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Men’s MMA 2022 Season Review: Upsets Disturb P4P Rankings

Seemingly Unbeatable Champs Are Felled

The year 2022 in MMA can be described with one phrase: “And New!” Over half of the world championships between the UFC, Bellator, and ONE Championship switched hands this year. And a good chunk of these title switches came via upsets against dominant champions. To say the MMA betting odds were rattled is an understatement.

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Leon Edwards of Jamaica celebrates after winning a welterweight title bout against Kamaru Usman of Nigeria during UFC 278 at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022
Leon Edwards - alex goodlett / getty images north america / getty images via afp

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Pereira and Edwards Lead Upsets

The change started from the top as both Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya, the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the world, lost their respective titles. Leon Edwards violently dethroned Usman via a swift kick to the head. The Jamaican-born Englishman came in as a 3-1 underdog and was losing the fight until the fifth round.

It was the head kick heard around the world as it snapped Usman’s three-and-a-half-year reign as champion. And just two months later, Alex Pereira did the same to Usman’s fellow Nigerian champion. Just like the Edwards-Usman fight, Pereira rallied in the fifth to KO Adesanya.

Even if Pereira was just a slight underdog (+180), his upset victory ended Adesanya’s three-year reign as champion in stunning fashion. And thanks to his victory, the men’s pound-for-pound rankings shuffled, with Alexander Volkanovski and Islam Makhachev climbing to the top two spots.

On the flip side were Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan. The two rematched in April to decide the bantamweight championship. While Sterling was the champion, he entered the fight as a +350 underdog. The much-maligned champion edged Yan via a split decision to retain his belt and silence the critics.

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Bellator and ONE Join the Upset Party

Title fight upsets were not exclusive to the UFC. Both Bellator and ONE Championship saw their fair share of underdogs capture belts. Johnny Eblen upset Gegard Mousasi in the middleweight division. Those who bet online on Eblen would have won $210 for every $100 wager. And Patricio “Pitbull” Freire reclaimed his featherweight belt from A.J. McKee as a +245 underdog.

On the Eastern side, Demetrious Johnson also won the ONE flyweight title as an underdog. It’s rare to see “Mighty Mouse” as one, but he was +115 in his rematch against Adriano Moraes. The former UFC champion was upset by Moraes in 2021 via a knee. Johnson returned the favor by blasting Moraes with a flying knee.

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The Best Male Fighters of 2022

When Pereira knocked out Adesanya to win the middleweight title, he became the second-fastest MMA fighter to capture a UFC title. Only Brock Lesnar did it faster in a much different era.

The former two-division GLORY kickboxing champion also became one of the few top-ranked fighters to go 3-0 for the year. He also starched Sean Strickland and defeated Bruno Silva prior to facing Adesanya for the title.

We also mentioned Alexander Volkanovski and Islam Makhachev. The two did not move up simply by circumstance. They both won their two fights this year and in dominant fashion. Volkanovski blew out his archnemesis, Max Holloway, just after beating up Chan Sung Jung (The Korean Zombie).

As for Makhachev, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s protege made quick work of both Bobby Green and Charles Oliveira. While he was a large online sports betting favorite, no one can argue with how easily he beat the two.

Outside of the UFC, Patricio Pitbull reclaimed his spot as the best male fighter in Bellator. He not only defeated McKee but defended his belt against Adam Borics.

Sadibou Sy also deserves a shoutout for having the most badass nickname in MMA: “The Swedish Denzel Washington” and for being one of the best fighters to bet on online. The Swede went 4-0 in 2022 with upsets over Nikolay Aleksakhin (+120) and former Bellator champion Rory MacDonald (+230).

The Best Fight of 2022…

We’ve had plenty of fights worthy of the “Fight of the Year” for 2022. But few can top the five-round madness Jiri Prochazka and Glover Teixeira put on for UFC 275. Prochazka and Teixeira went back and forth in a fight that featured everything, including a fifth-round submission from the Czech kickboxer to capture the 205-pound title.

Prochazka winning via that method in that particular round was 80-1 on the sportsbook, which would have been the best UFC bet for the year.

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