In 2022, a lot of spectacular and unexpected events took place inside the Octagon of the UFC, further demonstrating how anything can happen in a dangerous and unpredictable sport like mixed martial arts.
Two fifth-round surprise knockouts in title fights that converted new welterweight champion Leon Edwards and middleweight king Alex Pereira into overnight heroes were among the many spectacular moments captured during the past 12 months.
This year also witnessed a change in leadership at the top of the fabled pound-for-pound rankings as featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski extended his illustrious reign and cemented his place in history.
Alex Pereira won. 3-0 (def. Bruno Silva, Sean Strickland & Israel Adesanya) (def. Bruno Silva, Sean Strickland & Israel Adesanya)
It’s unbelievable to consider that the skilled Brazilian striker has only competed in the UFC for 14 months. The fact that the former two-division Glory Kickboxing champion has twice defeated Adesanya in kickboxing, including once by come-from-behind knockout in 2017, contributed to his remarkable ascension to the top of the UFC 185-pound rankings. Incredibly, Pereira would accomplish the latter feat once more in only his fourth UFC fight (and eighth professional MMA fight overall), when he dramatically defeated Adesanya in Round 5 of their title fight at UFC 281 in November.
Pereira, who overcame his lack of genuine MMA experience with his power and intangible fortitude, became the second fighter in as many years to win a UFC gold medal from Glover Teixeira’s fledgling Connecticut camp. The triumph marked Pereira’s third in 2022 after beating top competitor Sean Strickland in less than one round in July and defeating Bruno Silva in March. Before taking a four-year break to concentrate on kickboxing, Pereira had previously gone 2-1 to start his MMA career in 2015. However, he has gone 5-0 since making his comeback in 2020, with four knockouts, and he now seems set for a potential high-profile rematch (and fourth total encounter) with Adesanya, who was previously undefeated at middleweight in MMA.
2-0 for Alexander Volkanovski (def. Chang-Sung Jung & Max Holloway)
Without a doubt, the Australian native successfully defended his 145-pound title twice in one-sided fashion in 2022, which was about as dominant a year for a fighter as anyone could have hoped for. Volkanovski, 34, was well acclaimed for his technical skill and fight IQ going into the year as a contender for the title of top P4P fighter. But what ultimately set him apart from the group was the development of his aggression. “The Korean Zombie” was defeated by Volkanovski at UFC 273 in April, after Jung took Holloway’s spot due to injury. Volkanovski repeatedly connected with heavy shots. Then, in their July trilogy fight at UFC 276 where he bloodied and battered Holloway over five rounds, he made no mistake, a far cry from the two contentious decisions that started their animosity. Volkanovski extended his overall win run to 22 fights and improved to 12-0 since making his UFC debut in 2016. He will seek to earn a world title in a second division at lightweight in 2023.
2-0 Weili Zhang (def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk & Carla Esparza)
What a year may do for the first champion of Chinese descent in the UFC. When Zhang lost two battles to two-time champion Rose Namajunas in 2021, including a disastrous first-round head kick knockout, her reign as the women’s strawweight champion came to an end. To balance out her game, though, Zhang went back to the drawing board. She worked on her grappling with former two-division UFC champion Henry Cejudo and eventually her boxing with Nonito Donaire, a Filipino boxing icon. She had a resurgence campaign in 2022, which was highlighted by two stoppage wins over two divisional legends to begin a second title reign at 115 pounds. In June, Zhang retired Jedrzejczyk, who had held the strawweight title for the longest time ever, using one of the year’s most exciting knockouts: a spinning backfist. It was a rematch of their clash from 2020, which many people consider to have been the best action bout in the annals of women’s MMA. The two-time champion Esparza was later defeated by Zhang at UFC 281 in November by submission in the second round. Zhang, who is 33 years old, is just getting better as she secures her position in history.