definitely. I didn't move down to lightweight because I lost. It was just basically to make better use of my size and my body type. It was definitely motivation for this year. I really wanted to make it back to the finals and make up for that loss and I was able to do it. It's been a great year. My coach Firas Zahabi had to talk me into coming down to lightweight. I wasn't keen to do it or even thought it was possible, but it was definitely a great decision.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): During this tournament, you really started to showcase the improvements in your striking game. I think those first two knockouts, the power was always there, but it was the technique that had improved. Is that a fair assessment?
Rick Hawn: Definitely. I've always had power but obviously the smaller guys that you fight, the better chance you have of finishing them with one punch but my technique is definitely improved. I'm getting better every day with my striking. I'm definitely not where I want to be still. I've got along ways to go, but I have great coaches that are helping with that over the summer in preparation for Michael Chandler. It's going to be even more improved by that title fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One question about that last fight against Brent Weedman. It seemed like there was a lot of mutual respect going on there. i'm assuming he was your toughest test since you dropped down, right?
Rick Hawn: Oh yeah by far. He's a very nice guy. We're friends and stuff but he was definitely a challenge. He's one of those guys that just hangs around. He's very tough to finish. I don't think he's ever been finished really. It was a tough fight. I'm glad we actually got that in the books just for the learning experience. It's great to have that kind of battle.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've got to ask about the nickname "Genghis." I'm under the impression, I've got a friend that told me he was the one that suggested it to you on twitter and it just fit so perfectly that you had to keep it. Now is that where you ended up hearing about it?
Rick Hawn: I think you're correct in what you're saying there. I keep forgetting the gentleman's name. It was off twitter, yes. He suggested it and I was like, "That's a pretty good fit." I asked everyone around me and they liked it and we decided to go with it. I never really thought I'd have a nickname unless someone gave it to me but it's cool, I like it.
Matt Bishop: This being your first time ever dropping down to lightweight, was it difficult having to make the cut three times in three months for the tournament?
Rick Hawn: Well not having a practice cut before the first fight was a little scary but I came in and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be for the first fight. Coming around the second fight, it was very difficult. That one was really bad so going into the third fight, we decided to get me down a little lighter so it'd be an easier cut just because it's so tough to make those cuts every four weeks. The last cut was very easy.
Matt Bishop: Going back, which tournament was tougher for you? In the welterweight tournament, you went to some tough decisions in all three fights that tournament which I can only assume was very grueling, while in the lightweight tournament, you opened with two knockout finishes and one decision, but you were battling a tougher weight cut each fight. Which tournament was tougher on you both mentally and physically?
Rick Hawn: I think definitely the lightweight tournament was. I didn't get banged up too bad in the welterweight tournament except in the first fight but I wasn't cutting as much weight. I really didn't take much damage but just the fact of having to be on diet for over five months, just traveling back and forth between Boston and Montreal, there was a lot to it. It was a big relief to get done with the tournament and the stress behind it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about moving forward here. You've got Michael Chandler assuming at the end of the summer series or the beginning of the seventh season. He's a terrific wrestler but something I've seen is that judo players have the best balance of any fighters in mixed martial arts. Do you think that's going to really help you out in countering his wrestling attack?
Rick Hawn: I think so. I think it's a really great match-up. I've never fought a good wrestler as he is so I'm interested to see how it's gonna play out. Obviously I'm gonna train a lot of wrestling for his style but I think with my background, it gives me a good advantage with him as opposed to a lot of other fighters he's fought.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): His teammates Jay Hieron had a tough fighter against you as well. Do you feel like you're a completely different fighter than the guy who fought Jay a little over a year ago?
Rick Hawn: Absolutely. I improve very fast and I make sure to make up for the mistakes that I do make during fights. I improved a lot over the last year and not only that, Jay is a completely different fighter than Chandler. Jay is more of a mobile "hit and move" type while Chandler is more "aggressively move forward wrestling"-type style. I'm sure he's gonna have some words for him and some thoughts but I won't be fighting the same way as when I fought Jay.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned Chandlers style. Now one of the things I think is extremely interesting is, you're the type of fighter that almost never takes a step backwards and Michael Chandler is the exact same way. I think there's some potential there for some really crazy stuff to happen just because both of you are always moving forwards.
Rick Hawn: It can go a couple different ways. It can end quick, or it can be a long and exciting fight. Hopefully it's a long exciting fight and I plan on winning that of course. It's gonna be great and there's definitely gonna be a lot of hype leading up to the fight.
Matt Bishop: These Bellator tournament winners, each one of them gets a gigantic check. Can you tell us, what did you do with your gigantic check?
Rick Hawn: I dragged it through the airport and got a lot of interesting looks and questions while heading back to Boston. I was able to keep it intact and not have to fold it up. The airline people were really nice and let me carry it on the plane and stuff it in the corner. It's gonna go on the wall somewhere. Maybe I'll put together a trophy room one of these days. It's a great achievement and I'm fortunate enough to have it.
Matt Bishop: What's gonna be on the docket for you the next couple months before you get into training for Michael Chandler?
Rick Hawn: Well, I'm gonna take a little bit of time off, relax and get that fire back. I'm definitely gonna try to heal up and I'll get back on the mat in a few weeks and start preparing. The fight is still a ways off but I'm definitely excited to get up to Tristar again and focus on wrestling and fighting a different type of fighter than I'm used to fighting.
You can follow Rick on twitter @RickHawnMMA.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Do you think Hawn has the recipe for success to dethrone Michael Chandler? Did you expect him to capture the tournament title all along?