Hotspur Hawkins tells MMA UK’s Louis Evans that he eyes a first-round KO finish in his long-awaited return to The Cage against Poland’s Romek Sim in Swindon this Friday.
LE: What assets from your time as a football hooligan transfer to MMA?
DH: “When you get involved in a football fight, the anticipation is quite high. When you turn a corner, there could be another football firm there, your heart starts racing, you go into that fight or flight mode. The feeling isn’t quite as intense in MMA, but it’s more prolonged – its definitely allowed me to deal with those emotions a lot easier”
LE: What delivers the greater high: a skirmish on matchday, or getting your hand raised in the cage?
DH: It’s a different type of buzz, but there’s nothing like winning a fight in MMA. I mean, a lot of work goes into getting the win. In this fight camp, I’ve been putting in a lot of work, training 2-3 times a day, being sick when put against pressure. I’ve even collapsed – from working so hard! When you’ve been working so hard for something, to get the win is so much more special, you know what I mean?
Obviously, at the football, getting a good result against Arsenal or Chelsea is amazing as well, but times have changed for me now – I’m trying to embrace the MMA wins even more.”
LE: To what do you owe your popularity?
DH: Everyone knows that I’m genuine, I’ve been there and I’ve done it. I feel people can relate to my story a bit more. A lot of the older guys aren’t as relevant to young people now. People can tell who’s chatting shit, people who are blagging stories, and people who are telling the truth, like me.
I’m trying to come away from the football things as much as possible. A documentary recently came out on me, called ‘From the Cobbles to the Cage’. I want people to know the real me – there’s a lot more to me than just the football. Football’s been a massive part of my life, and I’ll never forget it, but now it’s time to progress from that.
LE: You said on ‘The James English Podcast’ that you don’t feel the need to prove yourself out on the cobbles anymore. To what extent do you feel the need to prove yourself in MMA?
DH: Coming from a street fighting background, in a lot of these gyms, a lot of these guys have dedicated themselves to mixed martial arts. Sometimes, you can get a lot of these ‘hardmen geezers’ coming in and making a mockery of MMA, rather than being genuine with it.
In that aspect, I think there’s a lot more that you have to prove to these guys. You have to prove that you’re not just in it for an image thing, that you’re gonna just take easy fights and build a name for yourself like that.
In this Romek fight, he’s a legit opponent. Getting a win against him will put those critics to bed, I think.
LE: What has MMA done for your ego? Is it humbling, or are you a different animal now?
DH: I was speaking about this the other day. To be honest with you, if I [was] to go into the football right now, I’d probably end up killing someone! Not literally, but I’d definitely be a bit dangerous. I used to be quite handy, before I even started MMA. I wouldn’t really wanna put myself in that situation now, it might end up a bit bad.
I’ll tell you what though, when I first started MMA, a few years ago, I thought I could have a proper row in there, but I soon got humbled by some of the younger lads in the gym. We did some sparring, and it was a bit of an eye-opener – this wasn’t a fight in the pub. If I ever thought it was gonna go off, I would always strike first, in a street fight that holds you well. However, in an MMA fight, you don’t have an opportunity to do that.
LE: It’s been two years since your last fight, how has your game developed most since then?
DH: With the stand-up, I hired a guy called Tyrone McCormack, who’s a World Champion K1 fighter. I’ve been doing one to one’s twice a week with him for the last ten to twelve months. I had to really work on my kicking game. Before that, I focused a lot on boxing but I thought now that I need to bring a different aspect to my game.
Working with him has really helped me with that stand-up fitness, helped with improving my range, and firing off a few kicks. Not too complex stuff, more basic stuff. I mean, I’m a heavyweight fighter, I’m never gonna be throwing head kicks. It just needs to be the basics, but the basics done well.
LE: So, what do you see as your keys to victory against Romek? How do you see the fight going?
DH: I’m ready to take it where it needs to go, I can see myself finishing it in the first round. I definitely see it being finished by some heavy strikes. I’m hoping either an elbow up against the cage, or maybe on the floor with the ground and pound.
LE: Have you see any tapes of Romek? What’s your assessment of him as a fighter?
DH: The thing is, a lot of time has gone by because of Coronavirus, and it’s hard to judge from a tape sometimes, people can improve. A lot can go on behind the scenes from now to, say, two to three years ago, you don’t really know how relevant these videos are.
He fought a friend of mine before, and he kinda spoilt that fight. He grinded it out, he’s quite good at that. I know he’s got it in him to last the three rounds. Also, I’ve got to be aware of his takedowns, I’ve got to be able to stuff his takedowns. I need my twitch reflexes working so that I’m ready to sprawl on him when he shoots for a takedown.
LE: You had a three-year break from the cage between 2016 and 2019. What happened there? How does it compare to this two-year layoff?
DH: I actually got sent down for a while there. I came out, had the fight, but my head wasn’t really in the training. Psychologically, my head wasn’t in it. I won that fight, but without really training much. This is the first fight back where I’ve been taking my training properly, I really wanna push on from this fight and move onto bigger and better things. Raged (UK) might possibly be doing a show in London, but I definitely need a show in London next!
LE: With a win against Romek, where do you see yourself going next?
DH: I mean, I like Gary [Turland, Raged UK Director], I like the show. If they can get a show in London, then, yeah, definitely [we can schedule another fight]. I want a homecoming because, at the end of the day, I’ve fought quite a few times on Raged now and it’s a bit off the beaten track. I just feel like I can sell out an arena in London.
I’m ready for that now, whether it’s on Raged, or if a bigger show wants to come in for me and step it up, whether it’s Bellator, Cage Warriors or whatever – a London shows need to be either the next fight or the one after that!
Dante is set to showdown with Romek Sim on Friday 10th September, live at Swindon’s Regent Circus
Get your tickets at www.raged.uk/tickets or at the box office!