When Shawn Hawk received a text message in December of 2008 regarding a fight with Tomasz Adamek on Showtime, he was likely somewhere on the Cold Creek Reservation in Fort Thompson, S.D., not too far removed from his last drink.
A month prior, he had defeated journeyman Jim Franklin weighing 199 pounds, but had put on a bunch more since then.
Though he was a professional boxer climbing in the ranks, he was living on ‘the rez’ with the rest of his fellow Sioux tribe members, sinking into the same problems. Cold Creek, population 1230, is one of the poorest locations in the United States, with a per capita income of $4,063. Folks around the area claim the unemployment rate is as high as 80 percent.
“There’s nothing there. No jobs, no gyms, nothing,” said Hawk (22-2-1, 17 knockouts). “I was just in a real bad place back then. I was an alcoholic and I didn’t even realize it. I thought I could quit any time, but it took a good support system to get past it.”
Hawk was in no condition to fight Adamek for the cruiserweight title, so Showtime opted for Johnathon Banks instead. The South Dakotan took the consolation prize and faced another top cruiserweight, Matt Godfrey, turning in a lethargic effort to earn a unanimous-decision loss.
Drinking and fighting had always gone hand-in-hand for Hawk, who began boxing illegally at the age of 16, entering Toughman contests to win booze money. Victories would net him up to $1,000, which was a fortune for someone who would drive his car with Saran wrap windows to nearby parties in search of leftover pizza.
It was a lifestyle that carried him into the WBC rankings, but was never going to get him anywhere, in reality.
He needed to walk away from the reservation, and more importantly, the bottle.
“That was the main thing that kept the weight on me. As soon as I stopped drinking, the weight fell off on its own. I decided this is what I do for money, so I need to stay in the best shape possible,” said Hawk, who has now settled in Lawrence, Kan. “Everybody’s proud of me. They knew I had to leave in order to be successful. They saw what I was going through at the time. I was going stir crazy up there.”
A year later, Hawk was sober and down to 175. With the support of his fiancée, Echo Matthey, who he claims is always there to tell him “don’t eat that fry,” he now walks around no heavier than 185.
So last weekend, when the call came from manager Otis Griffin saying a spot had opened up to challenge WBO light heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly on Showtime, there was no hesitation in his answer.
“I said ‘hell yeah, for a world title? A chance to fight for a world title? Then hell yeah I’ll take it,’” Hawk told RingTV.com.
The 28-year old will be a massive underdog when he steps through the ropes on Saturday in Los Angeles against Cleverly (24-0, 11 KOs). In June, he was soundly outpointed by Eleider Alvarez in the main event of a Canadian pay-per-view event from Montreal. That he lost handily to the No. 14 fighter in the WBO and is now challenging for the title doesn’t exactly impress the bookies.
Ironically, Alvarez was reportedly offered the chance to fight Cleverly in August, but his promoter, Yvon Michel, rejected it, allowing Ryan Coyne the opportunity. Coyne’s withdrawal opened up the chance for Hawk on five days’ notice.
Though the timing isn’t perfect, it may be the only chance Hawk gets to fight on premium cable, let alone challenge for a world title. More importantly, it’s a symbolic step for the people of Crow Creek, for whom “chances” are unfamiliar.
Forget appearing on national television—for the 55.7 percent of the population who live below the poverty line, the Sioux have enough trouble getting noticed by their country at all.
“I want something better for my people. And if that means I have to box and get recognition that way, then I’ll do it,” said Hawk.
Outside of the ring, he has been accepted into the Pinnacle Career Institute, and is studying to become a wind turbine technician. His hope is to one day run for chairman of his tribe and be able to bring turbines to Crow Creek as a means of creating jobs.
If he can pull off a miracle victory this weekend, those plans might get backed up for a little while.
Hawk admits he’s nervous, though, and stops short of any lofty predictions, given the circumstances.
“Really, I just want to put on a good show,” he said. “That’s all I want, and all boxing fans want.”
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman