(Dustin Hazelett showed off improved striking in his loss to Josh Koscheck.)
After entering the Ultimate Fighting Championship in late 2006 with a loss to Tony DeSouza, Dustin Hazelett fought three times in 2007 and three times in 2008, dropping just one fight (to Josh Koscheck) in that span. But an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament and the ensuing rehabilitation kept Hazelett on the shelf through most of 2009, and he planned to return to competition at UFC 106, where he was scheduled to face troubled former contender Karo Parysian.
But Parysian withdrew from the bout for personal reasons at the 11th hour and Hazelett was paid his show money, win bonus, and promised a fight at the earliest possible date. That date is Jan. 2, at UFC 108, where Hazelett will throw down with UFC neophyte Paul Daley. The explosive British striker stunned former welterweight contender Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut which propelled him to number 12 in FIGHT!’s rankings. Hazelett sits at number 10 in the rankings, leaving both fighters a couple solid wins away from a title shot.
Online Editor, FIGHT! Magazine
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat”
So goes the saying as it pertains to the idea that there is more than one way to reach the same end. Perhaps nowhere is this adage more observable than on the main stage of mixed martial arts fighting. In this media-heavy day and age, it sometimes seems that the quickest way for a young up-and-comer to skyrocket to fighting stardom while avoiding the stigma of going unnoticed on unaired pay-per-view prelims is to get television face time through any means possible. Unfortunately for the sport and all of its frequently misunderstood fans, this cue is usually met with televised, attention grabbing drunken and juvenile behavior that quite a few so-called athletes should be ashamed of, especially considering that it is becoming so commonplace on reality shows such as The Ultimate Fighter that it could be legitimately labeled “cliché.”
But there is another way. Through mastery of technique, an air of respectability, a humble attitude and many other inoffensively mild qualities that stand in direct contrast to the methods of others’ madness, some young fighters such as Dustin Hazelett are making waves in a sport where turmoil is sometimes the best indicator of future fame.
“It’s not just a sport to me… It saved my life,” Hazelett, 22, says about his deeper feelings toward martial arts. “When I was younger, I got bullied a lot. I was less than 100 pounds going into high school, and I had my head shoved into a toilet on more than one occasion, so I got into martial arts more so as a necessity than a love for it.” Taking the time to further explain his bouts with bullying—a behavior that is oftentimes blown off by parents, peers, and others—Dustin cathartically relives just how torturous enduring such mistreatment can be. “I hated [my life] being that way. I hated being victimized, I hated the way everybody treated me, and I just hated being me. I just got tired of it,” he says, before pausing, perhaps wondering how far he should go in explanation. “You know, there for a while I was borderline suicidal, but I just fi nally thought there is no way I’m going to kill myself. After I came to that conclusion, I decided to change my life. And after I saw MMA, I saw that there was so much technique involved that you didn’t have to be big and strong. It’s technique that wins fights. … That gave me hope.”
Sticking with the theme of technique winning fights, maybe no one is any more qualified to speak on that subject than Dustin himself, considering his last two bouts in the UFC have earned him a reported $80,000 in “Submission of the Night” bonuses alone. And whereas the first joint lock that earned him that honor was the sweetest whizzer-to-flying-armbar that you probably never saw (because it took place on the un-aired portion of The Ultimate Fighter 7 finale against Josh Burkman, only to be later shown for free on UFC.com), it would be his latest display of Jiu-Jitsu against Tamdan McCrory at UFC 91 in his undercard-turned-maincard fight (due to the cancellation of another main card bout) that would land him in the spotlight, and not just on television, either. “After my last fight, my training partner came in and told me I had started a riot on the [online MMA discussion] forums [because of the techniques I used].” Of course, to those savvy in submission grappling, Dustin’s flow of BJJ that had led him to victory looked surprisingly close to the “rubber guard” style made famous by the somewhat controversial Hollywood, California-based grappling prodigy, Eddie Bravo—a man who developed a style of Jiu-Jitsu specifically for MMA, albeit going fairly unrealized by most fighters. Careful with his choice of words, Dustin weighs in with his feelings on the debate that has had grappling fans spitting venom at one another since UFC 91.“It was rubber guard that I used, but I’ve never personally trained with Eddie Bravo. But I can’t believe the argument about it! It really kind of irritates me! The one thing I want to do is make Jiu-Jitsu the cool style again like it was back in the day during the early UFC’s, since now everyone wants to knock people out and be a striker. I’m fi nally getting closer to that goal, but now all the Jiu-Jitsu guys are arguing over who invented what and who did what instead of just recognizing it as Jiu-Jitsu and being glad at the comeback it’s making!” And certainly, Dustin is doing his part to lead that comeback, as he hopes and strives to be one of the best Jiu- Jitsu guys in all of MMA.
But the goals don’t stop there for Dustin Hazelett. “I also want to play as myself on a video game [one day],” he says, before explaining the scene he foresees in his head. “But I don’t just want to be one of those guys on a game that no one chooses because they suck, like, ‘Aww, I don’t want Hazelett. He’s garbage in this game!’ I want to be the guy where kids will say, ‘Nah, you can’t use Hazelett. That’s not fair. You can’t have him.’ I want to be that guy. That’s one of my main goals.” And that is quite a large goal to pursue, especially considering its seeker is an athlete in one of the most unforgiving sports that exists; a sport where enough setbacks can spell certain doom for a budding career. But as he has done with life and all it has had to offer thus far, Hazelett takes in stride even the setbacks he has experienced in his career. “I don’t look at [setbacks] as setbacks. Everything that’s happened in my career has been for the best, and I try to learn as much as possible from any obstacle I encounter,” Hazelett says, speaking of no instance in particular before freely taking notice of what most would label as his most crucial career-blip, represented in a TKO loss at the hands (and foot) of a top 10-ranked Josh Koscheck at UFC 82. “If I would have beaten Koscheck, it would have catapulted me to the top of the Welterweight division, but then the question would be: Would I have been good enough to stay there? But when I lost, I still got some recognition, but I also got to go back and work on my skills, too. So that loss to Koscheck was incredibly necessary [for my career]. This time, if I make it to the top, I’ll defi nitely deserve to be there. That loss gave me time to realize my full potential.” And the fact that no observant fight fan could deny Hazelett’s remarkable improvement since that painful loss serves to only add further credence to what he notes as truth.
Perhaps one area of marked improvement in Dustin’s skill set can especially be seen in his striking ability, although it seems that more and more, fans are instead taking notice of the extremely calm demeanor and lack of anxiety that Dustin exhibits while striking, which is quite uncanny for someone who excels in Jiu- Jitsu. So how does someone who started with BJJ and no striking coach whatsoever (until relocating to Jorge Gurgel’s MMA academy) fi guratively appear to be a Xanax pill personifi ed while throwing down with some downright dangerous strikers? “Well, I’ve always had a love for the art of Muay Thai, so fi nally getting to train that is a plus for me, and I really enjoy it,” Dustin says. “But what led me to looking so relaxed when I fi ght is that an old coach once asked me which mount escape I would use in a [fi ghting] situation, and I said I’d use [a certain] one because you’d get hit in the face less. And he said, ‘It’s a fi ght, and you’re gonna get hit in the face anyway, so you might as well escape using the best escape you have.’ Ever since then, I try to realize that it’s a fi ght and I’m going to get hit, so I might as well get used to it. But even according to my [current] coaches, I sometimes get a little too relaxed and laid back when I’m striking.” Dustin pauses before offering his own two cents, perhaps foreshadowing some future methods of victory to which fans could be treated. “I know I need to turn it up a bit at times instead of biding my time … but I’d like to think that I strike when I need to.”
Given the humble beginnings in both his MMA career and even his life, it sometimes seems that Dustin Hazelett has found his own way to beat the odds of adversity—a way that stands separate from those of a few of the growing names in mixed martial arts today. Instead of sacrifi cing his character for obnoxious behavior in order to make himself famous, or even using his learned martial arts techniques to physically crush those who once gave him the same treatment in adolescence, Dustin has led an honorable life and has gotten there all the same. But sometimes, Dustin even runs into some of those childhood foes—guys who have never even apologized for their behavior— only to hear them singing a different tune. “It’s funny when I run into them because they’ll be like, ‘Oh, hey, man. How’s it going?! I saw one of your fi ghts!’ Dustin says. “Or if they have someone with them, they’ll say, ‘Hey, this is Dustin. We grew up together!’ They make it sound like we were best friends.” So how does a person like Dustin best use effective martial arts techniques to get back at the bullies who nearly drove him to suicide? Whereas the obvious choice would involve doling out justice in the form of some well-warranted ass-kickery, Dustin has instead immersed himself in a confidence-spawning sport that now has those same bullies wishing they never would have mistreated a man who they now look up to with wide, regretful eyes.
So just as there is with reaching MMA stardom, it seems that when it comes to getting back at childhood tormentors, Dustin “McLovin’” Hazelett has showed that there is, indeed, more than one way to skin a cat.