Phil Hawes (8-2) is the UFC’s latest addition to the middleweight division, coming into Fight Island with momentum after making good on his second Dana White Contender Series appearance, a 78-second knockout victory in June.
Hawes will make his UFC debut against Jacob Malkoun (4-0), who will also step into the Octagon for the first time for the historic UFC 254 event. Malkoun has put together a solid, unblemished record, which has seen him string together four-straight wins to kick off his MMA career.
For Hawes, starting his UFC career out on the right foot is key to future success. Hawes is currently riding a four-fight winning streak, which includes wins against Yuri Fraga (6-2) and Michael Wilcox (4-2) in BRAVE CF and Bellator, respectively.
Hawes trains out of the prestigious Sanford MMA camp in South Florida alongside such greats as Kamaru Usman, Gilbert Burns, Michael Chandler, and many others, and has finished six of his eight wins by KO/TKO.
In his post-fight media scrum after finally earning a UFC contract, the highly-touted Hawes was exhilarated with emotion after visualizing the finish many times in his head.
“It’s a bittersweet emotion when you visualize these situations. Like, it all coming and unfolding. It’s bittersweet because that happened so fast, and I visualized it happening so fast. I’m just excited to be [in the UFC] and I’m honored,” said an emotional Hawes, who received his first Contender Series opportunity back in 2017.
Like former UFC champions Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez, the 31-year-old Hawes wrestled at Iowa Central Community College in his first foray into martial arts.
Hawes initially fought out of the standout JacksonWink MMA gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, alongside the likes of Jones, Holly Holm, and Carlos Condit, building a reputation as a super prospect.
Three key losses from 2016-2017, however, to eventual Ultimate Fighter winner Andrew Sanchez on the show, PFL tournament champion Louis Taylor in the WSOF, and UFC vet Julian Marquez on DWCS in 2017 derailed some of that hype, if just for a moment.
Since, Hawes has seen a return to form, winning four straight fights by brutal finish across Bellator, BRAVE, and the Contender Series, the latter of which secured him an elusive UFC contract.
Hawes will enter Fight Island on a stacked card, which features a main event clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje for the undisputed lightweight title, plus a No. 1 contender bout between Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier in the middleweight division.
The pay-per-view will take place at an early start time of 2 p.m. EST/11 a.m. PST to accommodate the local Abu Dhabi crowd watching in primetime. This is a rarity for the UFC, as pay-per-views have a normal start time of 10 p.m EST/ 7 p.m. PST.
The event is the promotion’s 33rd since the pandemic began, as the UFC rolls on unfazed, every weekend until December 19.