Chatham, Ont. flyweight Matt Dawson (2-1) will look to rebound from his first professional loss when he meets Torontonian Gabe Sagman (6-4) this Saturday at BTC 13, from the Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catherines, Ont.
Despite having only competed in the pro ranks since 2019, Dawson, 30, amassed a respectable sixteen-fight amateur stint before finally levelling up.
Dawson said it was essential for he and his team to know, rather than just believe, that he was prepared.
“My coach wanted me to be ready before we made the big leap, so sixteen wasn’t a number, you know,” said Dawson in an interview with MMA Empire.
“And in Ontario they were having fights like every two weekends for amateur, but then that got kiboshed in the recent years and you can’t even find an amateur fight in Ontario right now. You have to go to Québec or something.”
Unfortunately, securing an opponent in the professional circuit has proven equally frustrating for Dawson, and is illustrative, he said, of the barren regional landscape facing active male fighters competing in the lowermost weight-classes in Canada.
“I fought my whole amateur career at 135, and some of my opponents wanted to do catch-weights, but I normally walk around at like 142, 143, so realistically when I jumped to the pros 135 wasn’t going to be my weight-class,” he said.
“There are a lot of guys that say, ‘oh, I can fight at 125’ and then they miss weight. It’s a tough weight to get to and compete in if you’re not sitting around 140, 145, and train your body with the correct diet. Two out of my three professional fights, both guys missed weight.”
As if these obstacles weren’t enough on their own, Dawson was able to fight just twice in his freshman year as a pro before COVID-19 and its ensuing restrictions barred him from cage-time for the duration of 2020.
“It was hard to get a fight with the pandemic going on, yes, but with the training, as us fighters always say, we have to have that back alley or what have you where we can go do what we need to do, right. So, I kind of just laid off that year; I was still doing training but it wasn’t like full-on ‘fighter’ training, you know. And then I finally fought again in Vancouver in 2021, near the end of the pandemic requirements and lockdowns. We were able to get better training and do a little bit more stuff, so I was like, why not take a fight? You know, I’m only getting older,” said Dawson.
While Dawson’s return bout did not go his way, he said he enters this weekend’s contest with Sagman undeterred in his mission and hungrier than ever before.
Though respectful of Sagman’s skillset, Dawson does not believe Saturday’s adversary poses any especial threat that he hasn’t already dealt with thus far in his career.
“I understand he’s a blackbelt (in jiu-jitsu) but, you know, I’ve been in there since amateur days with purple, brown belts, and my 2019 finish against Nate Ledger—he’s a purple belt as well, right. We’re not in a gi, right? In a gi you’re not getting punched as well; if I punch you you’re going to let go, so I’m not too worried about that,” he said.
“I know he’s fought a couple opponents that I’ve also fought in amateur, like Ty Wilson two or so fights ago where he got rear-naked choked, but I fought Ty Wilson at like a 142-143-pound catchweight near the end of my amateur career, and I took him the distance, you know. I know he (Sagman) is going to bring some intensity for the first round and I know he fights at 135 usually, so this weight-cut may play a factor on him, but I don’t know. I know he’s explosive in the first and then his gas tank wears out in the second and third, so I’m not too worried; I’ve been in there with some pretty good people, and I know where I am. I just hope he’s been training as hard as me.”
Unlike most thirty-year-olds in active MMA competition today, Dawson said his fighting roots began in earnest not in dojos or gyms but in bars and on the streets.
“I was pretty good at it so we said, why don’t we try doing it in a cage and not getting in trouble?,” said Dawson.
“I actually have a cousin named Tyler Kirk who competed amateur in the States, and then he went pro and I was kind of his main training partner but had no training previously myself. I’d still give him a run for his money.”