By the time Phil Hawes steps into the cage on Friday night, it will have been 22 months since he has competed in the sport of mixed martial arts.
That certainly doesn’t mean that “Megatron” has been sitting on the couch watching and listening to the clock tick away.
The 30-year-old will face Michael Wilcox this Friday night at Bellator 222. The middleweight bout will take place during the prelims during Bellator’s return to Madison Square Garden in New York.
Hawes is looking to snap a two-fight losing skid on Friday night after losing to Louis Taylor at WSOF 32 in July 2016 and, most recently, suffered a knockout loss to Julian Marquez in August 2017 on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Since then, Hawes hasn’t been active in MMA competition, but he’s been staying busy in different forms of fighting since he hasn’t been able to get an opponent to agree to face him in the cage.
“I’ve just been training and getting better,” Hawes told MyMMANews.com. “A lot of people don’t know, but I competed twice since that last fight — once in Thailand and once at Madison Square Garden four weeks ago — just kickboxing only so I could sharpen the tools in my toolbox.
“Me being away from the sport wasn’t necessarily my choice. A lot of people were turning down fights with me. Big risk and low reward. I’m just excited to be here now and I’m ready to compete.”
When you go through the list of exciting prospects who have come up in the sport, Hawes is one of those names that would be at the top of the list. When Hawes entered the sport, he started off with three finishes using his renowned explosion to overpower his opponents. The JUCO college national champion from Iowa Central Community College would get his shot on season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter and lost a unanimous decision to Andrew Sanchez. Hawes would bounce back with a first round finish of 17-fight veteran Joshua Key at WSOF 31 before suffering his first official setback to Taylor five months later.
Many have wondered if the added hype was a reason for Hawes’ recent setbacks in the cage. According to the man himself, it had nothing to do with it. In fact, it has always been something he has relished.
“I think pressure is something that a lot of people have a negative view on, and I’m not one of those people,” Hawes explained. “Pressure is something you look for and pressure is something you want in this sport. You want to have the main event. You want to have the big checks. You want that pressure and you want everyone counting on you. So the pressure has always been good with me.”
It all started for Hawes at Jackson-Wink in Albuquerque, where former teammate Jon Jones — among others at the famed gym — showered him with praise, adding to the allure that he brought to the table. Hawes would head to Blackzilians in Florida prior to his appearance on TUF. Recently, Hawes has found a new home to hone his craft and improve on the things he has needed to. Living with his family in New Jersey, Hawes found that home and team with Tiger Schulmann’s.
“That’s definitely been a blessing,” Hawes said. “I’ve been training with Lyman Good everyday and that guy is a killer. It could just be me and him going five rounds and it’s one of the best workouts ever. Having guys in the gym like Jimmie Rivera, a guy that’s been in the game forever and has tons of experience, Julio Arce, and everybody at Tiger Schulmann’s has been an amazing experience.”
On Friday night, Hawes will step in the cage with 32-year-old Michael Wilcox, who has fought exclusively for Cage Fury Fighting Championships. Wilcox is 6-3 in his professional career, but like his opponent, hasn’t competed in the MMA cage in quite sometime. “The Cowboy” last competed at CFFC 65 in May 2017 picking up a first round submission win over Christhian Torres.
When the name was presented to him, Phil Hawes didn’t know who Wilcox was — not out of disrespect, but purely because that’s the way he chooses to operate.
“I’m not really a big name watcher with who I’m fighting,” “I’m one of those guys that gets a name and just says, ‘all right, let’s do it.’ Whatever Tiger says, or my coach says, if they say we have a fight, we have an opportunity, I say all right because I think I’m the best in the world. It doesn’t matter who I fight if I think I’m the best in the world, I’m just going to get it done — some way, somehow.”
Fighting at Madison Square Garden on a big-time event like Bellator 222 is, more than likely, a dream come true for a lot of the fighters who will be competing on this weekend’s card. Phil Hawes recently competed in a kickboxing bout at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” and it will be something he’ll certainly cherish. For now, it’s about the task at hand — getting back into the win column and living up to the expectations that have been bestowed upon him.
“I’ve visualized this moment since I started my career, being on the big stage, at the big arena, so to me it’s just another day,” “Once I look back when I retire from the sport I’m going to know how great this chance really is. But right now we’re looking forward to the fight, winning the fight and put it in the rear view mirror. I’m sure when I’m older, I’m going to vibe the moment way more.”
With the move to Tiger Schulmann’s came a look in the mirror for Phil Hawes. He has always known that he has had the skills and the talent to make a lot of noise in the sport. When it comes to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, being in New Jersey and working at the one of the gyms that is gaining notoriety more and more every week these days was perfect timing.
“I think a lot of people look back at that fight from two years ago and say ‘well, he was doing well and he got tired,'” “That’s something I really wanted to focus on — my nutrition and my cardio. That’s what I’ve been pushing and Tiger is huge on that. So, like I said, it’s been a blessing to work with these guys right now.”
Along with working on his cardio and nutrition, Hawes is ready to showcase other skills he has learned and improved on. While Hawes is certainly prepared to go 15 minutes — which he welcomes should that come to fruition — “Megatron” doesn’t expect things to enter final 5 minutes.
“I can’t wait to display my hands, my kicks that I’ve been working on,” Hawes said. “I almost want the fight to go three rounds because I’ve never been in a three round fight in my career, so that would be nice. But I feel like he’s going to be down in the second.”
Phil Hawes isn’t looking past what is in front of him on Friday night. But as Chael Sonnen, who will be facing Lyoto Machida in the co-main event of Bellator 222, always says, “the build for the next fight begins immediately after the last fight ends, so have a name in mind.” Hawes has a name in mind, but in true fighter salesmanship, we’re all going to have to wait for that headline to be written.
“You’re just going to have to wait until the victory speech because I’m definitely planning on calling out somebody,” Hawes said. “You’re going to have to wait until they pass me the microphone after the fight, but let’s just say I’m shooting for the top. I’m shooting for the top.”