5 most shocking UFC title fights of 2022
The UFC enjoyed yet another historic year in 2022. The world's premier MMA promotion's surge in popularity globally has taken the sport to another level altogether, and some of the shocking results this past year have only added to the drama and fanfare.
Fans witnessed some truly unbelievable results in 2022. Numerous championship titles changed hands this year, and most notably, the consensus pound-for-pound king was dethroned in spectacular fashion. More on that later.
There was no shortage of memorable and historic moments over the course of 2022, some of which had seismic implications. As we head into 2023, we thought we'd reminisce over the most momentous title fights of the past year.
Here are the five most shocking UFC title fights of 2022.
#5. Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway 3 – UFC 276
Heading into UFC 276 in July, the most compelling matchup on the blockbuster fight card was undoubtedly the co-headliner, featuring two of the best featherweights on the planet.
Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway had already locked horns twice previously, with the former emerging victorious on both occasions. While both fights were close, and Holloway had a real case for deserving the judges' nod in the rematch, the question as to who was the best 145-pounder in the world was still unanswered.
They squared off for the third time in Las Vegas this past summer with undisputed featherweight gold on the line.
This was widely expected to be a close and evenly-contested bout, considering how well-matched Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway were in their previous two encounters.
Moreover, both fighters were in scintillating form as Volkanovski was coming off two title defenses against Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung, while Holloway was fresh off two scorching performances against Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez. With the stakes so high between the two generational talents heading into their trilogy bout, the majority were surprised to see how it turned out.
Volkanovski looked untouchable on the night. The Australian champion's tactical adjustments seemingly left Holloway dumbfounded. The Hawaiian challenger looked helpless with his offense right from the get-go and got pieced up over five rounds. 'The Great' ultimately came away with a dominant unanimous decision win to retain his title and take an unassailable 3-0 lead in his rivalry with Holloway.
#4. Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane – UFC 270
Francis Ngannou finally claimed UFC gold last year, winning the heavyweight strap with his jaw-dropping knockout victory over former champion Stipe Miocic. 'The Predator' was amidst a contract negotiation with the UFC heading into his first title defense, which came against then-interim champion and former teammate Ciryl Gane.
Gane won the interim championship with a near-perfect display against Derrick Lewis. 'Bon Gamin' held an unblemished record at the time and many were tipping the Frenchman to become a champion at some point. The highly touted contender was even the betting favorite heading into his title unification bout with Ngannou at UFC 270, the first pay-per-view of 2022.
Ciryl Gane's evasive Muay Thai game was seemingly a nightmare matchup for Francis Ngannou. Gane's movement, speed and octagon awareness was second to none in the heavyweight division, making him a tricky matchup for the typically flat-footed Ngannou.
However, little did the viewing audience know that 'The Predator' was carrying a severe knee injury going into the fight. Ngannou looked a shadow of his former self in the first two rounds as just couldn't close the distance Gane. Things were looking bleak for the champion until mid-way through the third round, when he switched tactics and did something we'd never seen from him previously – wrestling.
Ngannou never even attempted a takedown in the UFC prior to this title bout. Out of nowhere, he caught one of Gane's kicks and slammed him on the canvas, which left those watching in a state of disbelief. He committed to his offensive wrestling in the championship rounds as well to earn a narrow decision win, handing Gane the first loss of his career.
#3. Glover Teixeira vs. Jiri Prochazka – UFC 275
Glover Teixeira's journey to UFC gold was a sight to behold. Nine years after signing with the UFC in 2012, the Brazilian veteran finally claimed the light heavyweight title when he dominated and finished Jan Blachowicz in Abu Dhabi last year.
In his first title defense, Teixeira took on surging contender Jiri Prochazka, who was 13 years younger than him heading into the bout. With youth on his side, Prochazka was the betting favorite going into UFC 275 in Singapore, while the 42-year-old Teixeira was a significant underdog.
The duo went on to deliver one of the best fights of the year.
The UFC 275 headliner turned out to be arguably the most entralling, back-and-forth fight of the year as both combatants showed tremendous heart and grit throughout the bout. Both light heavyweights came close to finding finishes in the first four rounds, with Glover Teixeira seemingly ahead on the scorecards heading into the final frame.
It appeared as though Teixeira was en route to earning a unanimous decision win after mounting Jiri Prochazka in the last round. If the then-champion rode out the rest of the round, he would've likely retained his title.
However, with just under 30 seconds remaining in the fight, Prochazka reversed the position and locked in a rear-naked choke, forcing a tap from Teixeira. This remains one of the latest finishes in the history of UFC title fights.
#2. Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira – UFC 281
Going into the penultimate pay-per-view of 2022, Israel Adesanya was among the most dominant champions across combat sports. 'The Last Stylebender' had already defended his middleweight strap twice in 2022, against Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier. In search of his sixth title defense overall, Adesanya locked horns with former kickboxing foe Alex Pereira at UFC 281.
Pereira held two wins over Adesanya in kickboxing, including one devastating knockout. 'Poatan' was fast-tracked up the 185-pound ladder to set up this mouthwatering striker vs. striker bout, which delivered one of the biggest shocks of the year as history repeated itself.
Alex Pereira is renowned for his fight-ending abilities. The Brazilian knockout artist is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous strikers in the world, making a matchup opposite a world class striking technician like Israel Adesanya all the more enticing.
Adesanya started the fight strong, rocking Pereira towards the end of the first round. As is the theme across this article, the champion was seemingly en route to a unanimous decision win heading into the final round.
With Adesanya backed up against the fence, Pereira unloaded with a combination of strikes, some of which caught the champion flush on the chin. 'The Last Stylebender' was clearly dazed by 'Poatan's barrage, forcing the referee to intervene, bringing Adesanya's reign to a shocking end.
#1. Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards 2 – UFC 278
After winning the UFC welterweight strap back in 2019, Kamaru Usman solidified his case for being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with every passing title defense. With two wins over Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal each, and a dominant display against Gilbert Burns, Usman emerged as the consensus best in the business.
Looking to further extend his championship reign, Usman ran it back with former foe Leon Edwards at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City.
Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards squared off for the first time way back in 2015, back when the latter was just 23 years old. Edwards had virtually no experience wrestling at the time, which showed in their initial encounter. Usman comfortably came away with a decision win on that occasion.
Many were expecting 'The Nigerian Nightmare' to dominate Edwards in the rematch as well, and they were right for the most part. Usman's smothering pressure and relentless offensive wrestling rendered 'Rocky' exhausted and dejected after the fourth round.
Edwards' coach delivered a hair-raising rallying cry in the corner heading into the final frame, trying to spark a resurgence in his fighter. With exactly a minute left in the fight, and with Usman ahead on the judges' scorecards, the English challenger uncorked a thunderous left high-kick, putting the reigning champion to sleep.