In a year filled with unpredictability, where champions fell short and heavy favorites were upended, there was one constant: Alexander Volkanovski.
The reigning and defending UFC featherweight champion solidified his spot as The Sporting News Men’s MMA Fighter of the Year with a pair of dominant victories as he watched his fellow UFC titleholders either relinquish their championship, or struggle to hang on against the opposition.
Kamaru Usman, Israel Adesanya, Charles Oliveira, Brandon Moreno, Glover Teixeira, Julianna Pena, Rose Namajunas, and Carla Esparza all lost their titles in 2022. But Volkanovski put a stranglehold on the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world conversation as he refused to join his peers as “former” champions.
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The Australian opened his 2022 campaign by running roughshod over Chan Sung Jung with a blistering performance that ended with a fourth-round knockout against “The Korean Zombie” in April. But that was just an appetizer, as Volkanovski put a definitive end to his rivalry with Max Holloway by pitching a shutout against the man who had long been recognized as the greatest featherweight fighter in UFC history.
Not only did Volkanovski improve to 3-0 against Holloway, but he did it by exclusively using his standup to batter the former champion with speed and pinpoint accuracy. By effectively cleaning out the division, Volkanovski will enter 2023 aiming to become a two-division champion when he faces lightweight titleholder — and Men’s MMA Fighter of the Year runner-up — Islam Makhachev. Should he end Makhachev’s run, it will be hard to deny Volkanovski repeating as the winner next year.
Runner Up: Islam Makhachev
Khabib Nurmagomedov told everyone who would listen that his pupil would one day be recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
That day appears to be coming.
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Islam Makhachev steamrolled Bobby Green on short notice after Beneil Dariush was forced out with an injury and put himself in a position to challenge Charles Oliveira for the lightweight title. It was supposed to be a very competitive fight. It ended up being anything but that.
Makhachev dominated the champion, ending Oliveira’s 11-fight win streak by submitting the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in the second round at UFC 280.
In 2023 he’ll defend his title against Volkanovski, with the opportunity to make good on his mentor’s promise.
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