B/R UFC Awards for 2022

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IDecember 28, 2022

B/R UFC Awards for 2022

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    Alex Pereira
    Alex PereiraChris Unger/Zuffa LLC

    2022 was an incredible year for the UFC.

    The company produced 42 events and a total of 511 fights between January 15 and December 17. During that time, fans were treated to a long list of stunning finishes, shocking twists, and unforgettable moments, as fresh contenders emerged, new champions were crowned and fading legends like José Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone all bid farewell to the sport.

    The year had its low points, too, but as we near its conclusion, it stands out as one of the most dramatic in the company's history—particularly when weighed against the past few years of the pandemic.

    Keeps scrolling for our favorite UFC moments of 2022, including our pick for best fight, best submission and best knockout.

Best Fight: Jiri Prochazka-Glover Teixeira

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    UFC fans were treated to some unforgettable scraps in 2022, including a welterweight battle between Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson and Kevin Holland earlier this month.

    Of all the fights that thrilled fans this year, however, none hold a candle to Jiri Prochazka and Glover Teixeira's June clash in Singapore.

    The pair collided in the main event of UFC 275 in the Southeast Asian city-state, with Teixeira's light heavyweight belt on the line. Heading into the event, the Czech knockout artist Prochazka—the slight favorite—was expected to have a big advantage on the feet, while the Brazilian veteran Teixeira, a BJJ blackbelt, was seen as the superior grappler. It looked like a fun fight on paper, but it ended up surpassing our wildest imaginings.

    The first round alone contained an entire fight's worth of action. The champion Teixeira quickly got to work with takedown and submission attempts, only to have the challenger surge back and finish the round in top position, raining down what commentator Michael Bisping called "knockout shots."

    That pattern continued through rounds two, three, and four as the two fighters had plenty of success in the areas we all expected–Prochazka with his striking and Teixeira with his grappling. Both came quite close to finishing the fight on numerous occasions.

    By the first minutes of the fifth round, they were both bloodied and exhausted, and it still looked like anybody's fight. Yet just when it looked like we were headed to a razor-close decision, things ended in dramatic fashion.

    Teixeira, despite his perceived disadvantage on the feet, hurt Prochazka with his striking and chased him to the mat, only to find himself locked up in a rear-naked choke. With less than 30 seconds remaining, the champion tapped out, surrendering the light heavyweight belt to his Czech challenger in a fight that was not only the best of the year, but also one of the best ever.

Best Submission: Jessica Andrade-Amanda Lemos

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    It would be easy to give our Submission of the Year award to Jiri Prochazka's win over Glover Teixeira, but that is certainly not the only choice. The other obvious contender is Jessica Andrade's April submission against Amanda Lemos, and in the interest of spreading the love, we're going to go that way.

    Andrade, the former UFC strawweight champ, met her fellow Brazilian Lemos in the main event of UFC Fight Night 205 on April 23 in Las Vegas. Heading into the fight, both women were ranked near the top of the weight class, but what made the fight truly compelling is they were—and still are—two of their division's biggest knockout threats. Andrade stepped into the cage with nine wins by knockout or TKO, while Lemos came in with seven.

    In the end, their striking prowess didn't matter much.

    Around the midpoint of the first round, Andrade ducked under a Lemos left hook, closed the distance, and locked up her foe's neck and arm in the standing position. She then bulldozed Lemos into the cage, switched grips so that it almost looked like she was attacking a rear-naked choke, and began to squeeze.

    Lemos fought as hard as she could but could not escape, and she was forced to tap to Andrade's unusual choke—officially a standing arm-triangle—without ever hitting the mat.

Best Knockout: Leon Edwards-Kamaru Usman

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    By the end of 2021, Kamaru Usman had become such a dominant force as the UFC welterweight champion that he was recycling opponents he had already beaten, like Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington.

    That trend continued in the Nigerian-American's first title defense of 2022 at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City in August, when he stepped into the Octagon with England's Leon Edwards.

    Usman first met Edwards in December 2015 when he won with a clear-cut, unanimous decision. He was expected to win again in Salt Lake City, with some fans even predicting he would finish Edwards, who was riding nine consecutive victories. Such was the extent of Usman's dominance that he was expected to walk through the best fighters in the world.

    For most of their rematch, it looked like those perceptions would prove accurate. Edwards had a great first round—to the point that commentator Daniel Cormier claimed it "could not have gone any better" for the Brit—but by the beginning of the fifth round, he was so far behind that commentator Joe Rogan accused him of having "resigned himself to losing a decision."

    But like the old adage says, anything can happen in MMA. And with less than a minute left on the clock, something definitely happened.

    Usman slipped a punch, ducked a little too far to the side and Edwards responded with a head kick. It landed flush, and a second later the champion was unconscious on the canvas.

Biggest Upset: Leon Edwards-Kamaru Usman

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - AUGUST 20: (R-L) Leon Edwards of Jamaica reacts after defeating Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

    Leon Edwards' win over Kamaru Usman wasn't just the best knockout of the year, it was also the biggest upset.

    Heading into their UFC 278 rematch in Salt Lake City, Usman was riding 19 straight victories—not counting his exhibition wins on The Ultimate Fighter. Many of those 19 wins came against world-class talent, including the likes of Sean Strickland, Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, Gilbert Burns, and of course Edwards.

    That success was enough to make Usman the favorite against any opponent at welterweight, and Edwards was no exception. Most oddsmakers had the champion listed between -380 and -325 when betting closed, while the challenger was floating between +275 and +290.

    And we all know what happened. It was the fifth-round head-kick heard 'round the world.

    "Head shot," Edwards famously said in his post-fight interview, moments after he shocked the world. "Dead."

Best Fighter: Alex Pereira

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 12:  Alex Pereira knocks down Israel Adesanya during the 5th round on his way toward winning their Middleweight fight at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2022 was a career-changing year for many of the UFC's top fighters, including featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and the aforementioned Jiri Prochazka and Leon Edwards.

    But nobody had quite the year Alex Pereira did.

    At UFC 281 on November 12 in New York City's hallowed Madison Square Garden, the Brazilian stepped into the Octagon to challenge Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title.

    At the time, Pereira was only 3-0 in the UFC. Ordinarily, that would not be anywhere near enough to earn a title shot, particularly against a champion like Adesanya, who had already defended his belt five times and was considered one of the sport's top fighters. But there was nothing ordinary about Pereira's situation.

    The Brazilian is a former kickboxer, and as were reminded in every piece of UFC 281 promotional material, he had beaten Adesanya twice in the Glory ring.

    The big question was whether he could do it again in MMA.

    In the early phases of their UFC showdown, it looked like the answer was no. Adesanya badly hurt Pereira in the closing moments of the first round, and he maintained control of the matchup for the bulk of the second, third and fourth rounds.

    Yet just like Edwards did against Usman in August, Pereira made the fifth round count. With just minutes left on the clock, the Brazilian cranked up the offense and battered Adesanya against the cage until referee Marc Goddard was forced to intervene.

    Adesanya briefly protested the stoppage, but it was fair, and it made Pereira the UFC middleweight champion. And when combined with Pereira's decision win over Bruno Silva and his knockout win over Sean Strickland—both also in 2022—it's enough to make him our Fighter of the Year.

Best Fighter on the Rise: Jack Della Maddalena

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    We saw a lot of new fighters in the Octagon in 2022, and some of them were very impressive. Australian welterweight Jack Della Maddalena was the most impressive of the bunch.

    After winning welterweight gold in Australian promotion Eternal MMA, the 26-year-old earned a UFC contract with a decision win over Ange Loosa on Dana White's Contender Series in 2021. He finally made his Octagon debut at UFC 270 in Anaheim in January—the promotion's first pay-per-view of the year—taking on a legitimate knockout threat in Pete Rodriguez.

    Della Maddalena made it look easy, sitting Rodriguez down with a sizzling first-round combo. With that smashing UFC debut in the books, he was then booked for a fight with tough Russian veteran Ramazan Emeev at UFC 275 in June. He once again flaunted excellent striking and killer instinct, deflating his foe with a body shot inside the first round—good for a post-fight performance bonus.

    With first-round stoppages in his first two UFC bouts, Della Maddalena was then scheduled for a fight with British veteran Danny Roberts who, after 12 fights in the Octagon, is a tough fight for any prospect. Yet the Australian ultimately proved he is far more than just a prospect, once again battering his foe on the feet to score a first-round TKO and another bonus.

    It's not unusual for a fighter to go 3-0 in the UFC in a single year. But to win three fights in such impressive fashion with so little Octagon experience is pretty special. Keep an eye on this guy in 2023, and don't be surprised if he's closing in on a title shot by year's end.

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