UFC Awards

UFC Awards 2022

2022 was yet another stellar year for mixed martial arts, and there is already a packed schedule of upcoming UFC fights to look forward to in the coming months.

We look back at the world of UFC in 2022 to highlight the biggest and best fight moments of the year in our DAZN Bet UFC awards for 2022.

 

Male fighter of the year: Alex ‘Poatan’ Pereira  

In the history of the UFC, there are few fighters who have achieved a shot at the title as quickly as Alex Pereira. Brock Lesnar’s is one that springs to mind, but was propelled by his star power brought over from WWE. Pereira’s title fight after just three fights in the UFC, and just eight professional MMA fights in total, was seen by some as an undeserved fast tracking due to his history with then champion Israel Adesanya. History tells us kickboxers have a mixed track record transitioning into MMA, but Adesanya’s surge and subsequent domination in the middleweight division carved a blueprint his old foe Pereira has followed exceptionally. Poatan had clocked up two victories in 2022 ahead of his title fight; a points victory over Bruno Silva, followed by a devastating dismantling of Sean Strickland. This set up a championship showdown with Adesanya, over whom Pereira had already claimed two victories in kickboxing, including the only knockout loss in Adesanya’s career, and a brutal one at that. Israel controlled the fight early, nearly finishing the fight at the end of round one, and entered the final round 3-1 on the scorecards. Poatan took control, the power in his left hook making the difference and snatched the title in spectacular fashion with a TKO stoppage.

Honourable mention: Islam Makhachev

From the Khabib Nurmagamedov camp, there always felt a certain inevitability to Makhachev’s rise to UFC gold, but his task at defeating a reinvigorated Charles Oliveira was a tough task for anyone given his title run. Islam made uncomfortably light work of the former champ, submitting him in round two and setting up the start of what looks like it could be an extremely long title reign.

 

Female fighter of the year: Zhang Weili

2022 was a year of redemption for the now two-time strawweight champion, and has looked like a very different and dangerous proposition last year following her return to action after injury layoff. Weili initially won the title back in 2019 against Jessica Andrade after just 42 seconds at the UFC’s first-ever event in Shenzen, China. After one successful defence against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in an incredible back and forth contest in 2020, she then lost the title in consecutive defeats against Rose Namajunas in 2021. Zhang returned to action in June 2022 with a superb spinning backfist KO against Jedrzejczyk, before reclaiming the title in November with a fantastic submission stoppage of Carla Esparza at UFC 281. There have been talks of a rematch against Namajunas in 2023, but it’s safe to say Weili would now be an entirely different fighter to the one who lost in their somewhat uninspiring bout the first time round.

Honourable mention: Erin Blanchfield

Four wins in a row since joining the UFC, BJJ specialist Blanchfield found herself in the top ten of the UFC flyweight division after successive finishes in 2022, the first a guillotine finish of JJ Aldrich in June. She then went on to well and truly derail the Molly McCann hype train in November, dominating the fight before claiming a Kimura in the first round.

 

Knockout of the year: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman

Not only the undoubted knockout of 2022, but Leon Edwards’ unbelievable last gasp head kick knockout of Usman is up there as one of the best in the history of the sport. For years, the Brit had felt overlooked and undoubtedly could have considered himself unlucky not to have a shot earlier, having gone on a 10-fight unbeaten streak with only a No Contest against Bilal Mohammed to break his fantastic run of wins. Going into the fight, Usman was a heavy betting favourite and despite a strong first round from Edwards, had turned the fight on its head to do exactly what he’s done to almost every other opponent; smothered and dominated them everywhere the fight goes. On the stool prior to the final round, a seemingly dejected Edwards got a memorably stirring and animated speech from his corner, and it certainly worked. He brilliantly started to use his feints to cause Usman to drop his hands, before landing an inch-perfect, ‘shin to chin’ blockbuster to absolutely flatline the champ and become only the second-ever British UFC champion.

Honourable mention: Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson

Michael Chandler is just never in boring fights and will likely make an appearance on UFC yearly round ups every year he is with the organisation. His front kick knockout of fan favourite Tony Ferguson would likely have won the award in most other years, were it not for Edwards. Tony had shown promise early doors in what was an entertaining fight, but Chandler’s expertly executed front kick to the chin ended things in an instant, turning Ferguson’s face at the point of contact into a meme in the process.

 

Submission of the year: Jiri Prochazka vs. Glover Teixeira

While not the most spectacular submission as a standalone finish, the stage, the stakes and more importantly, the opponent, gives this award to Czech light heavyweight Prochazka. In a glittering, hall of fame worthy professional mixed martial arts career going back as far as 2002, BJJ legend Teixeira had never been submitted prior to his fight. With some instability in the light heavyweight picture, Glover had picked up UFC gold in the twilight of his career with a submission victory of his own against Jan Blachowicz in late 2021. The fight itself was utter chaos. Both men beating ten bells out of each other for four rounds, showing amazing toughness and heading into the last round it looked as though a hard-fought decision could go either way. Glover seemed to have Jiri in trouble with some nasty ground and pound, only for Prochazka to wriggle free and go on the attack of his own and grab Teixeira’s neck in the ensuing melee for a remarkable rear naked choke finish.

Honourable mention: Nate Diaz vs Tony Ferguson

A late change of opponents for both pitted two legends against each other for what was to be Nate Diaz’s last fight with the UFC. It was an entertaining match up, with three hotly contested rounds before a takedown attempt by Ferguson in round four gave Diaz the chance to sink in a signature guillotine choke to go out of the organisation in a blaze of glory.

 

Fight of the year: Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler

As noted in his previous mention for these awards, Michael Chandler is never in a boring fight. His addition to the UFC roster has been one of their shrewder pieces of business in the modern era, and his fight against Dustin Poirier at UFC 281 in November in a perfect illustration of that fact. Going into the fight, both men were noticeably more hostile towards their opponent than we have seen from them previously, and this translated through to a crazy back and forth encounter. Both had their moments in frantic stand up exchanges, Chandler looked to steal an advantage by taking the fight to the ground in both of the first two rounds and utilise both his wrestling and ground and pound. In the third round, however, Chandler picked up and slammed Poirier to the ground, only for Dustin to break free and sink in a rear naked choke.

Honourable mention: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gilbert Burns

After ploughing through everyone in his path across two weight divisions, Khamzat took a big step up in competition against Burns and faced the first adversity of his UFC career. He appeared to gas out in trying to get the early finish, allowing Burns to get back into the fight and put on some pressure of his own. Khamzat showed enough grit to hold on and edge out a razor thin decision in a brilliantly entertaining fight.

 

Comeback of the year: Matthew Schnell vs. Su Mudaerji

While Leon Edwards and Alex Pereira could both have easily had a claim for this award, it would be harsh to overlook flyweight Matthew Schnell’s insane comeback against Su Mudaerji in New York in July. While the fight only lasted two rounds, Mudaerji looked like he had Schnell finished on multiple occasions, only for the American to mount a stunning comeback. The first round had been competitive, with Schnell looking for multiple takedowns and submissions and Mudaerji defending well and causing problems of his own. The second round then went nuclear. Mudaerji seemed to have found his stride and landed elbow after elbow at close range, each wobbling Schnell and looked like there was no way back before Schnell landed a big shot of his own, followed by a take down and heavy ground and pound. Somehow, Mudaerji managed to reverse the position, only for Schnell to lock in a triangle to secure a win he looked a million miles away just a few seconds before.

Honourable mention: Chris Barnett vs. Jake Collier  

There is an old combat sports adage that it only takes one punch at heavyweight to change a fight, and this was on display by both men in a barnstorming fight at UFC 279. Barnett had looked out after being hurt and floored twice in the first round, only to recover to smash Collier with ground and pound to take home the win.

 

Performance of the year: Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway

Volk must have entered his title defence in July against Max Holloway feeling like he had something to prove. Not surprising for any title fight against top tier opposition. Yet given the fact he already had two back to back victories against Max after taking the title from him in 2019, a third contest could be considered surprising in itself. The issue being that Volk’s two previous victories were extremely close, with many fans feeling like Max won one, if not both of their encounters, only to be “robbed” by the judges. Both men found themselves seemingly way ahead of the chasing pack at featherweight, so their third contest was arranged to settle the rivalry once and for all. This time, there was no mistaking or debating the victor. An incredibly dominant 50-45 decision victory for Volkanovski put to bed the debate on the best current featherweight in the world and cemented his status on the pound for pound rankings.

Honourable mention: Robert Whittaker vs. Marvin Vettori

Whittaker may have fallen a little behind the title picture after two defeats against Adesanya, but the changing of the belts will give him renewed vigour for another shot. His last outing against the extremely tough Marvin Vettori was a truly masterful performance and prime example of a brilliant all-round fighter looks like.

 

Breakthrough fighter of the year: Jack Della Maddalena

The growth of MMA as a sport is no better exemplified by the strength of talent pools coming from new regions and establishing themselves in the UFC. The UK has seen a surge in top talents and championship contenders over recent years, as has the Oceanic region. With the likes of Volkanovski, Adesanya, Hooker already blazing a trail, Jack Della Maddalena looks to be another serious talent from down under. After losing his first two professional fights, JDM has gone on an absolute tear, clocking 13 consecutive wins. He arrived in the UFC through Dana White’s Contender Series at the end of 2021, and has secured three first round knockouts his first three fights in the organisation, scooping performance of the night bonuses in  his last two outings against Danny Roberts and Ramazan Emeev. He will be looking to carry this run into the new year and will be aiming for a spot in the welterweight rankings in 2023.

Honourable mention: Muhammad Mokaev

2022 was great breakthrough year for the Dagestan-born Brit Mokaev, with two submission finishes from three victories, including a guillotine choke in under a minute of the first round against Cody Durden at UFC Fight Night London in March.