The Rant's revamped annual MMA awards are here with unique categories that highlight sensational and creative finishes alongside the best (and worst) that MMA had to offer this past year.
Whether your favourite pastime is watching football every Sunday, gaming with your friends late into the night, or catching the latest movies in a theatre, at the end of the year you can always look forward to a deluge of articles and videos showcasing the best (and sometimes, worst) that your chosen interest had to offer over the prior twelve months.
If your chosen pastime is popular enough, you'll even get to see full award shows complete with societal "elites" in attendance and crappy review panels doling out rewards to whoever sucks up to them the most.
For fans of mixed martial arts, we of course are no different as the "awards season" inundates our social media feeds and Youtube suggestions with their picks for categories such as Fighter of the Year, Best Knockout, Best Comeback, etcetera.
With so many publications and content producers already posting their own year-end awards and reflections, and with The Rant's absense from the year-end award scene last year courtesy of a bout with covid, it's time for a change in how the Rant's MMA Awards are doled out.
Instead of the traditional categories that have come to be expected from anyone compiling their "Best of" lists every year, from this point on, The Rant's awards will be exclusively for the less-traditional highlights (and just as importantly, lowlights) of the year.
Instead of seeing staples like Fight and Fighter of the Year, or Knockout and Submission of the Year, you'll see things like Best Left Hook Knockout, Most Unique Submission, Best Last-Round Hail Mary Comeback, Worst UFC Fighter, and Dumbest Gameplan of the Year.
Of course there will also be a yearly roundup article posted in the next week or two, which, similar to last year's extensive piece, will highlight the major fights and happenings in the world of MMA as well as provide links to gifs/clips of all the violent finishes that occurred in 2022.
As for now, let's take a look at this year's biggest winners (and losers) with The Rant's new and improved 2022 MMA Awards, and, as always, links to GIFs/video clips are highlighted in red:
Best Left Hook Knockout of the Year
Awarded to the best knockout of 2022 scored via a left hook.
Winner: John Lineker
For his brutal knockout over Bibiano Fernandez at ONE: Lights Out
The "Fighter of the Year" is generally the most prestigious title a fighter can earn when it comes to the year's award season, but here at The Rant, we love ourselves a good left hook, so our top honours go to the man or woman who delivers the nicest, cleanest, most brutal left hook to send a fellow fighter to the shadow realm.
The honour of the very first Best Left Hook Knockout of the Year award goes to a man who has long devastated opponents with his sweeping lead hand - John Lineker.
John Lineker is a 5'3 bantamweight powerhouse that can most accurately be summed up as being about as terrifyingly vicious in the cage as he is short in stature. He's a slugging pressure fighter with a granite chin that relentlessly plows forward against his victims, ripping them with wide, devastating hooks that he beautifully mixes in to both their head and midsection.
It was a shame that, after repeated weight misses, the UFC released the highly entertaining former flyweight from their roster despite the fact that he was a top five bantamweight and always put on a show for the fans. The UFC's loss however was ONE FC's gain and the Brazilian banger has since made the most of his opportunity in the Singapore promotion's cage.
In his first world title fight, Lineker faced off with fellow Brazilian Bibiano Fernandes, who trains out of Vancouver, BC and had suffered just a single loss (in a split decision to boot, which he later avenged) in the last decade. Fernandes had won and defended ONE's bantamweight crown eight times over that time, becoming known as one of if not the best bantamweight in the world that wasn't under the UFC umbrella.
The two heavy-handed strikers stood and traded bombs in a furiously paced bout, with Fernandes even dropping the famously durable Lineker midway through the opening round with a left hook of his own as Lineker loaded up on his go-to punch.
The living incarnation of the Tasmanian Devil managed to survive and get back to his insane pressure and power punching in short order, which carried over into the second round as Lineker's onslaught began to overwhelm the champion.
Late in the second round, Lineker again targeted the body with a sweeping right hook before loading up on his nasty left upstairs, this time connecting clean across Bibiano's jaw as Fernandes once again attempted a check hook, this time failing to hit the mark as he was short circuited by Lineker's left.
Lineker didn't just land a left hook to capture the ONE bantamweight championship; he pulled his left hand straight from out of the pits of hell and used that momentum to detonate a tactical nuke across poor Bibiano's chin, ending the longtime champion's rain in devastating fashion to cap off an epic back and forth brawl.
In a year with plenty of left hooks to write home about, Lineker's beautifully destructive finish of Fernandes stands above the rest and earns him the coveted honours of The Rant's inaugural Best Left Hook Knockout award.
Runner Up: Josh Quinlan
For his 129-second left hook lamping of Jason Witt at UFC on ESPN 41
There may have been tighter and more powerful left hooks that made the runner-up pick for this award a difficult decision, but the way Jason Witt collapsed as if he was shot by a sniper rifle just makes Josh Quinlan's beautiful left hook knockout on the undercard of UFC: Vera vs. Cruz stand out from the pack.
Just past the two minute mark of the opening round, Witt decided to charge forward to deliver a body kick on the undefeated Quinlan, but in doing so he dropped his hands; maintaining his form and standing his ground, Quinlan threw a long check hook at Witt's exposed chin and as soon as fist touched jaw, the lights went out in Georgia.
Also, bonus points to Quinlan for recognizing Witt was unconscious and stopping himself mid-punch from delivering another shot on his defenseless opponent.
Alex Pereira easily demolished Sean Strickland with his left hand - the king of left hooks, Pereira will no doubt find himself winning this award at some point in the future, and if you have doubts, check out any of his highlight reels from kickboxing or his last left hook KO in MMA which, frankly, deserves a retroactive award for best left hook of 2020
Canadian boy Mike Malott faceplanted Mickey Gall with a nice left
Aori Qileng folded Cameron Else with a nasty left hook to the body
Patrick Sho Usami spun BeyNoah around with his left hook
Sergey Khandozkho brutalized Dwight Grant
Andre Fialho chin checked Cameron VonCamp
Josiel Silva faceplanted Goga Shamatava with his left hand
Jesse Butler crumpled Masio Fullen while closing the door on an exchange
Bekhruz Zukhurov slumped Paulo Bananada at EMC 9
It may not be MMA, but can we take a moment to savour boxing's best left hook knockout of the year? Caleb Plant's starching of Anthony Dirrell was absolutely vicious, starting off with a nasty hook to the liver before the kill shot upstairs from the same side sent Dirrell off to the shadow realm. Brilliant.
Best "Spinning Shit" Knockout of the Year
Awarded to the best knockout of 2022 coming from a spinning technique.
Winner: "Meatball" Molly McCann
For her spinning-back elbow knockout over Luana Carolina at UFC on ESPN+ 62
If you asked every MMA fan at the beginning of this year "who do you think will score the nicest knockout with a spinning technique in 2022?" I guarantee you not a single one would think to respond with the name "Meatball".
And yet here we are.
In a thrilling performance in London that positively electrified her home crowd, "Meatball" Molly dominated Luana Carolina from the opening bell, swarming the Brazilian with volleys of punches and pounding on her overwhelmed prey over the first ten minutes.
Thanks to her relentless pursuit of the finish, McCann began to slow down in the third as Carolina proved her toughness in surviving a ten minute beatdown and began to score some points of her own.
Unfortunately for Carolina, her success was short lived as just two minutes into the final stanza, her soul would be sent to another dimension.
After engaging in the clinch, Meatball opted to spin out of the in-fight and as she did so came around with a back-elbow that landed cleanly across Luana's cheek. The vicious strike instantly shut Carolina's lights off and sent her lifeless body crashing to the canvas, igniting the London crowd and turning the eight-fight UFC veteran into a star in her native England.
The stunning finish even managed to make it into an impressive spot amongst the top 10 most brutal knockouts in women's UFC history.
Not bad Meatball, not bad at all.
Runner Up: Andrey Koreshkov
For his 38-second spinning back-kick on Chance Rencountre at Bellator 274
It's not often that a fighter leaves a cage with five broken ribs and a punctured lung, but at Bellator 274 early this year, that's exactly how Chance Rencountre exited his meeting with Andrey Koreshkov.
The former Bellator welterweight champion nailed Rencountre with a perfectly placed spinning back kick just moments into their bout in February, forcing Chance to collapse to the canvas in agony as Koreshkov swarmed until the referee finally saved Rencountre from further damage.
The Russian's emphatic finish proves without doubt that spinning shit is never to be underestimated, lest you be sitting in an ER at the nearest hospital.
Weili Zhang's spinning back fist faceplanted Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Ricardo Ramos scored his second spinning-back elbow KO in the UFC, this time over Daniel Chavez
Chris Gutierrez landed a nasty spinning back fist on Danaa Batgerel
Magomed Kabardiev spinning back-elbowed Valmir Lazaro at NFC 38
Aerdake Apaer flattened Guoxu Yang with a spinning back kick
Sheikh-Mansur Khabibulaev wheel kicked Rodrigo Praia at ACA 143
Manny Akpan landed a capoeira/wheel kick hybrid on Connor Hitchens
Bogdan Grad demolished Tudor Dermenji with a spinning heel kick
Most Unique Knockout of the Year
Awarded to the most unique or creative knockout victory of 2022.
Winner: Roman Dolidze
for his calf-slicer/ground and pound TKO over Jack Hermansson at UFC on ESPN 42
It's not often that a ground-and-pound TKO even earns a mention amongst knockout award candidates, but when it comes to sheer brutality and creativity being combined to craft a particularly frightening finish, it doesn't get much more nasty than Roman Dolidze's stoppage victory over Jack Hermansson just weeks ago.
The Georgian middleweight is known as a surprisingly slick grappler for a man of his size with raw knockout power and remarkable strength to boot. His striking may be lagging behind the rest of his arsenal in terms of technique, but he has steadily been improving that aspect of his game as he has risen up the ranks.
After a bit of a rocky stretch that saw the prolific finisher involved in a string of decisions in the midst of a drop down to middleweight and his first career loss, Dolidze really put things together in 2022 and entered the top ten by rattling off three straight knockout victories in rather vicious fashion.
The first came against highly touted prospect Kyle Daukhaus, whom Dolidze dispatched in just 73 seconds, breaking Daukhaus' orbital socket in the process. The impressive victory saw him face off with Phil Hawes in October, where not only was his raw power showcased, but his scary submission skills were as well.
Midway through the opening round, Dolidze was taken down by the wrestler Hawes, but unfortunately for Hawes, his opponent found out the hard way that one does not simply grapple with Roman Dolidze and come out unscathed.
Dolidze launched a volley of vicious elbows off of his back that rocked Hawes, who struggled to maintain position as he flashed in and out of consciousness and then found himself defending an armbar. Moments later, Dolidze attacked Hawes' leg and caught the wrestler in a brutal kneebar that somehow Hawes managed to escape - but not without suffering significant damage to his knee in the process.
When Hawes returned to his feet, his leg was clearly compromised and his eyes were glassy, still seemingly rocked from Dolidze's assault from the floor. The Georgian powerhouse then absolutely demolished his compromised victim with a series of right hands until Hawes eventually collapsed against the cage, completely unconscious.
It was an unbelievably violent and brutal finish that was easily amongst the top knockouts of 2022, and was in itself one of the top contenders for this award given how the finish came off of shots from his back and a violent kneebar which led to the brutal ending sequence.
Dolidze would outdo himself in his next performance however, not only beating a top 10 opponent but scoring one of the most painful and creative finishes you'll see in a sport filled with painful and creative finishes.
With a step up in competition, Dolidze's developing striking game showed its flaws as the more experienced Hermansson picked apart the Georgian's lead leg and was able to outland Roman throughout. The second round was largely more of the same, and it appeared Dolidze's brutal run through the middleweight ranks may be cut short as his offense was largely neutralized by the eighth ranked Hermansson.
That is, until the fight hit the floor.
From his back, Dolidze began to set up what appeared to be a kneebar, but being an extremely talented grappler himself, Hermansson attempted to spin out of it and pass Dolidze's guard - instead, Roman trapped Hermansson's leg and locked up one of the most painful submissions in MMA: the calf slicer.
Hermansson valiantly refused to tap as he was forced to lay facedown on the canvas, his leg being grotesquely contorted as Dolidze then rained down heavy ground and pound on his helplessly trapped victim.
Though grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu is typically seen as a "gentler" art, Roman Dolidze has a penchant for delivering pain when on the floor and his use of a super rare submission to trap his opponent in order to to then smash him with heavy ground and pound was just plain sadistic, and as such has earned itself the title of Most Unique Knockout of the Year.
Runner Up: Irene Aldana
for her upkick to the liver on Macy Chiasson at UFC 279
Knocking out an opponent while on your back seems to be becoming slightly more common over the last few years thanks to fighters like Kevin Holland and Niko Price (who has somehow scored two knockouts in this manner), and even the afforementioned Dolidze who badly rocked an opponent with elbows off of his back.
In all my years of watching MMA however, I can't recall someone delivering a fight-ending body shot while their back was on the floor, but Irene Aldana did just that at UFC 279 to score one of the most unique finishes in a year filled with crazy knockouts.
Facing off against Macy Chiasson (who missed weight by a whopping five pounds), Aldana turned in a solid opening round before finding herself overpowered in the clinch and on the mat against the heavier fighter, who evened things up against the Mexican boxer with her grinding wrestling tactics even if she was noticeably slowing down as she did so.
After Chiasson scored a takedown midway through the third, it appeared Aldana was in serious trouble of dropping the round and ultimately losing a decision to Chiasson, but it wouldn't take long for the tables to take a sudden turn.
As Aldana posted on Chiasson's hips to push her away, Macy opted to stand up in an attempt to pass Aldana's guard, looking to throw Irene's legs to one side in order to either gain side control or land ground and pound. In doing so, she was completely unaware that she gave Aldana all the opportunity she needed to turn the tides and keep the judges out of the equation entirely.
While Macy was concerned with getting past Irene's left leg, Aldana wasted no time in her attempts to punish her opponent any time she had space, delivering a downward kick that landed across Macy's stomach, Aldana's heel smacking right into Chiasson's liver.
Chiasson immediately collapsed to the canvas in agony as the crowd looked on in confusion - it wasn't until the replay that most people even saw the strike that put Chiasson down for the count, a surprising and innocuous-looking kick that simply found its target and landed perfectly.
When it comes to unique finishes, it doesn't get much more rare than a liver kick from the floor. This finish also deserves special mention for being Bas Rutten approved.
Demetrious Johnson rocked Adriano Moraes, then delivered a running knee to the head as Moraes backed into the cage
Khalil Roundtree mixed in a soccer kick to the body (and an attempt at a stomp) as he smashed Karl Roberson into bits
Otari Tanzilovi scored a jumping switch kick on Rafael Soares
Manny Akpan landed a capoeira/wheel kick hybrid on Connor Hitchens
Ricardo Ramirez brutally upkicked Jose Mercado
Most Unique Submission of the Year
Awarded to the most unique or creative submission victory of 2022.
Winner: Roberto de Souza
for his flying reverse triangle-armbar on Johnny Case at RIZIN 35
A reverse triangle choke is an extremely rare submission in its own right, with a reverse triangle-armbar rarer still, but a flying reverse triangle-armbar? Now that's just plain silly.
Yet that's exactly what Johnny Case found himself trapped in less than four minutes into his rematch with Roberto de Souza at RIZIN 35.
The two had previously met back in 2019 with the powerful wrestle-boxer Case scoring a TKO over the extremely talented Brazilian grappler in just 75 seconds. It was the first loss of de Souza's career.
Fast forward three years and de Souza would find himself on a four-fight winning streak with RIZIN's lightweight championship belt firmly around his waist, having already defended it once.
In his second title defense, de Souza sought to avenge the lone loss of his career against Case, and not only did he do just that, but he did so with one of the most impressive submissions in MMA history.
Momentarily taking Case's back during a scramble, it appeared as though de Souza sought to secure a hook to engage a body triangle, but Case fought this attempt by lifting Roberto's leg high up to his chest, then sought to turn into de Souza to keep his back safe from the submission ace.
Instead, during a wild transition, de Souza jumped up and methodically locked in a reverse triangle around Case's head and right arm, then rolled Case onto his back. From there, Case was not only being choked by de Souza's leg, but his right arm was trapped under de Souza's armpit as the Brazilian leaned back and hyperextended the arm, simultaneously throwing hammer fists at the defenseless American until he tapped and saved himself from further pain.
The entire sequence was a beautiful display of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and one of the slickest submissions you'll ever see. Johnny Case may forever be able to say he was the first man to defeat Roberto de Souza, but de Souza scored the ultimate revenge by turning Case into the victim of an incredible highlight reel finish.
Runner Up: Jessica Andrade
for her standing arm triangle choke on Amanda Lemos at UFC on ESPN+ 63
An arm triangle isn't exactly a super rare submission in the UFC or MMA as a whole, but it's where Jessica Andrade pulled it off that really made her quick finish of Amanda Lemos memorable.
After a brief 2-1 stint at flyweight that saw Andrade lose to Valentina Shevchenko in her bid to become a champion in a second weight class, the Brazilian powerhouse moved back to her longtime home of strawweight in 2022 and saw herself paired up with streaking knockout artist Amanda Lemos.
The matchup between the Brazilian sluggers in April was expected to produce fireworks, but little did fans know that it would be Andrade's grappling that would get the job done early.
Trapping Lemos against the cage while in the clinch, Andrade isolated Lemos' left arm and secured the arm triangle from a standing position - though attempts at this submission have certainly been made in the past, the amount of strength required to pull off this choke while remaining standing is astronomical and such a submission never been finished on the feet in the entire history of the UFC.
The arm triangle may be a common submission on the canvas, but prior attempts by fighters to lock it up on the feet have always either A) failed to work as their opponent has been able to power out of the submission, or B) the fighter has secured the submission on the feet and then managed to take the fighter to the floor in order to finish the fight. Unfortunately for Amanda Lemos, she found out the hard way that Jessica Andrade has a squeeze that isn't like any normal strawweight's.
Just over three minutes into the fight, Lemos found herself trapped in a death grip and was forced to tap, putting an end to her five-fight winning streak and putting a hold on her title aspirations.
Old man Alexey Oleynik hit another scarf hold this year, this time on Jared Vanderaa
Weili Zhang's rear-naked crucifix finished Carla Esparza and earned her the title back
Stevie Ray submitted Anthony Pettis with a modified body lock
Oliver Enkamp scored a rare buggy choke on Mark Lemminger in Bellator
Mario Batista elbowed Benito Lopez in a reverse triangle, then armbarred him for good measure
Best Last-Round Hail Mary Comeback of the Year
Awarded to the most impressive comeback victory in the last round of a fight in 2022.
Winner: Leon Edwards
for his epic fifth-round head kick knockout of Kamaru Usman at UFC 278
This is one of those knockouts that will be replayed again and again in highlight reels for decades to come, not only for its perfect execution but because it unseated a dominant champion that was despised by many (and for good reason, the guy is one of the most notorious cheaters in a cage that you can find) and in Rocky-esque circumstances to boot.
When the two squared off at UFC 278 for the UFC welterweight championship, Leon "Rocky" Edwards was riding a nine-fight winning streak (ignoring a No Contest that came from an eye poke) while the champion boasted a remarkable 15-fight UFC winning streak (if you include pre-UFC fights, his streak was 19) that was on the cusp of tying Anderson Silva for the longest winning streak in UFC history at 16.
He also held a decision victory over one Leon Edwards from back in 2015, which just so happened to be the last time Edwards had lost in the cage.
Although Leon did well early in their rematch by grounding the champion and controlling his back for a large portion of the opening stanza, as the rounds wore on and the draining Salt Lake City altitude began to take its toll on Leon's endurance, Usman's grinding grappling and clinch game combined with his inhuman gas tank (Usman has long been suspected of using PEDs, especially given his significant mid-career cardio improvements when earlier in his career he regularly gassed out) banked three rounds for the champion. It appeared destined that Usman would tie Anderson Silva's record winning streak and Leon's title hopes would be a thing of the past.
Late in the fifth round, another round in which Leon was losing, the commentary team had already moved on to talking about what was next for Edwards as his winning streak would be snapped and he'd be unlikely to get another title shot anytime soon given that he would be 0-2 versus the champion. The writing was on the wall - but Leon Edwards had other plans.
Pound for pound. Headshot. Dead.
Leon "Rocky" Edwards truly earned his nickname in the final minute of his title fight, in a moment so perfect that even Rocky's Hollywood namesake couldn't hold a candle to it.
Feinting a pawing jab, Leon moved forward as if to throw his southpaw straight behind it, which he had previously done throughout the fight - this inspired Usman to move his head off the centre-line and out of the line of fire, his right hand even pawing toward the middle to parry the punch he thought was coming.
Except this time, Usman's reaction was exactly what Edwards wanted. With Usman's blocking arm out of position and his head leaning right into it, Edwards blasted a full power rear head kick that found the champion's cheek, completely unobstructed.
The dominant welterweight king was instantly put on ice as his soulless body crumbled to the canvas, his aspirations of beating Anderson's record dissipating into Utah's exceptionally thin air.
It was as destructive a knockout as it was technically perfect, a brutal and decisive finish that showed everyone once more that no one is untouchable and that a single moment in a mixed martial arts fight can change everything.
It was the most epic hail mary comeback one can imagine, the finish coming with less than sixty seconds to go in a fight he would have handily lost on the scorecards - yet at the same time, it was not some desperate, wild swing that just happened to find its home, it was instead a perfectly set up and flawlessly executed killshot that not only earned Leon "Rocky" Edwards the comeback of the year, but the best knockout as well to go along with his shiny new belt.
Runner Up: Alex Pereira
for his fifth round demolition of rival Israel Adesanya at UFC 281
It was hard to pick between Pereira's fifth round demolition of Adesanya and Jiri Prochazka's buzzer beater submission over Glover Teixeira, but ultimately Alex's comeback ranks slightly higher in shock factor because everyone watching the fight knew Pereira was down on the scorecards, whereas in the Prochazka-Teixeira fight, the back and forth war was so chaotic and insane that most fans didn't even know who was winning the legendary main event of UFC 275 as it unfolded.
As for UFC 281's highly anticipated third meeting between dominant middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and his old kickboxing rival Alex Pereira, everyone (including Pereira's corner) knew that the Brazilian challenger needed to finish his foe if he wanted to leave the cage with gold around his waist.
Pereira began their trilogy fight well by outkicking the lanky outfighter, with Adesanya preferring to peck away at his opponents with leg kicks at range in order to draw them into being aggressive so he can get to his real bread and butter, the counter game. Against Pereira however, he found himself getting out-kicked at range, which was largely leading Pereira to picking up the first round on the cards - that is, until the final moments of the round.
As Pereira ramped up the pressure, Adesanya was able to counter with a slick combination that put Pereira on wobbly legs as the round ended, stealing him the round and reminding his rival that he too possessed the power to end the night early.
The second round saw Pereira bounce back and even land a takedown after stuffing attempts from the champion, but Adesanya would eventually find himself on top against the inexperienced grappler. Thanks to landing the more significant blows of the round, Alex put himself on the board and tied things up heading into round three on most scorecards, including the official ones.
From here, Pereira's weak grappling hurt him badly, as although he did land some nasty body kicks that bothered the champion, he found himself on his back for much of the round and in the fourth, he offered very little output and appeared tired, his massive frame and lack of five round MMA experience apparently catching up with him.
Down three rounds to one heading into the fifth, Pereira knew he would have to let his hands go and stop at nothing in order to achieve victory - having defeated Adesanya twice before however, he knew he was capable, as did his fired up coach Glover Teixeira, who implored his pupil to put his monstrous hands on the champion and take him out once and for all.
With renewed vigor, Pereira came out for the fifth round like a man possessed, waiting for a crack in Izzy's armour to present itself so he could empty the tank and unseat the middleweight king.
His dedication to chopping down Israel's legs began to pay dividends as the champion could no longer run out from the cage, and Pereira made sure to capitalize on his advantage.
A cracking right hand caused Adesanya to stumble back into the cage, where Pereira began to empty the kitchen sink on his prey. Another stumble had Adesanya out on his feet, valiantly swaying in an effort to avoid shots and stay conscious but with his hands down and his continued absorption of unanswered power shots from Pereira, the referee saved the champion from further damage in what was undoubtedly leading up to a grisly knockout.
Though some argued it was stopped prematurely, Adesanya showed no signs of being able to get Pereira off of him nor did Pereira show any signs that he was losing steam; Adesanya may have wanted to "go out on his shield", but he was seconds away from being flatlined and likely facing far more brain trauma, whereas Israel now has the added bonus of being able to say the fight was stopped early in order to sell a fourth match between the two.
It was an incredible comeback that showed just how deadly Alex Pereira any time the fight is on the feet, even if his overall MMA game is still a work in progress.
Jiri Prochazka snatched Glover Teixeira's neck with 28 seconds left while down 3-1 on the cards in the Fight of the Year
Santiago Ponzinibbio mounted a massive comeback midway through the third, smashing Alex Morono after losing the first two rounds, then getting rocked earlier in the same round he finished the fight in
Best "Taking Out the Trash" Beatdown of the Year
Awarded to the most impressive beatdown of a garbage human being in MMA in 2022.
Winner: Adrian Yanez
for his destruction of Tony Kelley at UFC on ESPN 37
Tony Kelley certainly didn't endear himself to fans when he cornered girlfriend Andrea "KGB" Lee for her fight with Viviane Araujo back in May.
After Lee had complained to her corner about an eye poke she had received in the round prior, Kelley stated "That's what they're going to do, they're dirty fucking Brazilians, they're going to fucking cheat like that".
The 8-2 Lousiana native immediately went from a fun action-fighter to a despised figure in MMA, and Andrea Lee was also heavily criticized given her previous partner was a "former" white supremacist who still had Neo Nazi tattoos when she was with him (he would later badly beat her up then flee the state).
Kelley's fight with surging prospect Adrian Yanez was thus granted much more anticipation by fans as Yanez promised to punish Kelley for his comments and had the backing of the entire MMA community heading into their bout at UFC on ESPN 37. It drew even more attention after a heated weigh-in and the fact that Kelley missed weight by 1.5 pounds for their bantamweight clash, his unprofessional attitude adding more fuel to the fire.
Though it was certainly fun while it lasted, Adrian's lightning fast and powerful hands were simply too much for Kelley, who began to get lit up like a Christmas tree by the superior striker.
Late in the action-packed opening stanza, Kelley was out on his feet and wobbling around the Octagon as Yanez unloaded power shots, eventually dropping Kelley to his knees. The referee was apparently not yet satisfied that Kelley had learned his lesson, and allowed Yanez to step behind his overwhelmed prey to deliver several last, vicious left hooks to his helpless victim.
Yanez proceeded to fire a Diaz-approved double bird in Kelley's direction after the fight was finally stopped, adding an epic image to the already memorable beatdown.
Kelley would incredulously argue the stoppage was premature and even called for a rematch with Yanez, but the UFC had enough of Kelley and cut him instead to add even more salt to Kelley's wound.
As they say, karma's a bitch.
Runner Up: Pete Rodriguez
for putting racist Mike Jackson to sleep at UFC on ESPN+ 70
Mike Jackson is the epitome of a modern liberal.
This is a man who somehow managed to get multiple fights in the UFC despite the fact that the only real win of his MMA career is over CM Punk, a nearly 40 year old fake wrestler who sported the athleticism of a wet paper bag.
When you're good friends with UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard however, you get a lot of leeway - and man has Jackson used it.
Not only has LFA's photographer and videographer (his butt buddy Maynard used to be the LFA's president, which is how he got the gig) been given multiple UFC spots to showcase his (lack of) talent, but the outspoken liberal goofball has repeatedly hurled racist comments at others (including actual, accomplished fighters like Jake Shields) that would have gotten virtually anyone else cut immediately.
This is a man who claims that white people are the bane of existence (which is ironic given he's half white), vehemently supports BLM even after they razed businesses and had dozens of people killed for their backward rhetoric, and funnily enough, hates the police and says they must be defunded, yet when another fighter called him out in person and slapped him, he immediately called the cops crying "assault".
It's no surprise that Mike Jackson would once again be demolished when he faced any half-decent opposition (his last opponent Dean Barry sucked and he was lighting Mike Jackson up until he was disqualified for a nasty eye gouge), but 4-1 Pete Rodriguez really showed the difference between an entry-level UFC fighter and a club fighter that wouldn't even make it far on the regional circuit.
Jackson immediately had trouble with Rodriguez's power and pressure, and around 90 seconds in Jackson found himself trying to awkwardly dodge punches with his back against the cage. His poor defensive movement soon proved fatal as a nasty knee melted Jackson and left him out cold, slumped in the corner in rather brutal fashion.
It was definitely a great thing to see Jackson get his ass whooped again and hopefully marks the last time this particular "woke" racist sees any time inside the Octagon.
Sergei Spivak's mauling of wife beater Greg Hardy
Jake Shields slapped Mike Jackson around in the gym
Worst Fight of the Year
Awarded to the worst fight of 2022. More weight is applied to bouts that were highly anticipated or had a lot on the line, such as title fights and grudge matches.
Winner: Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza II
for the UFC women's strawweight title at UFC 274
This one was certainly an easy category to crown a "winner", and as anyone that has followed the UFC this year could easily tell you, this fight was a steaming pile of dog shit.
Though it was often in rather dull fashion (not to mention her run included three split or majority decisions), the first UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza had finally worked her way back into title contention this past year courtesy of five straight victories; she also held a dominant win over reigning champion Rose Namajunas from way back in 2014 when she had claimed the inaugural UFC strawweight title.
Their prior history served as a great lead-in to their rematch at UFC 274, which was expected to be a one-sided beatdown given Namajunas' evolution as a fighter since their first meeting, her rather significant size advantage over the small wrestler, and her overall skill - she was after all coming off of back-to-back victories over Weili Zhang and also held two wins over Joanna Jędrzejczyk, the woman who had absolutely obliterated Esparza in Esparza's very first title defense.
Unfortunately for the fans who tuned into the women's strawweight title fight in Phoenix, the rematch was about as exciting as watching paint dry for a good half hour.
Both women seemed deathly afraid of opening up or doing, well, pretty much anything for the entire five round affair, with Carla doing slightly more as the two took part in one of the most tepid sparring matches in human history.
Despite the horrendous performance from both women, Rose's cornerman Pat Barry (who doubles as her groomer-oops, I mean husband) heaped praise upon her after each round, telling her how well she was doing and confirming that she was following the gameplan to a tee.
If the gameplan was to do nothing for twenty five minutes and lose your title via decision in one of the most boring fights of all time, then bravo Rose, you pulled it off perfectly.
At least fans in attendance and those who tuned into the UFC 274 pay-per-view could use the atrocious bout as a breather in between two fights that more than delivered, as this snoozefest was preceeded by Michael Chandler's horrific knockout of Tony Ferguson and was then followed by Charles Oliveira's one round war with Justin Gaethje.
Runner Up: Raufeon Stots vs Danny Sabotello
for the Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix Semi-Final and Interim Bantamweight Championship at Bellator 289
It's rare for Bellator to book a fight that actually gets some hype amongst fight fans these days, but thanks to a light scuffle and near-fight between the two outspoken bantamweight prospects during an interview on Ariel Helwani's podcast, the fight between Danny Sabotello and Raufeon Stots at Bellator 289 was getting quite a bit of traction.
The fact that there was a lot on the line as it was for Bellator's bantamweight interim title as well as it being the semi-final for Bellator's Bantamweight Grand Prix just raised the stakes, and combined with Stots' impressive last outing and Sabotello's easy-to-hate personality, Bellator had a decent amount of fans excited about the grudge match.
Unfortunately for them, the five round fight was a major stinker as Sabotello managed to score plenty of takedowns but did absolutely nothing with them, while Stots hit wet-blanket Sabotello whenever he could and ultimately did more fighting which earned him the nod on the judges' scorecards...
On two of them that is, as Douglas Crosby somehow scored all five rounds for Sabotello despite damage being the number one criteria and Danny doing absolutely none of it as he confused the Bellator cage as the site of a wrestling tournament. Keep reading for more on judging extraordinaire Douglas Crosby...
Jack Hermansson vs. Sean Strickland, UFC on ESPN+ 58
Thiago Santos vs. Magomed Ankalaev, UFC on ESPN+ 61
Belal Muhammad vs. Vicente Luque II, UFC on ESPN 34
Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker II for the middleweight title, UFC 271
Logan Storley vs. Michael Venom Page, Bellator 281
Worst UFC Fighter of the Year
Awarded to the worst fighter that competed in the world's premier MMA orgnization in 2022.
Winner: Mike Jackson
Welterweight, 1-2 (1 NC) in UFC and overall, went 1-1 in 2022
If you didn't skip past the section before last, you likely could have guessed that Mike Jackson would earn top honours for this particular "award".
Mike Jackson was literally brought into the UFC because his buddy and former boss at LFA, Mick Maynard, is a matchmaker for the UFC, and not because he is in any way a good fighter.
Way back in 2016, the UFC was attempting to build up toward pro wrestler Phillip Brooks AKA CM Punk's UFC debut, and knowing that the guy wasn't exactly a supreme athlete or any good at fighting, they had to bring someone in with relatively little MMA experience for him to fight.
The UFC of course stumbled upon Mickey Gall, a solid prospect at the time who had just a single pro bout but was good on the mic and had a personality that could turn him into a decent draw should he end up being the real deal. A win over Brooks would give him a ton of exposure, and well, pretty much anyone with any athleticism and some training would beat Brooks, so the UFC figured they might as well try and build someone out of Brooks' failure.
To sell the fight to fight fans, who no doubt knew who CM Punk was given his WWE fame, they needed to expose fans to Mickey Gall - and that's where Mike Jackson comes in.
With no pro experience, Jackson did however tout a 4-0 boxing record over club fighters in Texas, along with a 1-1 kickboxing record which gave him "legitimacy". Being Maynard's friend, he was given the chance to fight Mickey Gall on the prelims of a fight night, with the winner being promised a chance to welcome CM Punk to the Octagon later in the year.
Jackson's "slick" boxing worked wonders as he was dropped just moments into the fight and tapped to a rear naked choke just 45 seconds into the opening round, paving the way perfectly for Gall's showdown with Brooks.
Of course, Gall would go on to murder the comically terrible CM Punk in their fight (ironically, he did last about three times longer than Jackson did), but poor Phillip really wanted to prove he was better than the fans thought after that disastrous performance. In 2018 he would get that opportunity. His opponent? Mike Jackson of course.
As terrible as Jackson is, he is at least capable of being a low or mid-tier club fighter, which is levels above Phil Brooks' ceiling. This was made abundantly clear as Jackson easily battered Brooks on the feet, in the clinch, and on the ground for the full 15-minutes, taunting and playing with his overmatched victim instead of putting everyone out of their misery and finishing the fight.
His refusal to finish an overmatched opponent drew the ire of UFC president Dana White, who said not only would CM Punk never fight for the UFC again, but Jackson wouldn't either.
To add to the circus quality of it all, Jackson's decision win was later turned to a No Contest by the Illinois commission after Jackson tested positive for marijuana, making the only legitimate win of Jackson's career not even count as an official win on his record.
For years that appeared to be the end of Jackson's time in the UFC, but Mike was still under contract, and in 2022 he wanted to return - and thanks to his buddy Mick Maynard, return he did.
Jackson would face off against 4-1 Irish fighter Dean Barry in his return to the cage, who showed that he wasn't overly skilled himself despite the fact he was lighting up the comically low-level Mike Jackson. Late in the opening round however, he appeared well on his way to finishing Jackson with barrages of poorly aimed strikes, but then Barry ended up botching his UFC debut when he attempted to pull Jackson's eye right out of its socket.
It was a dirty move to pull even on someone like Mike Jackson, and Barry rightfully deserved to be disqualified for it - unfortunately, Barry's stupidity ended up gifting Jackson a win, and with the UFC very rarely ever cutting someone after a win, Jackson was granted another fight in the UFC. His increasingly racist comments on social media, including calling white people "snow roaches", went completely ignored by the UFC - it pays to have friends in high places after all.
For his next (and hopefully, last) Octagon appearance, Jackson faced off with another 4-1 fighter, this time the much more solid Pete Rodriguez, who quickly dispatched Jackson with a perfectly placed knee.
Not content with taking L's inside the cage, Jackson would continuously pick a fight on Twitter with Jake Shields, calling the respected former StrikeForce champion a "Nazi" and mocking his "white fragility" on multiple occasions - to the point that Jake Shields challenged Jackson when he saw him at the UFC Performance Institute.
Of course Jackson wanted no part of Shields in an actual fight, and hilariously whimpered at bystanders to get Shields off of him as he easily mounted and slapped the actual racist in the room. The BLM and Defund Police activist immediately called the police after the altercation and continued to call Shields a Nazi, clearly proving he hasn't learned his lesson. Here's hoping the racist bum doesn't come anywhere near the Octagon in 2023 or beyond.
Runner Up: "Smilin" Sam Alvey
Middle/Light Heavyweight, 33-18-1 (1 NC) overall, 10-13-1 in UFC, 0-2 in 2022
Poor Smilin' Sam.
At one point he was a decent mid-level fighter in the hilariously weird middleweight division, a lanky counter striker that loved his southpaw check hook and had a penchant for being in dull, extremely close fights if he wasn't able to knock someone out early.
Through the first four years of his UFC career, Alvey sported a respectable 10-5 record with the promotion with his last two victories coming up at 205 pounds, and half of his victories came via finish (four by strikes, one via a guillotine choke).
Everything changed however when he went to Brazil in September 2018 to face an aging legend in Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, better known as "Lil Nog".
Though he had his moments, Alvey ended up getting demolished in the second round by the declining legend, ultimately beginning what would be a historic run of losses.
Alvey would lose his next bout by TKO as well against Jimmy Crute, then he lost his next two fights by decision (albeit one was a close split decision to Ryan Spann that many felt he won); in October of 2020, he would get close to turning things around when he fought to a split draw with Da Un Jung.
Though he kept his trademark goofy smile through it all, Alvey didn't have a whole lot to smile about as returned to middleweight and was subsequently choked out cold by Julian Marquez. Winless in his last six bouts, fans were sure that would be the last of Smilin' Sam in the UFC, but thanks to his willingness to keep busy and take on short notice bouts, the UFC matchmakers kept slotting him into events.
A decision loss in an ugly fight against Wellington Turman ended Alvey's 2021 run at 0-2, leaving his record in his last seven fights 0-6-1. Miraculously, Alvey was given another fight, this time up at 205 against prospect Brendan Allen early in 2022; Allen choked him out rather easily in the second round.
Not knowing when to call it a day, Alvey again returned to the cage this past August, getting smashed in under two minutes by Michal Oleksiejczuk.
Winless in his last nine bouts, Alvey was finally released from the UFC roster in August, but the real question is how he managed to get so many chances after most fighters get cut after two or three losses. Normally that kind of treatment is reserved for stars, which Alvey certainly isn't - perhaps he was a close friend of Mick Maynard too?
Harry Hunsucker (7-6 overall, 0-3 in UFC, 0-1 in 2022)
Greg Hardy (7-5 1NC overall, 4-5 1NC in UFC, 0-1 in 2022)
Dumbest Gameplan of the Year
Awarded to the fighter that executed the worst gameplan in a fight in 2022.
Winner: TJ Dillashaw
for attempting to win a world title with only one working arm at UFC 280
It's one thing for a fighter to enter a fight injured - it's a part of the sport unfortunately, and every fighter typically has at least some minor injury by the time they step into a cage to earn their paycheck.
It's often a tough call to make, but major injuries that happen right before a fight is about to happen don't necessarily mean the fight will be called off - if the fighter can hide it well enough, or it isn't too dangerous to stop them from competing, they will often opt to tough it out and do their best to win regardless, even if their ability to do so is compromised. After all, it's better to go out and collect a paycheck than to get nothing after pouring months of time, effort, and money into a training camp.
It's an entirely different thing when a major injury happens months before a scheduled fight, but in the case of TJ Dillashaw's title shot against Aljamain Sterling, TJ knew he severely injured his shoulder six months before he would step into the cage and chose to fight anyway, undoubtedly doing even more damage to his shoulder in the process.
His shoulder was clearly compromised to the point of one of his limbs being largely useless - rather than get surgery and potentially be out for a year, TJ instead opted to hide the injury and take one last paycheck before retiring.
Either that, or he was deluded enough to believe that he could beat any elite bantamweight, let alone the division's champion, with only one arm.
Added to the stupidity surrounding his decision to rob fans of a proper title fight was the fact he didn't deserve the championship fight in the first place. Dillashaw had won just one fight in the past three years, having been suspended for two of those years due to his infamous EPO usage, with the lone win being a controversial split decision over Cory Sandhagen in the middle of 2021.
Rather than giving someone like Jose Aldo the title shot, who has just as big a name but was coming off of three straight victories over the likes of Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz, and Rob Font, the UFC in their infinite wisdom gifted the disgraced cheater the shot instead. As a result, not only did it rob a legend of his deserved last crack at a title, but it ended up blowing up in their faces as Dillashaw's arm popped out of its socket just moments into the highly anticipated bantamweight title matchup at UFC 280.
With one arm that he couldn't even move properly, TJ could do very little to keep Aljamain off of him, and that ultimately ended up making the fight even more pathetic - the champion, who already wasn't exactly the darling of MMA fans, showed he was extremely lacking in terms of killer instinct and took nearly nine full minutes to TKO a fighter who could only use one arm to defend himself.
To put that in perspective, take a look at how quickly the Korean Zombie was finished by Jose Aldo when he was put in a similar situation, with his shoulder popping out of place during their title fight years ago.
TJ's decision to enter the cage at UFC 280 was simply put an embarassment and robbed fans of what they were promised, not to mention robbed other, more deserving contenders from getting an opportunity that was instead wasted on a proven cheater that ended up screwing over the promotion. But hey, at least he and his team didn't try to make bank by betting on his opponent...
Runner Up: Sean Strickland
for trying to play patty-cake with Alex Pereira at UFC 276
No one has ever claimed that Sean Strickland is smart, but wow, he really couldn't have made it any easier for Alex Pereira to knock him out at their highly anticipated showdown this past July.
His claims that Pereira wasn't "anything special" on the feet could easily be dismissed as trash talk leading up to their fight; he claimed Pereira was just a left hook and flying knee, and that there was no reason he couldn't beat him in a striking match. Surely he couldn't actually believe that though? Right?
Despite surely holding a considerable grappling advantage against the inexperienced (in MMA at least) Brazilian kickboxing great, Strickland decided to try his hand at striking with the heavy handed knockout artist and at the very least, stood by what he said in the pre-fight packages by not taking the threat that stood across from him seriously at all.
Not only that, but he tried to play his signature patty-cake sparring-style game with Pereira, where he largely hand fights and looks to land jabs while doing little else. Even Alex seemed surprise