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UFC/MMA ‘Fighters of the Year’ 2022 - Top 5 List

UFC 281: Adesanya v Pereira Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

One of the downsides of mixed martial arts (MMA) is how rarely we get to see our favorite athletes compete. There are quite a few top fighters who spend fewer minutes in action over the course of a year than some NBA stars do in a single game. This makes it that much more difficult to truly stand out among their peers, but certain special martial artists can pull it off.

Here are MMAmania.com’s 2022 “Fighters of the Year” ...

5. Sergei Pavlovich

UFC Fight Night: Tuivasa v Pavlovich Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Watching injuries and travel issues keep Pavlovich out of action for all of 2020 and 2021 was agonizing. Even with that stoppage loss to Alistair Overeem, it was clear that this man was the goods, and the last thing I wanted was to see his prime slip through his fingers.

It’s fair to say he made up for lost time in 2022. Smashing Shamil Abdurakhimov hasn’t been a noteworthy accomplishment since somewhere around 2021, but bulldozing Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa in under a minute apiece is incredible no matter how you slice it. The guy’s knocking on the door of contention and he didn’t even have to use his Greco-Roman base.

He was actually supposed to fight Cyril Gane way back in 2020, and I would not at all be opposed to them putting the matchup back together.

4. Roman Dolidze

UFC Fight Night: Hermansson v Dolidze Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Three fights, three upsets, three viciously unique finishes. The guy went from putting on boring slopfests against Trevin Giles and Laureano Staropoli to mauling everyone who stood in his way.

I’m not too proud to say that he proved me wrong in a big way. I believed Kyle Daukaus, Phil Hawes and Jack Hermansson would all give him hell, but he found increasingly creative means to put the hurt on them. From a point-blank high knee to a knee-rending leglock to a punch-facilitating calf slicer, he proved he was dangerous wherever the fight goes.

He’s in for a massive test next March against Marvin Vettori, but no matter what happens, he can look at his 2022 efforts with pride.

3. Zhang Weili

UFC 281: Adesanya v Pereira Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Several of UFC’s top female fighters had rather rather quiet years; Valentina Shevchenko and Amanda Nunes fought just once each, the former narrowly edging out Taila Santos and the latter running roughshod over Julianna Pena in their rematch.

The same can’t be said for Zhang Weili, who started 2022 with a Knockout of the Year candidate against the always dangerous Joanna Jedrzejczyk. After Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas stank out the joint in their rematch, it fell to “Magnum” to breathe life back into the division, and she delivered in a big way. She dispatched Esparza with impressive efficiency, reclaiming her former title via Kadowaki Special rear naked choke.

Whether it’s a trilogy match with Rose Namajunas or a battle with Amanda Lemos, Zhang has given us plenty of reasons to tune in for her next battle.

2. (TIE) Islam Makhachev/Alexander Volkanovski

MMA-UFC-UAE-MAKHACHEV-OLIVEIRA Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images
UFC 276: Volkanovski v Holloway 3 Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Their 2022 campaigns were similar enough that I couldn’t put one above the other. Their first wins of the year surprised nobody; Makhachev ran over Bobby Green with exactly as much ease as expected, and much as I love The Korean Zombie, I’d knew from the moment his fight with Volkanovski was announced that he’d absorb grotesque amounts of damage.

Their sophomore efforts, however, were awe-inspiring and as close to flawless as you can find in this sport.

Makhachev used lateral movement and counters to neutralize Charles Oliveira’s increasingly lethal standup before flooring him with a counter and tapping UFC’s most decorated submission artist seconds later. As for Volkanovski, there really isn’t any way to describe his third victory over Max Holloway besides “complete ass-whooping.” Nobody does that to Max Holloway, and yet there Volkanovski was, knocking years of “Blessed’s” life out of his indestructible head.

I suppose whoever wins their upcoming showdown can claim sole ownership of this spot in the list.

1. Alex Pereira

UFC 281: Adesanya v Pereira Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

You could rightly argue that Pereira enjoyed some favorable matchmaking en route to his title shot, as he avoided dangerous grapplers like Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori. It’s unquestionable that he was fast-tracked to a title shot to cash in on his history with Israel Adesanya.

But man, everything he did in 2022 was impressive as hell.

That bizarrely lackluster performance against Gerald Meerschaert notwithstanding, Bruno Silva is an absolute nightmare when he’s on. A fearless, impossibly durable, and relentlessly aggressive machine who will walk through any and all fire to tear your head off. Pereira not only outclassed and out-slugged him on the feet, but he got out from underneath “Blindado” in the two takedowns he surrendered, which is no mean feat considering that Silva is one of the nastiest ground-and-pounders in the sport.

Smashing Sean Strickland was also a sight to behold. Whatever else you want to say about “Tarzan,” it takes a hell of a lot to put him down for good; the only other time it happened in the Octagon was courtesy of an Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos wheel kick. Pereira’s left hook nearly did the job by itself.

And then there was Israel Adesanya, who finally seemed to have “Poatan” all figured out before the Brazilian’s ungodly power turned things around in the most dramatic fashion possible.

Whether or not Pereira can stand up to the horde of contenders licking their chops for a crack at the new management, he did something special this year.

Poll

Who Was The Best UFC/MMA Fighter Of 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Sergei Pavlovich
    (15 votes)
  • 0%
    Roman Dolidze
    (2 votes)
  • 3%
    Zhang Weili
    (11 votes)
  • 17%
    Islam Makhachev
    (60 votes)
  • 33%
    Alexander Volkanovski
    (113 votes)
  • 37%
    Alex Pereira
    (124 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (let us know in the comments!)
    (10 votes)
335 votes total Vote Now

Honorable Mentions:

  • Marlon Vera
  • Aljamain Sterling
  • Magomed Ankalaev
  • Jim Miller
  • Christian Lee

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