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MMA Hot List: Deiveson Figueiredo, Kevin Holland among contenders for top spot

ESPN Illustration

In the past six months, the UFC has seen records fall for the fastest 3-0 start in modern history, most middleweight wins during that span and fastest turnaround for a champ. There have been viral knockouts, stunning submissions and dominance of title contenders.

ESPN's MMA Hot List features the top fighters over the past six months.

The 13-member panel -- names are below -- weighed quality as well as quantity of wins since June 21.

For some fighters, like the one atop the list, quality combined with quantity to make the choice easy.

No. 1: Deiveson Figueiredo, UFC flyweight champ

Figueiredo said he believes he clinched 2020 fighter-of-the-year status with his majority draw against Brandon Moreno on Dec. 12. How does a draw deserve that kind of accolade? One has to look at the big picture to fully appreciate Figueiredo's year, especially the past six months.

He opened 2020 on Feb. 29 with a win over Joseph Benavidez. But Figueiredo didn't make weight, so he wasn't awarded the belt. So they fought again on July 18 and Figueiredo left no doubt, stopping Benavidez with a first-round submission to win the title.

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Figueiredo, Moreno put on epic fight at UFC 256

The pace never dies down in the main event of UFC 256 as Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno trade strikes standing up.

He defended the belt on Nov. 21 with a first-round submission of Alex Perez in the main event of UFC 255. In the co-main event, Moreno scored a first-round TKO over Brandon Royval, and then he called out Figueiredo. The champ accepted the challenge, and since both were unscathed, their bout was set for UFC 256 on Dec. 12, just three weeks later. It would be the quickest turnaround for a champion in UFC history.

UFC president Dana White called it the greatest flyweight bout in promotion history -- it will be replayed Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Figueiredo's performance looked even more impressive considering he was hospitalized the day before the card with problems associated with rehydrating after weigh-ins. He was so ill that his manager thought the fight would be called off.

So in the past six months, Figueiredo had three title fights, winning two and fighting to a draw in the third. For that, he is No. 1 on ESPN's MMA Hot List.

No. 2: Khabib Nurmagomedov, UFC lightweight champ

Unlike Figueiredo, Nurmagomedov fought just once in the past six months, but his selection as No. 2 is a matter of quality over quantity. The champ dominated Justin Gaethje before finishing him off with a second-round triangle choke in the main event of UFC 254 on Oct. 24. Nurmagomedov was expected to take Gaethje down early and utilize what many consider as the best wrestling skills in UFC history, but Nurmagomedov stayed on his feet and fought to Gaethje's strength.

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Holland, Stewart trade strikes in Round 1

Kevin Holland and Darren Stewart waste no time exchanging pleasantries as they trade massive blows early in Round 1 of their bout.

The performance was so dominant that -- according to Nurmagomedov friend and teammate Daniel Cormier -- Nurmagomedov decided not to finish Gaethje with an armbar because he knew Gaethje wouldn't tap, which would have meant possibly breaking Gaethje's arm. Nurmagomedov didn't want to do that with Gaethje's parents in attendance in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, according to Cormier, so Nurmagomedov went with the triangle choke instead. Gaethje didn't tap and did seem to lose consciousness momentarily before regaining his senses.

Nurmagomedov said after the fight he was retiring with a 29-0 record. His father, who died earlier this year, had talked about his son finishing his career with a 30-0 record, but Nurmagomedov said he promised his mother he wouldn't fight again without his father in his corner. White, however, said he believes there's a chance Nurmagomedov will fight once more, which is why he's still listed as the lightweight champ, and why he's on this list.

No. 3: Israel Adesanya, UFC middleweight champ

Another case of quality over quantity, Adesanya's only fight over the past six months was a Sept. 29 demolition of No. 1 contender Paulo Costa in the main event of UFC 253.

Many thought Costa's brute strength would be the kryptonite to Adesanya's unblemished record. It's unlikely those doubters will make that mistake again.

Adesanya outclassed Costa and finished him via second-round TKO. Adesanya now appears on the verge of moving up to challenge light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz, who is No. 7 on this list.

No. 4: Kevin Holland, UFC middleweight

It's not just that Holland is one of only three fighters in UFC history -- and the only middleweight -- to win five fights in a calendar year, including four in the past six months. It's also the style points he's accumulating along the way.

In his most recent fight, on Dec. 12, he knocked out Jacare Souza from the bottom position. That's happened only one other time in UFC history.

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Chimaev needs only one punch to knock out Meerschaert

Khamzat Chimaev needs 17 seconds and one punch to knock out Gerald Meerschaert at UFC Fight Night.

The UFC now ranks Holland No. 10 among middleweights, which means the caliber of opponent should rise dramatically for his next fight. If he can keep his hype train on the tracks, he might ultimately get the shot against Adesanya that he's been calling for.

No. 5: Khamzat Chimaev, UFC middleweight and welterweight

Chimaev might have landed higher on this list had his fight against Leon Edwards, scheduled for Saturday, not been postponed because Edwards contracted the coronavirus. Then again, he might have fallen from this list entirely if he had lost to Edwards, who represented a steep rise in caliber of opponent.

The bout is expected to take place on Jan. 20, so the litmus test isn't far away.

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Till, Whittaker come out swinging early

Darren Till and Robert Whittaker take turns dropping each other to the mat early in their main event matchup.

At this point, Chimaev has been nothing short of a phenom. He's begun his UFC career with three wins, all stoppages, and all in the past six months. His 17-second KO of Gerald Meerschaert on Sept. 19 is tied for the third-fastest KO in UFC middleweight history.

He was the quickest to two wins -- 10 days -- in UFC history, and he owns the fastest 3-0 start in modern UFC history (since 2000), spanning just 66 days.

No. 6: Robert Whittaker, UFC middleweight

A strong case could be made for Whittaker to be ranked higher on this list, considering the caliber of opponent he has beaten.

There was talk about Whittaker possibly retiring after he lost his belt to Adesanya in 2019, but the narrative that Whittaker lost his passion for fighting was put to rest in 2020.

Whittaker beat Darren Till on July 25 via unanimous decision, setting up what was viewed as a No. 1 contender fight with the surging Jared Cannonier. Many thought Cannonier would earn a title shot with a win, and even Adesanya talked about defending against Cannonier. But Whittaker changed those plans with a unanimous-decision win on Oct. 24.

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How did Usman take down Masvidal at UFC 251?

Dominick Cruz and Chael Sonnen give credit to both Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal for their efforts in UFC 251.

But afterward, White talked about Whittaker not wanting to fight Adesanya. Whittaker had said he definitely wanted that rematch, but he wanted to wait until after the birth of his child in January. White is planning to book Adesanya vs. Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title, so Whittaker's next bout is uncertain.

No. 7: Jan Blachowicz, UFC light heavyweight champ

Blachowicz began 2020 hoping he was one win away from challenging Jon Jones for the light heavyweight championship. That win came on Feb. 15 against Corey Anderson in front of a live crowd that featured Jones, who said he was interested in facing Blachowicz.

But things took an unexpected turn. Jones vacated his belt to pursue heavyweight aspirations, leaving Blachowicz to face Dominick Reyes for the vacant belt. Reyes was a heavy favorite after going five rounds with Jones in February and doing enough in the eyes of many to win that decision. But Blachowicz proved to be a dangerous underdog, as he finished Reyes via TKO in the second round.

Now Blachowicz is poised to defend his belt against Adesanya, who's trying to become a double champ.

No. 8: Stipe Miocic, UFC heavyweight champ

Miocic won't match the level of activity of some of the fighters on this list, but when he does fight, it's memorable. Miocic beat Daniel Cormier via unanimous decision on Aug. 15 in the UFC 252 main event.

Cormier retired after the bout, having lost two of three to Miocic, who became MMA's heavyweight GOAT in the eyes of many.

Miocic's next fight will be against No. 1 challenger Francis Ngannou, presumably in March. Miocic beat Ngannou on Jan. 20, 2018, via unanimous decision.

No. 9: Kamaru Usman, UFC welterweight champ

Usman's only fight in the past six months was a unanimous decision over Jorge Masvidal on July 11 in the main event of UFC 251. Masvidal took the bout on late notice, but it was still a dominant performance by Usman, who controlled Masvidal against the cage.

Usman was supposed to defend his title against Gilbert Burns on Dec. 12, but he had an injury that postponed the bout. The fight is expected to take place early in 2021.

No. 10: Valentina Shevchenko, UFC women's flyweight champ

Shevchenko's only fight in the past six months was more exciting than expected. Jennifer Maia did something few opponents can accomplish against Shevchenko on Nov. 21 -- she was competitive.

But as unusual as it looked for someone to make things interesting against the champ, Shevchenko still had more than enough to capture the unanimous-decision win.

White said a possible superfight between Shevchenko and strawweight champion Zhang Weili would make more sense than a trilogy bout between Shevchenko and Amanda Nunes.

Others receiving votes: Charles Oliveira, Brandon Moreno, Dustin Poirier, Joaquin Buckley, Marcin Tybura, Patricio Freire, Colby Covington, Rafael Fiziev, Brian Ortega, Glover Teixeira, Rose Namajunas, A.J. McKee, Mackenzie Dern, Paul Craig

Panel: Kel Dansby, Andrew Davis, Andrew Feldman, Tim Fiorvanti, Ariel Helwani, Eric Jackman, Roman Modrowski, Phil Murphy, Arda Ocal, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Eric Tamiso, Jeff Wagenheim