Any mixed martial arts fan will tell you that one of the best things about the sport is this never ending Series of storylines to follow. There is no off-season and there is always something happening inside and outside the Octagon and things can change instantly. Never boring, as the saying goes.
So far, the top story in 2022 revolves around UFC lightweight “champion” Charles Oliveira. The Brazilian sensationaled in his only appearance of the year, a first-round submission against Justin Gaethje in May. Still, he lost his title due to lack of weight before that fight at UFC 274. What happens next for Oliveira is the #1 to watch for the rest of the year. He’s not the official champion, but he’s undoubtedly considered the champion. It’s an intriguing situation for a man who sees himself (and expects to get paid) as one of the top players in the sport. And he called Conor McGregor.
Aside from Oliveira, other storylines for the first half of 2022 include Jorge Masvidal falling to 0-3 in his last three fights and then reportedly hitting Colby Covington with a turd on a Miami sidewalk. It remains to be seen how this incident will affect the further development of both. We’ve also been waiting for news on Nate Diaz’s UFC return in the latest fight for his UFC contract. We saw some rising star powers finally get challenged at flyweight at an event in London (Tom Aspinall, Paddy Pimblett, Molly McCann, Valentina Shevchenko), crowned with dominance by champions like Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski and several new champions .
There is still a lot to expect in the second half of the year. In the meantime, here are ESPN’s mid-year MMA Awards.
ESPN’s voting panel for our UFC Midyear Awards includes Jon Anik, Anthony Smith, Din Thomas, Ian Parker, Brett Okamoto, Megan Anderson, Marc Raimondi and Eddie Maisonet.
Best Men’s Fighter: Charles Oliveira and Alexander Volkanovski (tie)
Okamoto: Remarkable things are happening in the featherweight and lightweight space. Volkanovski has established himself as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, if not the best. His five-round takedown of an all-time great at Max Holloway in July was a career-defining moment. Volkanovski is firing on all cylinders and will be difficult to dethrone.
The same goes for Oliveira, whose shares rose in May when he beat Gaethje despite officially losing his title. He appears to be heading for a matchup against Khabib Nurmagomedov’s protégé Islam Makhachev. Then there’s McGregor and, very likely, Volkanovski. It should come as no surprise that there is a lot of interest in seeing the top two fighters of the first half go head-to-head in late 2022 or 2023.
Zhang Weili, the announcers and the Singapore audience couldn’t contain their excitement after Weili’s incredible KO win.
car home: The 2022 sample is small – Zhang has only fought once this year, for less than three minutes – but it was spectacular. Her first-round knockout against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 275 last month was a stunner, especially the spinning fist that ended the show. The shot retired Jedrzejczyk and propelled Zhang to the top of the line in a strawweight scrum that had not so long ago looked very different for the 32-year-old former champion (and her opponent).
Zhang and Jedrzejcyk both have two losses against Rose Namajunas, who was the reigning champion at the time of booking this fight. So the stakes seemed bleak for a pair of 0-2 women in the balance. But a month before their fight, Namajunas was dethroned by Carla Esparza, upping the ante for both fighters. Zhang benefited from this and is now poised to reclaim the strawweight title.
Raimondi: Perhaps the secret of the Netherlands’ success is that they only fight in even-numbered years. The Texan went 5-0 in 2020, the most wins for a middleweight in a calendar year in UFC history. Last year Holland was without a win in three fights. However, everything turned around for him in 2022 as the move to welterweight has yielded two wins so far, both to finish. The difference? It seems like he’s mended his greatest weakness: wrestling.
Outside the octagon, Holland is like a modern-day superhero. Earlier this year, he helped subdue a gunman at a Texas sushi restaurant and rescue a driver from an overturned semi-truck. They’ll make a film of his all-round exploits if Holland keeps this up.
Jack Della Maddalena beats Ange Loosa with a big punch in the first round en route to a unanimous decision win.
Raimondi: Difficult to have better first two fights than Della Maddalena in the UFC. The Western Australian-born fighter made his debut at UFC 270 in January with a first-round knockout of Pete Rodriguez via a nice left-hand counter. At UFC 275, he returned with another first-round finish. After scrambling to her feet following Ramazan’s takedown attempts, Della Maddalena boxed Emeev into the box and stopped him with a great left punch to the liver.
For those counting at home, that’s 2-0 in the UFC in five months with two highlights. Della Maddalena’s team thinks highly of him, and it’s clear why after he earned his way into the UFC from Dana White’s Contender Series last year. The Aussie has serious hands and looks like he could box anyone at welterweight. It’s easy to get excited about what might be next for him.
Best Submission: Jiri Prochazka defeated. Glover Teixeira
car home: Some submissions make you go “Wow!” to say. The knee-jerk response to that was “What?” How was it possible that a standup wildman with 25 knockouts among his 29 wins would knock out a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt that hadn’t been submitted in 40 professional bouts? With all due respect, Teixeira had fought with much better grapplers than Prochazka and never stopped. But that’s exactly how the 29-year-old Teixeira clinched the light heavyweight title.
The rear-naked choke happened in the last minute of round 5, a circumstance that always shines a brighter light on a target, especially when the suddenly knocking fighter looked like the fresher man. It was less the artistry of that submission than the absurdity of the final execution.
Best Knockout: Michael Chandler KOs Tony Ferguson
Okamoto: Chandler’s front kick knockout on Tony Ferguson will be a hard-to-hit highlight for 2022’s knockout. It was sudden, unexpected, and the definition of devastating. And to make things even wilder, Chandler later revealed that he doesn’t even practice front kicks.
When that KO was at a disadvantage, it met a fan favorite in Ferguson, who looked like the old man in the fight before Chandler put him away. Then again, the fact that it came against Ferguson makes it even more impressive. Nobody turns off Ferguson’s lights, let alone like that. Chandler’s finish was one of the most impressive MMA highlights in recent years.
Best Fight: Glover Teixeira vs. Jiri Prochazka
Raimondi: Simple choice. Not only is this fight the best of 2022, it’s also one of the greatest fights in UFC history — perhaps the best title fight of all time. This fight had everything you could wish for in a high level MMA fight. There were hard shots to the feet and tense altercations on the mat as both men dug deep to make it to the fifth and final round where Prochazka finally subdued Teixeira. Keep in mind that Teixeira, the submission specialist among the two, had never tapped in his 20-year MMA career.
If there had been a hit in UFC 275’s main event, both men would have made costly mistakes that changed the course of the fight several times, including Teixeira using an unwise guillotine choke in that fifth round. But that didn’t detract from the excitement of the fight. Instead, it elevated it, emphasizing how desperate both men were to finish and win while exhausted.
Best Event: UFC London, March 19
car home: There were no title fights on this map, not even a #1 contender eliminator. But in the main event, a contender heralded his arrival in the heavyweight elite when Aspinall, who was born in Manchester, England and fought from Liverpool, sent the crowd home with a first-round armbar from Volkov. It was the third consecutive Main Card first round finish, all penned by Englishmen. There were four more in the preliminary round.
And those were just things that happened in the Octagon. Add in Molly McCann, who brings fight fans and football legend Wayne Rooney the total “meatball” experience, and Paddy Pimblett exits the cage to celebrate with Dana White. The O2 Arena was in full swing all night.
The drama show in London was in full swing that night: the cageside judges were shaky, the fighters were quick to finish the fights and the party was boisterous all evening. The UFC will be back in London on July 23 and fight fans would be wise to mark their calendars and get ready for another party at The O2.
Best On The Mic Moment: Michael Chandler after beating Tony Ferguson
Raimondi: Chandler’s postfight interview with Joe Rogan after he KO’d Tony Ferguson at UFC 274 was everything you could want from putting a mic in an athlete’s face. Chandler joked, complimented Ferguson and then was clear and charismatic about who he wanted next – the winner of that night’s Main Event between Oliveira and Justin Gaethje. And if those two weren’t ready for a rematch with Chandler, then he had another idea: How about Conor McGregor? Chandler said he could do it even at 170 pounds.
The crowd hung on to every word Chandler said, and when he mentioned Oliveira, Gaethje and McGregor, fans in Phoenix exploded. Chandler capped the interview with his catchphrase, “See you at the top.” This is the stuff that would make even pro wrestling’s most iconic promo artists — like Ric Flair, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock — do it to give a cooking kiss.
https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34222478/ufc-midyear-awards-best-male-female-fighter-finish-prospect-more UFC midyear awards — The best male and female fighter, finish, prospect and more