Hakeem Dawodu’s path to the UFC was kick-started by his will to change his circumstances and two strangers who believed in him.
Dawodu was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada to a Nigerian mother and a Jamaican father. In his youth, his father was deported and that had a significant impact on Dawodu’s upbringing.
“It definitely affected financial situations. When he left for Jamaica he wasn’t able to send my mom any money. It really affected us,” he told Kajan Johnson and Shakiel Mahjouri on the Pull No Punches podcast. “I’d be at home not having certain things and that’s when you start stealing and getting money in your own ways.”
“It taught me to be my own man and look out for myself. I’ve always been a guy who’s done things on his own and make his own things happen,” Dawodu explained. “It made me independent because I had no one to look up to.”
While learning to fend for himself, Dawodu fell in with a rough clique. Dawodu was not even a teen when he had his first brush with a stranger that would change his life trajectory.
“I was 12-years-old. I was coming home from junior high and some random old white guy — you know who he looked like? He looked like [Mike Tyson’s trainer’ Cus D’Amoto,” Dawodu shared. “Some old white guy came up to me and some other black kid who lived in the complex. No lie, he came up to us and looked at me. He said, ‘you look like you’d be a really good boxer.’ He’s like, ‘I know you’re living in these apartment complexes so money is going to be tight, but I’ll do you a favor and buy you your boxing membership.’ This guy bought me a boxing membership and literally two months later he passed away and died... I never got his name, I never got to go to his funeral... I didn’t even get to say thank you.”
The boxing did not succeed in keeping Dawodu out of trouble. “The first time I ever went to juvenile detention I was 13-years-old. From the age of 13 to about the age of 17 I was constantly in-and-out. Robberies, home invasions and drugs, you know what I mean?” he revealed. “While I was in jail, the crew I was running with... everyone was snitching. A few of homeboys, while I was locked up, was up in my girl. That was the end of me with crews like that.”
“I remember I got out of juvi and I was on house arrest. I was only allowed to go the gym and the school. That’s how I started. I had to go anger management. I’d never go to the anger management class, so I kept getting breached. So my probation officer was like, ‘what if we get you in a martial arts school and we can write off your martial arts training as anger management?’ That was another sign,” Dawodu shared. That was his second encounter with a guardian angel. “She’d always say, ‘you don’t look like a bad kid, you just do stupid things...’ She knew I was trying to move on with my life and do better.”
Surely enough, Dawodu’s commitment to martial arts propelled him farther away from gang life and ever closer to the glory of professional fighting.
“I had something to do six days a week. I remember just because of training I’d skip out on training,” he shared. “It taught me discipline, having to be on time six days a week. It got me off the streets because I was so busy fighting... It showed be there was so much more than drug dealing and petty s—t on the street.”
Even today, Dawodu can see how much his life has shifted.
“People change. I went one way and I have a lot of close friends who are living a completely different lifestyle,” he expressed.
Dawodu also opened up about the origins of his “Mean” nickname, recovering from two separate shoulder tears and more. Timestamps are below for the video above.
0:30 - Origins of “Mean” nickname
2:03 - Recovering from double shoulder tears
6:30 - What it’s like being groomed by the UFC
10:40 - Deportation, juvenile detention and more