Rick Hawn made his professional mixed martial arts debut less than four years ago—a late start by all accounts—but age is only a number for the 36-year-old lightweight.
“I was kind of a late-bloomer in judo and it was kind of the same thing with MMA,” the Eugene product said. “I still feel young even now, but back then as well. It was a new sport, so it was scary, but I looked at guys like Randy Couture who started at the same age and he was super-successful and doing great things way into his forties, so that really inspired me. If he could do it, I could give it my best shot, too.”
Within a week of officially retiring from judo, Hawn, a member of the United States’ 2004 Olympic squad, was working to make his mark in the then-unfamiliar world of mixed martial arts. It may have been a quick turnaround, but it was a move that Hawn planned on making well before he first set foot in an MMA gym.
“I enjoyed watching it when I was training judo—I was a big fan of MMA,” Hawn said in retrospect. “And it was something that I really wanted to do when I was done doing judo.”
In just a few short years, Hawn has gone from a highly touted rookie to a bona fide emerging star in mixed martial arts.
Hawn, a two-time Pan American medalist in judo, won his first eight professional matches—including six by way of stoppage—before signing with Bellator FC in 2010. Hawn made it to the welterweight tournament final in 2011, but lost a split decision to Jay Hieron. After Hawn’s loss to Hieron—the lone blemish on his professional resume—he dropped to lightweight and registered three consecutive victories en route to claiming the organization’s 155-pound tournament crown in May.
Hawn’s time spent on the mat gave him a leg up over fellow newcomers in MMA, but it is his work ethic, he feels, that is responsible for the bulk of what he has so far accomplished in the cage.
“I’m never satisfied with my results or my training; there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “That’s what is great about martial arts—you can never be perfect. You have to keep training for what it is that you strive for. You know you’ll never get there, but the journey and the trip there is pretty amazing.”
The next stop on Hawn’s journey is to be Bellator 85 in Irvine, Calif., on Jan. 17th, where he is to return to action against Michael Chandler for the Bellator FC’s lightweight championship. Hawn’s next match is arguably the biggest fight of his life—although he is treating it as another day at the office—but he feels that the best may be yet to come.
“I’ll go until my body says I can’t do it anymore,” said Hawn, who feels he can reach the pinnacle of his sport. “I don’t listen to the critics or when people say, ‘He’s this age,’ or ‘He’s that age.’ That means nothing—it’s about how I’m performing on a world-class level and being successful. I could be 50 years old and if I’m still competing at a top, world-class level, then why stop, right?”
Ed Kapp is a Regina, Saskatchewan-based freelance journalist. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations were obtained first-hand.