This is a fight I’ve had my eye on since it was originally booked for last month. It’s an extremely intriguing matchup between two rising middleweight prospects with identical 9-2 records. Each fighter has a well-rounded skillset and multiple ways to stop the fight.
Phil Hawes has stopped all nine of his professional wins, seven by knockout and two by submission. He took a bit of a winding road to his UFC debut. He lost to Andrew Sanchez on TUF season 23 in 2016. He went on to win his first official professional bout by first round stoppage, before being submitted by Louis Taylor.
Following that fight, he got another chance at a UFC contract on DWCS, but was finished by Julian Marquez in the second round. He would go on to finish his next three fights and appear on DWCS again, this time defeating Khadszimurat Bestaev by first-round knockout and earning his octagon debut. Hawes finished Jacob Malkoun in just eighteen seconds in his first UFC bout last Summer.
Hawes is now riding a five-fight win streak, but Nassourdine Imavov will be a tougher test than Hawes’ recent opponents. Imavov is also riding a winning streak, his is now at six fights, four of which he has finished. He has three knockouts and four submissions in his professional career. Imavov won his UFC debut by decision over Jordan Williams last October.
Imavov is a balanced fighter with a high fight IQ. He can do damage with both hands and is a smart and technical striker. He can lead the action but is more more comfortable moving his head and counter-striking. He has tight, clean straight punches and some strong hooks with both hands. His step-in elbows are tough to see coming and can cause serious damage.
He takes a wide, sideways stance and fights behind his jab. Imavov makes use of kicks to all three levels and throws nasty knees to the midsection. He’s a beast in the clinch, landing knees and elbows on the breaks. He’s also a serious submission threat and attempted multiple guillotines in his debut, upon Williams’ takedown entries.
Imavov has solid wrestling and can neutralize his opponents when he gets wobbled. He usually looks to take side control on the ground and frame up elbows. He has very good ground and pound skills and transitions smoothly between his striking and submissions on the ground.
The grappling battle may be the biggest question in this one. Imavov has good wrestling skills, but Hawes is a JUCO National Champion. Imavov likely has better submission skills, but Hawes is extremely strong and transitions very smoothly on the ground.
For the most part, he has been ripping through his recent opponents by throwing bombs and finding knockouts. He’s a power striker and an absolute bully. He walks forward, waits for his opportunity, and throws hook after hook, each with the intent to end the fight. He’s very patient and can attack with leg kicks to draw out his opponents attacks.
Hawes’ wrestling is very good and he has very strong top control skills. His ground and pound is mean and nasty. He is very good at chasing finishes without gassing himself out, but we haven’t seen him go the distance in his professional career.
In what has the potential to be one of the best fights on the card, I think Hawes is going to be tested into the late second and possibly third rounds. Imavov doesn’t absorb as much damage as many of Hawes’ recent opponents do. He has great head movement and excellent counter-striking.
I also don’t think Hawes excels in these technical striking matchups, because he isn’t a technical striker. He throws big, looping punches and isn’t really setting anything up but rather waiting for his opponents to open themselves up. Imavov is himself a patient counter-striker with strong defensive fundamentals, and I don’t think he’s going to afford Hawes many of those opportunities.
If Hawes is to win this fight it’ll happen on the ground. There are three major problems with this gameplan for him. 1. Imavov is almost as good, if not as good on the ground as Hawes. 2. Wrestling has gassed Hawes out in the past. 3. Imavov has some nasty chokes, and Hawes doesn’t keep his neck out of trouble when he shoots in for takedowns.
This is a close fight to call and I really think anything can happen, from a Hawes KO to an Imavov submission, to this possibly being the first fight of Hawes’ career to go the distance. However, I don’t quite see it as a 50/50 fight and I give Imavov a pretty decent edge here. As such, he’s worth a play on the moneyline as a short underdog.