As 2022 draws to a close, Sports Illustrated look back on the themes and teams, scenarios and guidelines that shaped the year.
Before we greet 2022, it’s time to crown the winners (and losers) of the year-end awards.
Breakout Fighter of the Year: Alex Pereira
Finalist: Usman Nurmagomedov
Alex Pereira has won all three of his fights this year, transforming himself from a relatively unknown MMA fighter into UFC middleweight champion – and boogeyman Israel Adesanya.
It looks like Pereira is forever destined to haunt Adesanya. He did just that this year, completing his rise to the UFC Championship title in a remarkably short time. Their fight at UFC 281 felt like Pereira was stalking Adesanya for the first four rounds, until he finally connected with the necessary knockouts in the fifth.
Pereira’s rise in the UFC over the past year has been outrageous. A decorated kickboxer, Pereira made the transition to MMA quite easy.
Biggest disappointment: Namajunas vs. Esparza II, UFC 274
Finalist: Sean Strickland-Jack Hermansson
There was considerable anticipation in the build-up to the Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas rematch. Unfortunately, it hasn’t come close to meeting even moderate expectations.
It was one of the worst title fights in UFC history. There was no action. It appeared that Namajunas’ strategy was to never get taken down, but she just didn’t engage for five rounds. It was a bold approach, which ultimately cost him the title.
The negative energy of victory seemed to continue. Esparza relinquished his newly won championship in his first title defense.
Submission of the Year: Oliveira vs. Gaethje, UFC 274
Finalist: Jiri Prochazka-Glover Teixeira
It was the kind of submission that made your heart beat a little faster.
Just over three minutes into the fight, Charles Oliveira blocked a rear choke on Justin Gaethje. In that short time, Oliveira had already outclassed Gaethje in technique, striking and jiu-jitsu. A clean right hand dropped Gaethje to the mat, and it became mathematical as soon as Oliveira applied the choke.
When that happened in May, it appeared that Oliveira would be tied to the lightweight title for a considerable future. It turned out that Islam Makhachev had other plans.
Worst Decision of the Year: Emmett vs. Kattar
Finalist: Magomed Ankalaev-Jan Blachowicz
There were far too many bad decisions from the judges last year. But the scorecard of the Josh Emmett-Calvin Kattar fight in June was particularly gnawed.
Although Kattar landed more overall strikes and high damage, Emmett won the fight via split decision. From a scoring perspective, the most problematic round was the fourth. Two of the judges, Doug Crosby and Sal D’Amato, scored the set, 10-9, for Kattar, who landed sharper shots, especially with a spinning elbow. There was no way to justify this round for Emmett, yet that’s exactly what the third judge, Chris Lee, did, scoring 10-9, in favor of Emmett.
Multiple negative ramifications followed. In addition to losing his winner’s purse, Kattar has become the odd man out for the interim featherweight title fight – which pits Yair Rodriguez against Emmett in February at UFC 284. Instead, Kattar took a fight against Arnold Allen in October, which he lost when he suffered a torn ACL. Unfortunately, there were many other terrible decisions, but this was the worst.
Knockout of the Year: Chandler vs. Ferguson, UFC 274
Finalist: Leon Edwards-Kamaru Usman
A frontal kick – fierce, violent and fierce at the same time – set off a series of cataclysmic events. With this kick, Michael Chandler did what would once have been considered impossible – he took away the mystique and aura of Tony Ferguson.
One of the scariest and most dangerous figures to ever step into the Octagon, Ferguson was already in the last nine of his career entering this fight. But Chandler knocked him out and sent his career spiraling – Ferguson looked average, at best, in his loss to Nate Diaz in September. The win further cemented the idea that Chandler is currently the most exciting fighter in all of MMA.
Incredibly, three of the fights listed – Chandler-Ferguson, Oliveira-Gaethje and Namajunas-Esparza – all took place at UFC 274 in May. The Namajunas-Esparza debacle happened between two extraordinarily exciting fights, further amplifying this disastrous fight. And while there have been a number of compelling knockouts this year, particularly the way Leon Edwards ended Kamaru Usman’s title reign, it remains the most spectacular knockout of 2022.