June 5, 2023
MMA Fighting's Fighter of the Year 2022: Alex Pereira

MMA Fighting’s Fighter of the Year 2022: Alex Pereira

Honestly, it still doesn’t make any sense.

Rewind to January 2022 and Alex Pereira wasn’t even in the picture. A contender only in the most bizarre sense, the Brazilian terrorist was not only unrated, he had only won two MMA fights since 2017. The most impressive scalp hanging from his MMA mantel? Andreas Michailidis, a wooden figure that 99.9 percent of fight fans couldn’t even pick out of a two-person lineup. His kickboxing exploits and past triumphs over Israel Adesanya no doubt made Pereira a fun sideshow to add to the UFC’s middleweight mix, but at 34, with a decade of in-ring mileage already on his odometer and a legion of new skills reportedly yet for him to learn what was really the best scenario?

Even if he could somehow catapult himself to the top and secure his dream match with Adesanya, there’s no way Pereira can do it in a year, right?


In truth, there is no historical comparison for this. Every previous winner of MMA Fighting’s Fighter of the Year award has already started their campaign as a main actor. Daniel Cormier (2018) and Kamaru Usman (2021) were previous UFC champions. Max Holloway (2017) already held an intermediate belt. Deiveson Figueiredo (2020) and Adesanya (2019) had already broken into the title fight. But Pereira? He started the year fighting Bruno Silva, goodness gracious. Now he’s the man with the least MMA experience to wear a UFC strap since Brock Lesnar. So yes, if there’s anyone who most defined the upside-down ride that MMA was in 2022, it’s the multisport monster pulling off the improbable at every turn.

Only through a mix of matchmaking wizardry and standup ferocity could we have gotten here in the first place. UFC matchmakers knew what to do with “Poatan,” and his brutal two-minute KO of Sean Strickland in July was the shortcut they needed to set the stage for a story unlike any other. After all, Pereira was the boogeyman. The man who sent Adesanya away from kickboxing. After her streak fell to 0-2 in Pereira’s favor, Adesanya left the sport entirely and instead rose to stardom in MMA, a dominant champion, the second most decorated middleweight in UFC history. He eclipsed Pereira, his fame eclipsing the Brazilian’s 100 times. UFC 281 was to be his capstone.

Revenge. Beating his bogeyman once and for all.

But the blood gods? You had other ideas.

In all three fights, Adesanya had the upper hand. He probably should have won a decision the first time they met. The second, a last-round Hail Mary comeback. And the third? Well, UFC 281 might as well have been a Hollywood script played out in real time. Pereira’s furious rally in the final minutes cemented one of the most unique crossover rivalries in martial arts history – here was a man chasing down an all-time driver in two different sports, emerging victorious every time. Poetic. More than a month later, it still resists belief.

There were many awards that had worthwhile debates this year. But not this one. In a year where the weird and extraordinary popped up regularly, there was never a doubt.

Alex Pereira is MMA Fighting’s 2022 Fighter of the Year.

Alex Pereira stood alone at the top of the MMA world in 2022.
MMA fights

UFC 276: Volkanovski vs. Holloway

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

To become the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world? Test.

Set up another pair of breezy title defenses? Test.

Throw your biggest rival in the rearview mirror forever? Check, check, check.

Ah yes, life is good for the towering king of MMA.

While the last 12 months may have been a year of chaos for other divisions, 2022 only served to reinforce what many in the land of the 145lb recognized to be true – when it comes to the featherweights, there’s Alexander Volkanovski and then there it all the others.

The 34-year-old champion is now 12-0 in the UFC after back-to-back title defenses against Chan Sung Jung and Max Holloway, the former of which was a cold reminder of Volkanovski’s Terminator-like efficiency and the latter of which cast doubt on the No. 1 in the featherweight division of that era. Volkanovski is now 3-0 up against Holloway and it seems like The Great is getting better every time. That should be a daunting proposition, not only for the next tier of 145-pound contenders – starting with Yair Rodriguez and Josh Emmett, who are fighting for the interim title at UFC 284 – but for anyone even vaguely in the orbit of the champion.

Because Volkanovski is no longer satisfied with just one belt.

Like previous featherweight champions before him, Volkanovski is now dreaming a little bigger and has his sights set on the 155-pound title.

Will his February shot into history be more like Conor McGregor’s coronation or Holloway’s ill-fated attempt? The next man on this list might have something to say about it.

UFC 280: Oliveira vs. Makhachev

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

They tried to warn us.

Khabib Nurmagomedov. Javier Mendez. Daniel Kormier. For years they all tried to warn us. These AKA guys swore up and down: The second Dagestani dynasty? It was inevitable.

Yes, Islam Makhachev has been hailed as the future of the lightweight division from the moment he first set foot in the UFC octagon. The last man standing. The heir to the greatest lightweight of all time. The only heir to father’s plan. They were right of course, all the people who promised this was coming. Yet even the most steadfast of believers could not foresee the ease with which the inevitability would materialize.

Because the Makhachev era came just as the Nurmagomedov era went. Consider this: Charles Oliveira has scored more significant hits than anyone against Makhachev at UFC 280 in the last seven years in the UFC – and that sounds impressive until you realize that Oliveira’s record-breaking tally was just 19. As dominant as frightening how unworldly Makhachev’s run to the belt really was.

Lightweight is a division of volatility like few others, to the point where three title defenses remain the UFC record. Will anyone be shocked if Makhachev crosses this bridge with ease? He’s already more than a 3-to-1 favorite at UFC 284 over the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport (and the #2 fighter on this list), enemy bloody country.

Dagestan’s first reign of the title may have been cut short. But with Makhachev just 31 years old and seemingly in his prime, the second may very well make up for lost time.


Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images

2021 was without a doubt the worst year in the career of China’s first UFC champion. Zhang Weili’s back-to-back defeats to Rose Namajunas – the first thanks to a brutal 78-second knockout, the second after a five-round war – signaled a quick end to a reign that many thought could define the 115-pound debate . Not only had Weili never finished before losing the belt, she hadn’t even experienced a loss since making her pro debut.

But if 2021 was rock bottom for China’s 33-year-old powerhouse, the past 12 months have been just what the doctor ordered.

From the worst campaign of her career to the best, Weili established herself as one of the most dominant forces in women’s mixed martial arts in 2022. Their spinning backfist knockout, which Joanna Jedrzejczyk retired, still stands as one of the most brutal highlights of a brutal year, a grisly capstone of a rivalry that included Fight of 2020 (aka one of the greatest fights of all time). From then on there was no doubt.

With Weili strolling into UFC 281 as the overwhelming betting favorite over a reigning champion, it was a foregone conclusion that the belt would return to China, but somehow Weili’s six-minute bout against Carla Esparza exceeded expectations. Heck, that’s the same woman Francis Ngannou lifted over her shoulder like a toddler. Is it really any more of a surprise when she demolishes a two-time champion as effortlessly as a lazy Sunday stroll?

Nowhere else in the UFC is there a rock-paper-scissors dynamic more evident than in strawweight, but if there’s anyone who will break this cycle, it might be Zhang Weili.

UFC 278: Usman vs. Edwards 2

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

If Leon Edwards had fought more than once this year, that would very likely have been his award to lose. Still, it’s telling enough that pride in Birmingham’s lone performance in 2022 was enough to land him on this list – a harrowing, history-changing, out-of-nowhere excitement about one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighters. Even the movies couldn’t have come up with a more dramatic twist than the Last Chance Ave Mary, which took down Kamaru Usman and transformed an ill-fated welterweight into one of the most inspiring UFC champions of recent years.

Maybe it had to be like this? Think who Edwards was before UFC 278. He was the Milton Waddams of the 170-pound division. The afterthought. The Punchline. The unfortunate Everyman who somehow seemed to lose more from a win than others from a loss. Edwards, a much-abused prankster who had to pull together a streak of 10 unbeaten fights to even start sniffing the conversation, went down a Sysphyian path, ridiculed and written off by the MMA elite, a contender with zero cache and fewer Respect always passes for retreaded and sexier names.

In the end, however, he was the champion whose confidence has never wavered. And that belief carried him just as the world had written him off. With 56 seconds on the clock and defeat staring him straight in the eye, “Rocky” gathered his strength for one last fight and washed away the frustration of a career by toppling the reigning Fighter of the Year in 2021 and earning a “1st Place.” ‘ in Usman’s record-breaking 15-1 UFC run. Welterweight now goes through Leon Edwards. Maybe it’s always been like this and we just didn’t realize it.

Still, one question remains: was it a coincidence or is it just more of the same old irreverence?

The answer lies in a rubber match that’s bound to be one of the biggest fights of 2023.

Here’s how MMA Fighting’s 2022 Fighter of the Year vote went.

MMA fights


#MMA #Fightings #Fighter #Year #Alex #Pereira

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *