After 42 action-packed events spanning across 17 cities and five continents, the UFC is taking a month-long break over the Christmas and New Year period.
After two years fighting in closed arenas without fans in attendance thanks to border closures and Covid restrictions, the UFC finally got back to a level of pre-Covid normality in 2022 selling out shows across the United States as well as various other locations around the world.
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Safe to say that the fans in attendance as well as those tuning in on TV weren’t left disappointed after an insane 12 months of fights, which included jaw-dropping upsets, mind-blowing knockouts, stacked cards and more than half the promotion’s world titles changing hands.
With the UFC on hiatus, foxsports.com.au has taken a look back at the year’s action and decided on various awards for 2022.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
If more than 50 per cent of the champions in the organisation lose their belts and you not only manage to defend your title twice but turn in the two best performances of your career, and arguably two of the best performances of the entire year, then you get Fighter of the Year.
34-year-old Australian champion Alexander Volkanovski was originally scheduled to kick off his year by defending his UFC featherweight crown against arch-rival Max Holloway in their highly-anticipated trilogy bout at UFC 272. However, a day after the announcement, Holloway was forced to pull from the event due to injury. Holloway was replaced by Chan Sung Jung and the title bout was moved to UFC 273 in April.
Volkanovski looked on another level to the man known as ‘The Korean Zombie’, landing blow after blow and scoring three knockdowns to completely dominate the majority of the contest, before winning the fight early in the fourth round via standing TKO. The win earned him the Performance of the Night award. The fight also earned him second place in the Crypto.com “Fan Bonus of the Night” award.
The Wollongong native then had his trilogy bout with Holloway rescheduled for UFC 276 on 2 July 2022. Coming into the contest all the pressure was on the reigning champion as his critics have always claimed that despite having officially won the first two encounters, his Hawaain challenger was robbed by the judges. Holloway had also had two highly impressive wins over Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez since his controversial split decision loss to Volkanovski, firmly establishing himself as the rightful number one contender.
Volkanovski showed up with a point to prove and lived up to his fight moniker “The Great” by not just beating his longtime foe for a third time, but making “Blessed” look slow and out of his depth as he completely dominated from start to finish, with all three judges scoring the fight 50-45 in favour of the champion. The unanimous decision victory silenced Volkanovski’s critics by putting an emphatic full stop on his rivalry chapter with Holloway, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest featherweights in UFC history, and again earned him second place in the Crypto.com “Fan Bonus of the Night” award.
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Not satisfied with cleaning out the featherweight division, Volkanovski took a huge risk by volunteering to serve as the backup fighter for the lightweight championship fight between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev at UFC 280 on 23 October in Abu Dhabi. While his services were not needed on this occasion as both fighters made weight and made the walk to the octagon, it helped secure Volkanovski a chance to become a double champ with a lightweight title shot against Makhachev booked for UFC 284 on 12 February 2023 in Perth.
A notable mention in the Fighter of the Year category must go to Australia’s Jack Della Maddalena who has exploded onto the scene in 2022, scoring three consecutive first-round stoppage victories in his debut year to announce himself as a future star of the UFC.
Internationally Alex Pereira was the standout Fighter of the Year with the 35-year-old Brazilian completing a meteoric rise through the UFC ranks to go from making his promotional debut late last year to capturing the middleweight championship at the end of 2022 with an upset victory over former champion Israel Adesanya. Pereira recorded two comprehensive victories over Bruno Silva and Sean Strickland to begin the year before facing off against long-time foe Adesanya at UFC 281 on November 12, where he won via technical knockout in the fifth round to record his third consecutive victory over the New Zealander (they met twice before in kickboxing) and earn his first UFC title.
A few honourable mentions need to go to Weili Zhang (2-0 including capturing the UFC Women’s straw weight championship), Islam Makhachev (2-0 including capturing the UFC lightweight championship), Aljamain Sterling (2-0 in title fights), Jamahal Hill (3-0 all via KO/TKO), Sergei Pavlovich (3-0 all via KO/TKO), Drew Dober (3-0 all via KO/TKO), Marlon Vera (2-0) and Valentina Shevchenko (1-0 including being one of the few champions to retain their belt in 2022) who all had massive years in 2022.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
From an Australian perspective, Cyril Gane v Tai Tuivasa will be talked about by the fans at the historic UFC Fight Night in Paris for years to come as it lived up to the hype to produce the Fight of the Year in a heavyweight battle for the title of No. 1 contender. While Aussie Tuivasa fell short, he showed tremendous heart and came agonisingly close to pulling off a massive upset over the former interim champion in front of his home crowd.
Globally, Jiri Prochazka v Glover Teixeira was an all-time classic title fight as the two went to war for five rounds at UFC 275 in Singapore with the light heavyweight championship belt on the line in the clear UFC Fight of the Year for 2022. Teixeira and Jiri Prochazka delivered a battle for the ages, shared equally between bulldozing punching and elite-level grappling, before Prochazka finally sealed a rear naked choke with 28 seconds left in the fifth round. It was the first time he had ever gone beyond three rounds, and just his third ever UFC fight. “That is a hall of fame fight, eventually it will be inducted,” Jon Anik said in commentary at the time.
While the two mentioned above were no doubt worthy winners, fans were treated to a bucketload of thrilling fights throughout 2022 with special mentions going to Michael Chandler v Dustin Poirier, Khamzat Chimaev v Gilbert Burns, Max Holloway v Yair Rodriguez, Nate Landwehr v David Onama, Brandon Moreno v Deiveson Figueiredo 3, Mateusz Gamrot v Arman Tsarukyan and Stephen Thompson v Kevin Holland.
ROUND OF THE YEAR
There were so many great rounds to choose from in 2022 but Round 2 of the aforementioned Cyril Gane v Tai Tuivasa fight was the pick of the bunch for Round of the Year involving an Australian. By Round 2, Gane’s jab was starting to find the mark consistently and his commitment to brutal kicks to Tuivasa’s midsection was starting to pay dividends with the Australian heavyweight visibly wincing every time the Frenchman landed another blow to the area. However, Tuivasa displayed plenty of heart throughout the fight and refused to go down before landing a few huge shots of his own towards the end of the round to rock the No. 1 contender and almost pull of a shocking upset. Alas, it wasn’t to be with Gane surviving before regaining his composure in the break to fight back in the third, drop Tuivasa and finish the job on the ground as referee Marc Goddard waved off the contest. Speaking after the fight, a candid Gane revealed a Tuivasa shot that dropped him in the second round momentarily put him to sleep, as the ending was so close to being different. “He knocked me out,” Gane said. “The lights were out.”
Internationally the explosive first round of Michael Chandler v Dustin Poirier was the clear choice for 2022’s Round of the Year. The always entertaining Chandler began hot to have Poirier on the brink of defeat before “The Diamond” did what he so often does when backed into a corner, coming out swinging and connecting on some huge bombs to rock Chandler who was luckily saved by the bell. Chandler would go on to dominate Round 2 before Poirier fought back in the final round to submit his opponent via rear naked choke to end an absolute barn burner that had the whole of Madison Square Garden on its feet.
Honourable mentions to Drew Dober v Terrance Mckinney (round 1), Matt Schnell vs Su Madaerji (round 2), Stephen Thompson v Kevin Holland (round 1), Jiri Prochazka v Glover Teixeira (round 3), Brandon Moreno v Deiveson Figueiredo 3 (round 3), Khamzat Chimaev v Gilbert Burns (round 2), Charles Oliveira v Justin Gaethje (round 1) and Sean O’Malley v Petr Yan (round 3) which were all deserving nominees in their own right.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
This one’s easy. Tai “Bam Bam” Tuivasa did what he does best, throw down, with a huge shot to the head finishing off the dangerous and heavily fancied Derrick Lewis in a battle between two UFC fan favourites. Against the most damaging puncher in UFC history, Tuivasa ate a bunch of punishment, before dolling out some of his own, which Lewis could not handle. In a back-and-forth second round, it was a brutal elbow that sent Lewis crashing to the canvas; Tuivasa with a walk-off finish that cemented his place among the division’s elite and earns him the Knockout of the Year. “That’s the king of knockouts,” Tuivasa said after securing his fifth straight win in the UFC. “But like I said, I’m young … and I’m taking over now.”
Globally Leon Edwards claimed a win for the ages and became the new welterweight champion with a thundering last-minute left head kick that turned former champion Kamaru Usman’s lights out before he even hit the canvas in the standout UFC Knockout of the Year for 2022. After some early success, including Edwards taking down Usman for the first time in his career before landing an elbow and going for a rear-naked choke following taking his back, the British fighter was dominated for the next three and a half rounds before pulling the vicious head kick out of nowhere to take the win. “Oh my goodness,” Daniel Cormier said in commentary. “The way he pulled that out of the fire. He actually pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. I’m stunned. Leon Edwards just shook the world.”
Special mentions to Jack Della Maddalena (counter left cross v Pete Rodriguez) on the Aussie front, as well as Michael Chandler (front kick v Tony Ferguson), Molly McCann (spinning back elbow v Luana Carolina), Marlon Vera (left head kick v Dominick Cruz), Jamahal Hill (right overhand v Johnny Walker), Sergei Pavlovich (punches v Tai Tuivasa and v Derrick Lewis) and Alex Pereira (left hook v Sean Strickland) internationally.
SUBMISSION OF THE YEAR
While no Australian UFC fighters secured a submission win in 2022, Aussie Jessica-Rose Clark was on the wrong end of a couple of devastating first-round arm bar submission losses. Technically Julija Stoliarenko was able to secure the arm bar and victory quicker out of the two and should consider herself very stiff, but I’ve given the nod to Stephanie Egger for Submission of the Year due to hers inflicting the first submission loss in Clark’s career as well as Stoliarenko being penalised for controversially not releasing her arm bar when Clark first tapped which resulted in the Aussie brutally breaking her arm and requiring surgery.
There were a few worthy contenders for Submission of the Year in the UFC but considering the context leading up to the moment I’ve chosen Charles Oliveira’s rear naked choke against Justin Gaethje. Former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira said in the lead up that his pre-fight weigh-in drama was nothing, that it would not distract him from making a statement against Justin Gaethje. And having been stripped of his lightweight championship, Oliveira did just that in brutal fashion in the UFC 274 main event. Oliveira survived two early knockdowns by Gaethje before battling back to win via a first-round submission. After the fight, the Brazilian delivered arguably the most quoted mic drop moment of 2022 courtesy of his translator who said “The champion has a name and it’s Charles Oliveira, Do Bronx.”
A few honourable mentions go to Jiri Prochazka (rear-naked choke v Glover Teixeira), Jessica Andrade (standing arm-triangle choke v Amanda Lemos), Islam Makhachev (arm-triangle choke v Charles Oliveira), Nate Diaz (guillotine choke v Tony Ferguson), Paul Craig (triangle choke v Nikita Krylov) and Claudio Puelles (kneebar v Clay Guida).
UPSET OF THE YEAR
There were more than a few worthy contenders for this category in 2022, but the Upset of the Year among Australia’s UFC fighters was clearly Western Sydney native Tai Tuivasa who upset the apple cart at UFC 271 in February when his viscous elbow shut Houston local Derrick Lewis’ lights off in front of his home crowd in a classic slugfest between two heavyweight contenders.
While Tuivasa’s upset was the standout for the Australian contingent, there was no doubt who the cream of the international crop was with Leon Edwards last-minute comeback win against former king Kamaru Usman in their Welterweight title fight easily the biggest Upset of the Year in the UFC. In a rematch of their 2015 fight, the 31-year-old British fighter was a heavy underdog against the dominant champion in Usman, but surprisingly came out in the first round and successfully took the Nigerian Nightmare down for the first time in his UFC career. But for the next four rounds it looked like the champion would do what champions do, lifting his game in the face of adversity, dominating Edwards in controlled fashion. That was, until a thundering head kick from Edwards sent Usman crashing to the ground and the entire UFC world into a spin. The upset not only earned Edwards his first UFC gold but also ended Usman’s 15-fight UFC win streak and paved the way for a blockbuster trilogy bout sometime in 2023.
A few fighters that deserve a shout-out are Julianna Peña (v Amanda Nunes), Alex Pereira (v Israel Adesanya), Aljamain Sterling (v Petr Yan), Sean O’Malley (v Petr Yan) and Roman Dolidze (v Jack Hermansson) who all pulled off some massive upsets in 2022.
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
See above regarding Alexander Volkanovski emphatically putting his rivalry with Max Holloway to bed once and for all in the Performance of the Year by not just an Australian but in the entire UFC.
However, internationally Islam Makhachev’s performance against Charles Oliveira in their UFC lightweight title bout was made all the more impressive by the fact he submitted the man who holds the UFC record for most submission wins (16) in the organisation’s history. The win secured the 31-year-old Dagestani a long-awaited UFC championship belt and set up a tantalising matchup with the aforementioned Volkanovski early next year in what will be his first title defence.
Special mention to Weili Zhang (v Carla Esparza), Robert Whittaker (v Marvin Vettori), Aljamain Sterling (v Petr Yan), Amanda Nunes (v Julianna Pena 2), Arnold Allen (v Dan Hooker), Tom Aspinall (v Alexander Volkov) and Belal Muhammad (v Sean Brady) who all put in tremendous performances in their respective fights in 2022.
DEBUTANT OF THE YEAR
Perth native Jack Della Maddalena is the standout from an exciting crop of 2022 UFC debutants. The 26-year-old impressively won his UFC debut with a vicious first-round knockout of Pete Rodriguez on the preliminary card at UFC 270 in January, before finishing the year with another two first-round knockout victories over Ramazan Emeev and Danny Roberts that left him just outside the welterweight Top 15 as the year comes to a close. More than just a promising rookie, the 2021 Dana White Contender Series winner used 2022 to announce himself as a bonafide contender in the 170-pound division and was even in the conversation with Alexander Volkanovski for the Australian Fighter of the Year, so thoroughly deserves to be Debutant of the Year. Don’t be surprised if Della Maddalena’s next fight is announced when the full card for UFC 284 on 12 February 2023 in his hometown of Perth is revealed, or if by this time next year he is knocking on the door of a welterweight title shot in 2024.
A few honourable mentions need to go to burgeoning international stars Jailton Almeida (3-0), Muhammad Mokaev (3-0), Michael Morales (2-0) and Chidi Njokuani (2-1) who all had fantastic UFC debut years in 2022. However, there was one international who stood out from the crowd.
18-year-old Raul “El Nino Problema” Rosas Jr., who at 17 won Dana White’s Contender Series to earn a contract and became the youngest ever fighter to join the UFC, made his promotional debut on the preliminary card of the last PPV of the year (UFC 282), making him the youngest fighter to ever compete in the organisation. The New Mexico native lived up to the hype by submitting Jay Perrin via rear naked choke inside three minutes to complete one of the most highly anticipated debuts in UFC history. However, Rosas isn’t satisfied with just making the UFC, he aims to break Jon Jones record by becoming the youngest UFC champion in history. “Not in five years – I’m going to be champion when I’m 20 or 21 at the latest,” Rosas Jr said. “I’m trying to challenge myself and see how fast I can do it, because I believe if I was to fight the champion tomorrow, I would finish him.” Jones beat Mauricio Rua for the light-heavyweight title at the age of just 23.
BRING ON 2023
2022 was an amazing year for the UFC, yet somehow 2023 looks set to be even better with a string of highly-anticipated returns on the cards. Firstly, the UFC has confirmed it will be returning to Australia for the first time since October 2019 when it holds UFC 284 at RAC Arena in Perth in February. Australian featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski will feature in the blockbuster Main Event fight as he looks to beat new lightweight champion Islam Makhachev and earn double champ status. Then we have the long-awaited return of arguably the greatest fighter of all time Jon Jones to hopefully look forward to as he is rumoured to finally be making his heavyweight debut early in 2023 in a title fight against injured champion Francis Ngannou. Finally, love him or hate him fans will no doubt tune in to see the biggest draw in the UFC’s history, Conor McGregor, make his comeback from a nasty leg break sometime next year.
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