Rick Hawn may just be Michael Chandler's greatest challenge yet.
That's saying a lot. Chandler is, after all, the guy who knocked Eddie Alvarez out of the top spot to win the belt in the first place. He's a top tier Lightweight and a fighter many view as the next big thing in fighting (he was even nominated for Next Big Thing in 2013 by ESPN.com).
Hawn, though, presents some unique challenges for him. A former Olympic Judoka who entered MMA in 2009, Hawn has compiled a 14-1 record with his only loss coming via a controversial split decision in season 4's welterweight final. It could have made him bitter and disenfranchised, but instead it motivated him. He dropped down to 155 for the first time in his career and stormed through the competition, knocking out Ricardo Tirloni and Lloyd Woodard en route to the finals, where he defeated Brett Weedman by decision. With throws, grappling, and superior stand-up (nine of his fourteen wins have come by knockout), Hawn is a scary prospect even for a fighter as good as the undefeated Chandler.
Of course, Chandler won't be intimidated, but he has plenty of reason to be concerned. Even though Hawn lost in the finals of the season 4 tournament, he was good enough to have continued fighting at 170 if he wanted. At only 5'8" he was on the small side of Welterweight. Yet there wasn't a point where people felt it encumbered his abilities.
Now he's at 155, and there's seemingly nothing that can stand in his way. Except a 10-0 prospect with dangerous hands of his own.
The match-up between Chandler and Hawn exemplifies everything Bellator is about: both are hard-working, hard-hitting fighters who prefer to finish their opponents. They also both received their respective title opportunities through Bellator's tournaments, which exist to ensure only the best and most resilient fighters are given the opportunity to become a champion.
Make no mistake: you are not seeing someone being given a title shot because of convenience or circumstance. Both men have truly earned their spot, and they'll show it when they step into the cage for Bellator's live premiere on Spike on Thursday at 10/9c.
In Southern California? Come see the fight in person! Get your tickets now!