Fighting three high-level bouts in a three month span is going to be tough on any fighter, both physically and mentally. Rick Hawn is no different. The prize at the end of the line, though, is what makes the sacrifice worth it.
When Hawn meets Jay Hieron in the Bellator welterweight tournament final Saturday at Bellator 43, the stakes are high: The tournament title, $100,000 and an opportunity to face Ben Askren for the Bellator welterweight championship.
"This is a little much, three fights in a row. It can take a toll mentally, but it's worth it," Hawn said Thursday on Bloody Elbow Radio. "This is the finals and hopefully it's all going to pay off, all the training."
After scoring wins over Jim Wallhead in the quarterfinals and then former Bellator champion Lyman Good in the semifinals, Hawn (11-0 MMA) is rolling heading into the his bout with Hieron, the former IFL welterweight champion. After spending the opening part of his career learning the sport and competing on local shows, this Bellator run has greatly increased Hawn's confidence. Not to mention having these fights in short order have led Hawn to believe he is getting in better and better shape for each passing fight.
"I've learned how to compete at a higher level," he said. "When you're fighting in Bellator and you're fighting in the tournament, you're fighting the top guys in the world, so in that aspect, it's given me a lot of confidence with my fighting. I'm learning from my mistakes and against good guys. All-around, it's just boosted my confidence a lot. That's important, I think. When you're competing in MMA, if you don't have much confidence, you're not going to go very far."
Hawn recognizes this fight with Hieron is the biggest of his career and it's a fight he's been thinking about ever since the tournament field was fully announced.
"I figured it'd come down to him or Lyman Good in the finals with myself, so he's obviously got the big name and everyone thought he'd be in the finals anyway, so he's been on the radar," Hawn said. "I was just waiting to get past the other guys to get a chance to meet him in the finals."
The matchup is going to be a good one. Hawn, a 2004 U.S. Olympian in judo, will face Hieron, a solid wrestler and boxer who brings a ton of experience into the cage. The styles should mesh well and make for a good fight when the two meet Saturday.
"I think we match up pretty well," Hawn said. "I don't think he's going to out-wrestle me, I don't think he's going to out-grapple me. He's got good boxing, but my boxing is getting pretty good. I'm just going to go after him, take it to him and see how he reacts. He's experienced, so he's seen it all, but I don't think he's fought a guy quite like me before."
Hawn, who says he's been training hard since Jan. 1 for this tournament, says everyone is going to see a "new version" of him from his fights with Wallhead and Good when he fights Hieron for all the marbles Saturday.
"I'm going to be putting it all together," he said. "I'm going to push the pace, I'm going to go out there and have a great fight. I'm going to be victorious and win the whole thing."
To hear the complete interview with Hawn, plus a preview of the weekend in MMA, listen to Thursday's edition of Bloody Elbow Radio.