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Baltimore boxer Malik Hawkins driven by ambition and tragedy on path to becoming world champion

Baltimore boxer Malik Hawkins fought Johnathan Steele on the undercard of Gervonta "Tank" Davis world championship fight at Royal Farms Arena on July 27, 2019.
Baltimore boxer Malik Hawkins fought Johnathan Steele on the undercard of Gervonta "Tank" Davis world championship fight at Royal Farms Arena on July 27, 2019. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Charlene Morrison was ready and waiting at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore for her newborn baby to make his grand entrance on Jan. 1, 1996. There was only one issue: the baby.

“He would not come out,” she recalled with a laugh. “He ruined my chances of him being the first one. He hung around until 12 o’clock that afternoon.”

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Since then, Malik Hawkins has shared every birthday with New Year’s Day, which he has not minded.

“Every birthday, fireworks and things got shot off,” he said. “So it’s always been celebration. I always looked at it as, ‘Wow, they’ve started doing all this for my birthday.’”

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Hawkins has given much to his family to rejoice. The 24-year-old Baltimore native is 18-0 as a professional boxer and a recent signee of Mayweather Promotions. He will put his unblemished record on the line against Subriel Matias (15-1) in a 10-round bout in the super lightweight division broadcast by Showtime on Oct. 24 at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.

The 6-foot Hawkins, who has a 73-inch reach and is training at Turner’s Boxing Club in Frederick before traveling north, joins three-time world champion and friend Gervonta Davis in representing Baltimore to boxing fans. It is an obligation he readily accepts.

“I just want to be able to show the kids that are coming up behind me,” he said. “And it doesn’t even have to be boxing. I just want them to know that if you work hard and if you chase your dreams, at the end of the day, it could work out for you. You’ve just got to be willing to put the work in, the effort in.”

Malik Hawkins reacts after winning a super lightweight bout against Darwin Price in the fifth round Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Tami Chappell)
Malik Hawkins reacts after winning a super lightweight bout against Darwin Price in the fifth round Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Tami Chappell) (Tami Chappell/AP)

The work for Hawkins began shortly after he turned 8 years old when his parents Morrison and Glenn Hawkins moved the family from Park Heights to Sandtown in Baltimore. In the family’s new neighborhood, Malik Hawkins was the frequent target of bullies, forcing his mother to sign him up for boxing lessons at Upton Gym when he was 9.

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Kenny Ellis, who was one of Hawkins' first coaches and continues to train him, said Hawkins' talent was obvious.

“I said, ‘He’s going to be a good pro,’” Ellis said. “He had good balance and he held up his hands when a lot of kids, it takes time for them to hold up their hands correctly. But Malik had it as soon as he walked in the door.”

Morrison, a certified medicine aide for residents at a retirement community, said she had some initial reservations about Malik participating in the pugilistic sport.

“If he wasn’t any good at it, I would have pulled him out a long time ago,” she said. “And it was a saving grace. It kept him out of the streets.”

Hawkins also played basketball and football, but left the latter after he punched an opposing player who had blindsided him after a play had been whistled dead and was told by his coach that he would have to serve a month-long suspension. He committed to boxing full-time at the age of 13 and captured Silver Gloves national championships at 14 and 15 years old.

“I thought I was dreaming,” Hawkins said of the back-to-back titles. “But my coach always used to say, ‘It just takes time. You’re going to come into your own, but it’s going to happen at your own pace.’ So when it finally happened, I just couldn’t believe it.”

After racking up a 160-15 record as an amateur, Hawkins turned pro at 18. In his debut at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, he knocked out Terrell A. Coles within the first 16 seconds.

“I didn’t even break a sweat,” Hawkins said. “I just went out there and did what I usually do in the gym.”

Hawkins has fought on the undercard of two Davis fights — on July 27, 2019, and Dec. 28. Hawkins said he is grateful to Davis, with whom he attended George G. Kelson elementary and middle schools and Digital Harbor High School, for the introduction to a wider boxing audience.

“I used to be over his house, and he used to be over at my house. We always had a real tight relationship, a brotherly-like bond,” Hawkins said. “So to be able to fight on his undercards, it was great. It meant a lot to me, and I’m pretty sure it meant a lot to him. Just him being able to give me that opportunity, we’re just putting Baltimore on the map.”

In September 2019, 15-time world champion Floyd Mayweather signed Hawkins, who was honored to be on Mayweather’s radar.

“It indicated that they were watching, and it showed that all the hard work I was putting in did not go unnoticed,” he said. “They could have signed any fighter, but they chose to sign me. They have put me on the right path towards making all of my dreams come true.”

Hawkins' success has been underscored by personal tragedy. Older brother Domenique Hawkins was shot in the back of his head while attending a cookout on July 4, 2002. He was just 19.

Describing himself as “crushed,” Malik Hawkins said he incited fights and got into trouble.

“But as time passed, I just had to realize that I can’t keep being mad and keep being sad,” said Hawkins, who has his brother’s nickname “Neiko” tattooed on his right forearm and his birth year inked on his left (19) and right triceps (83). “I just had to find a way to keep his name alive and just continue to make him proud.”

Hawkins has his own nickname, “Iceman.” He said he would imitate a rapper named Paul Wall, who was known for wearing grillz or platinum and diamonds over his teeth. When Hawkins walked into the gym with aluminum foil wrapped around his teeth, someone called him “Iceman,” which stuck.

Ellis said Hawkins' strengths are his awareness in the ring and his ability to adapt to opponents' styles. Those elements could be critical in carving a path to a world championship, according to the trainer.

“I’m 110% that he can be champion of the world,” Ellis said. “Stay focused on the moment. We’ll cross the bridge as we get to them. We don’t overlook any opponent. As long as he stays focused, I’m 110% sure that he will go all the way.”

Hawkins' opponent, Matias, lost his most recent bout by unanimous decision to Petros Ananyan on Feb. 22. But all 15 of his wins have been by knockout, and Hawkins is banking on Matias trying to impose his will early.

“I know he’s going to try to come in there and try to be a bully and things of that nature,” said Hawkins, who has 11 knockouts of his own. “But that’s kind of my style, and I’m not going to let him beat me at what I do best.”

Super lightweight boxing

Malik Hawkins (18-0) vs. Subriel Matias (15-1)

Saturday, Oct. 24, 9 p.m.

10-round bout at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, on undercard of Premier Boxing Champions card

TV: Showtime

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