While Buckley had the unquestioned top knockout of 2020, one of the other finishes that was on my Top 10 for the year was Hawes’ demolition of Jacob Malkoun.

In a mere 18 seconds, the 32-year-old UFC freshman showed why so many people — myself very much included — were looking forward to his debut and had been so enamored with his potential earlier in this career. The first punch that Hawes landed made Malkoun drop to a knee and from there he swarmed, with three swift punches along the fence finding a home and bringing the bout to a sudden halt.

There wasn’t even time for the broadcast crew to set things up; Jon Anik went from reminding everyone that the fight clock was brought to you by Toyo Tires to declaring the fight was over, with Daniel Cormier offering a chorus of “Oohs and Aahs” in harmony.

To borrow a phrase from salty old sports journalists, Hawes “looks good getting off the bus” — he stands six-feet even with thighs like tree trunks and a chiseled physique. He has solid wrestling fundamentals, better quickness and speed than a man of his size should rightfully exhibit, and considerable power. His is now, as he was when he first arrived on the scene back in 2014, a tremendous impressive physical presence.

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But what was missing then is what makes Hawes such an intriguing figure to track in the middleweight ranks this year: experience.

Over the last several years, the promising talent, who trains with the Sanford MMA crew and spent some time in Switzerland training alongside former teammate Volkan Oezdemir ahead of this fight, has logged considerable time in the gym and a handful of fights, building up his knowledge base and his level of comfort in the cage to where he now knows how to best put his obvious and abundant skills to use.

This weekend represents a strong test for Hawes, as he steps in with fellow 9-2 UFC sophomore Nassourdine Imavov, who registered a unanimous decision win over Jordan Williams in his promotional debut. The 24-year-old Russian-born fighter trains under Fernand Lopez at The MMA Factory in Paris and has serious upside of his own, entering the Octagon this weekend on a six-fight winning streak and a 9-1 record with seven finishes since losing his professional debut.

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Should Hawes successfully navigate this weekend’s matchup with Imavov to push his winning streak to six and earn a second straight UFC win, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the former highly touted prospect earn a chance to make a rapid ascent in the middleweight division.

Tom Breese