You’ve already seen our Big Five of 2022’s year-end award season: Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year, Knockout of the Year, Submission of the Year, and Rookie of the Year. But MMA was way too crazy and chaotic in 2022 to be restrained to just five.
So as the final hours tick down to the new year, let’s cap off our year-end retrospective by handing out a whole heck of a lot of hardware. From Shaun Al-Shatti, Steven Marrocco, Damon Martin, Alexander K. Lee, Guilherme Cruz, Jed Meshew, and the rest of the MMA Fighting staff, these are the best of the rest from a memorable 2022.
Round of the Year: You could easily grab two or three rounds at random from Jiri Prochazka vs. Glover Teixeira and make a convincing case for them being the best of the year. But since that ridiculousness already (rightfully) got its shine as our Fight of the Year winner, I’d rather use this space to highlight three less celebrated gems from 2022. In no particular order: 1) Round 3 of Nate Landwehr vs. David Onama; 2) Round 3 of Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold; and 3) Round 2 of Matt Schnell vs. Su Mudaerji.
Landwehr-Onama is the best forgotten fight of 2022 and its final sprint was a proper chaos capstone; Costa-Rockhold’s rock-‘em-sock-’em finale featured perhaps the coolest way any losing fighter has ever retired; and Schnell-Mudaerji was just complete absurdity for four minutes straight. Between those three, I’ll give the nod to Schnell-Mudaerji, if only because if watching Schnell claw back from death’s doorstep just to lull Mudaerji to sleep with a triangle seconds later didn’t get flying out of your seat and sprinting around the room, I question whether you have a pulse. Who says flyweights aren’t fun? — Shaun Al-Shatti
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Feel-Good Moment of the Year: Brendan Loughnane didn’t need a million dollars to prove that he’s one of the best featherweights in the world, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.
For better or worse, Loughnane will always be remembered for his fateful 2019 tryout on Dana White’s Contender Series, which saw Loughnane mix the martial arts in a way that wasn’t quite to the UFC boss’ liking. Despite winning, the experienced Loughnane was passed over for a contract because he went for a late takedown attempt.
Here’s what White said about Loughnane:
“When you come onto this show, unlike any other show you would fight in or whatever, I’m looking for killers,” White said. “If you get in here and you make it to this show and you want to get into the UFC, show me. Don’t double leg when you’ve got 10 seconds left in the fight.
“Show me you want to be here, show me you want to win, show me you have that killer instinct. You can fight a thousand of those fights anywhere else or even in our show, but not tonight.”
It was a ludicrous, disrespectful statement at the time, and it’s aged poorly considering what a revolving door Contender Series has become. And that’s before we even get to Loughnane’s awesome run through the PFL this year.
Loughnane went 4-0 in league competition, plowing through 2021 finalist Chris Wade and former Brave CF champion Bubba Jenkins to claim his first world title. When he finished Jenkins in the final, it was as if three years of frustration and skepticism and doubt instantly lifted from Loughnane’s shoulders.
In reality, it shouldn’t have been a surprise for anyone that Loughnane became a champion. Well, except for maybe one guy. — Alexander K. Lee
Feel-Bad Moment of the Year: Not every fighter gets the perfect sendoff in MMA like Khabib Nurmagomedov. Sadly, most end their careers as a stepping stone to the younger generation — and that was what “The Answer” Frankie Edgar got in his final bout.
Edgar returned for one last ride inside the octagon exactly one year after getting front kicked to oblivion by Marlon Vera, agreeing to face bantamweight prospect Chris Gutierrez, a promising talent yet unknown by the masses. All it took was two minutes and one second for a brutal left knee leave the pride of Toms River unconscious in front of 20,845 fans at Madison Square Garden. Feels bad, man. — Guilherme Cruz
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Promo of the Year: There is a conventional choice for seizing the moment, and that’s the second edition of Michael Chandler’s post-win power hour. His callout of Justin Gathje, Charles Oliveira, and Conor McGregor after front-kicking Tony Ferguson into oblivion was note-perfect, just as his offering was after stopping Dan Hooker in his octagon debut. Chandler did his homework on what moves MMA fans and expertly capitalized on the bigger platform.
There is also a sentimental choice for mic work this year, and Raul Rosas Jr. gets it for the earnestness of youth — specifically, the 18-year-old variety. Even people living under rocks knew about his age. They may not have appreciated the meaning behind that marketing, however, until he used his UFC 282 speech to request a $50,000 bonus so he could buy his mom a minivan.
What could have more perfectly encapsulated the plight of the UFC’s youngest fighter than a bump in his allowance for rides to the gym? Forget for a second about the wisdom of allowing your kid to participate in a bloodsport before he can vote. How gosh darn wholesome is it that your son repays you with the cash to buy a Toyota Sienna so you can take him to practice? — Steven Marrocco
Walkout of the Year: The UFC may be the biggest show in combat sports, but oftentimes even the biggest pay-per-view events feel like carbon copies of the exact same card you just watched a month earlier. That’s why a well-orchestrated and elaborate walkout, which is actually rather rare these days, can really help a fighter stand out.
In the case of Israel Adesanya, who was already the reigning UFC middleweight champion and one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, all eyes were going to be on him regardless of what he did for his walk to the cage ahead of his UFC 276 title defense against Jared Cannonier in July. But rather than just trot to the octagon, Adesanya put together one of the most memorable walkouts in recent history, paying homage to the infamous entrance of The Undertaker during his storied run with WWE.
A loud gong echoed, a purple light shrouded the smoke-filled T-Mobile Arena, and Adesanya emerged from the tunnel with a large hat covering his eyes and an urn inscribed with Cannonier’s name — an ominous warning that the title challenger would soon rest in peace. The fact that WWE executives Triple H (Paul Levesque), his wife Stephanie McMahon, and disgraced former CEO Vince McMahon just happened to be sitting cageside that night only made the entrance that much more epic.
“This is the UFC — you want to give them a show,” Adesanya said about the entrance. “I said all week this feels like WrestleMania. Who’s undefeated at WrestleMania? The Undertaker, and I’ve been feeling dark all week.” — Damon Martin
Villain of the Year: In MMA, Villain of the Year is a category that always has a ton of strong contenders, but this year’s winner took home top honors in a landslide.
People already didn’t like T.J. Dillashaw because of the whole steroids thing — and then Dillashaw had a 2022 for the history books.
First, Dillashaw took away a title shot from the universally beloved Jose Aldo, who instead had to fight Merab Dvalishvili — at altitude — in one of the worst bookings in living memory. Aldo narrowly lost and then retired from MMA. All of that is bad, but it was made immeasurably worse by the fact that Dillashaw HAD A TORN GODDAMN SHOULDER, meaning that he functionally couldn’t even fight, and so when he did face off against Aljamain Sterling, he lost in idiotic and non-competitive fashion. Oh, he then finished up the year by retiring from the sport, which then sowed the idea he actually just wanted out of the USADA pool to get back on the gear before inevitably unretiring next year.
Dillashaw’s overall essence is one of villainy, and in 2022, the man was really in his bag. — Jed Meshew
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Burn of the Year: Let’s be honest — Sean Strickland says some really stupid stuff. Quite often actually.
But even Strickland is capable of pulling out a couple of zingers, and there was no better case of that this year than his performance at the UFC 276 pre-fight press conference, which ended up as his best highlight because things didn’t go well for him against Alex Pereira just 48 hours later.
In his first appearance at a major presser, Strickland was loud and made use of the microphone the UFC foolishly put in front of him, but he also managed to take a shot at former middleweight champion and devout anime fan Israel Adesanya during one rather funny exchange.
First, Strickland noted that Pereira “slept” Adesanya previously when they met in kickboxing, but his next dig was the one that undoubtedly singed “The Last Stylebender”
“Your Pornhub is just filled with cartoons,” Strickland shouted at Adesanya. “No man that beats off to cartoons is going to beat me.”
To his credit, Adesanya rolled with the punches and continued to trade words on stage with his fellow middleweight, but Strickland definitely got the better of that exchange. Almost everything Strickland says has to come with a disclaimer before it, and this comment was definitely crass. But as Dana White always says, this is the fight business and no one is getting extra credit for being nice. — Damon Martin
Upset of the Year: In fairness, compared to Kayla Harrison’s previous opponents, Larissa Pacheco may as well have been a pick ‘em as far as the odds go.
En route to her third straight PFL final, here were Harrison’s victory odds against her first three opponents (per Tapology):
-5000 vs. Marina Mokhnatkina
-3500 vs. Kaitlin Young
-4000 vs. Martina Jindrova
Pacheco was a pick ‘em compared to the rest of the field, with Harrison sitting at a modest -700 going into their third meeting, but those are still staggering odds, especially for a championship fight. It was the livest that Pacheco had been going into a fight with her PFL rival though, as Harrison was a -1700 favorite for their first fight and -1400 for their second fight.
Even people taking Pacheco as a legitimate threat probably didn’t expect the fight to go the way it did, with Pacheco dragging Harrison into a dog fight and pushing the two-time Olympic gold medalist into deeper waters than she’d ever seen. This wasn’t a fluke upset with Pacheco relying on her finishing ability to catch Harrison with something out of the blue; this was a hungry challenger legitimately outworking a previously invincible champ.
What this result means for both women is anybody’s guess, as Harrison could be given the opportunity to immediately avenge the loss — something that Pacheco was anticipating even before she actually beat Harrison. But regardless of where their careers go from here, Pacheco’s win stands as the most shocking moment yet in PFL’s brief history. — Alexander K. Lee
Fustercluck of the Year: Since Jon Jones vacated his light heavyweight title in 2020, the 205-pound division has felt somewhat unmoored. But when Jiri Prochazka won the belt over Glover Teixeira in one of the best fights of all-time, it appeared that things would finally settle down. Instead, the month of December brought unprecedented anarchy, and now the 205-pound ship is lost at sea in the midst of a hurricane.
Y’all know the story: Prochazka got injured and vacated the belt, the UFC back-doored Glover and had Jan Blachowicz fight Magomed Ankalaev for it, then those two went to a draw — and before anyone could blink, the UFC rebooked another light heavyweight title fight. In a division desperate for stability, the MMA Gods instead chose chaos. — Jed Meshew
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Eff Around And Find Out of the Year: Three layers of security protect the UFC’s octagon and its fighters: Arena, promotion, and commission. All are supposed to work together to protect fighters and officials from unruly fans. You’d have to be really fast and really drunk on Modelo to rush the walkout lanes to the octagon. UFC fans are drunk, but most of them aren’t that drunk.
Exactly how much Modelo this fan at UFC 274 had is unknown. Some pretzel logic still convinced her it was a good idea to hop the fence separating the bleachers and the floor and make a run for it. And hey, the lady made it to the cage apron. At least, she stepped up on it. Mission accomplished. Then she got tossed, American Gladiators style, to the concrete.
“It was swiftly dealt with and she was ejected from the arena,” an official for arena security at Phoenix’s Footprint Center flatly told MMA Fighting after the incident.
Her fate should be a lesson to stage-jumpers everywhere, but particularly to anyone who thinks security is lax at UFC events. It’s not, and you’re going to end up with a stack of chiropractor bills. — Steven Marrocco
Comeback of the Year: In truth, the only reasonable pick for Comeback of the Year goes to Leon Edwards for his miracle head-kick knockout of Kamaru Usman. But since that has already gotten plenty of flowers (with one more yet to come), we can instead reward the other kind of comeback.
One year ago, Amanda Nunes was on top of the MMA world as the consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport and a two-division champion. Then, in what was supposed to be a perfunctory title defense against Julianna Peña, she fumbled the bag, losing her title in one of the biggest upsets of all-time. At 34 years old, and with nothing left to prove in the sport, that could have been the start of an unfortunate downfall for “The Lioness.” But instead she came back with a vengeance and beat the ever-loving s*** out of Peña for 25 minutes in their rematch at UFC 277.
Anytime you go from getting choked out to hanging a 50-43 scorecard on someone, that’s a big-time comeback. — Jed Meshew
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Cornerwork of the Year: Speaking of comebacks, cornering a professional MMA fighter is no easy task. That’s something I’ve assumed for over a decade, but I only experienced it after being in a corner earlier this year — and I wasn’t even expected to shout instructions or anything like that. Words can help someone win or lose a battle over 15 or 25 minutes, so saying the right things can be challenging. But Dave Lovell took it to the next level in 2022.
Leon Edwards was one round away from losing a championship fight to welterweight king Kamaru Usman at UFC 278. He had waited for the opportunity for over a half-decade and was coming up short in his long-awaited shot at the goal.
Then coach Lovell urged “Rocky” to “stop feeling sorry for your f***ing self.”
Sometimes fighters need technical advice on how to turn things around. Sometimes, all they they need is to be told, “don’t let ’em bully you” and “pull this s*** outta the fire.”
Lovell knew exactly what to say and when to say it, and the now-infamous post-fight edit perfectly captures that. — Guilherme Cruz
Karmic Reversal of the Year: In an MMA year filled with both absurdity and hilarity of all kinds, there was really no instance more absurd or hilarious than the saga of UFC 279.
Heading into fight week, it was obvious beyond the point of parody to see what the UFC was trying to do to Nate Diaz. Here was a homegrown UFC lifer, one of the company’s few genuine superstars, a man who made Dana White & Co. barrels upon barrels of money over his 15 years of service. Yet by having the temerity to want to explore his worth on the open market, there was only one logical conclusion: He must be punished.
Not only was Diaz put on ice as months and months dragged on without him getting a fight, the fight he did finally get was one akin to throwing him in front of a firing squad. Anyone who follows MMA with even a passing interest understood the game UFC officials were playing by booking Diaz against Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279. That it all blew up in their faces with Chimaev’s last-second weight miss, which resulted in Nate Diaz and Tony Ferguson renegotiating their contracts to earn a massive new payday (and in Diaz’s case, a significantly more advantageous matchup), was simply karma coming home to roost.
If anyone deserved an improbably perfect escape, it was Diaz. Here’s to the millions more he’ll probably make in 2023 as a free man coming off a winning performance. — Shaun Al-Shatti
Photo by Amy Kaplan/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Source : MMAFighting