The highly unofficial awards season continues with the biggest upsets of 2022 and how we saw them on fight night ...
Are you kidding me?!
Leon Edwards is your new UFC welterweight champion, pulling victory from the jaws of defeat with just seconds remaining in the UFC 278 main event.
The challenger flashed in the first round, tripping Usman to the ground and landing in mount, transitioning to the back before spending the final minute hunting for a choke and showing he was game. For the next three-and-a-half rounds, Usman was in control.
With each subsequent round, the pressure, pace, and championship fight experience of Usman took a toll on Edwards, who struggled to land with force and conceded takedowns much easier. The challenger had a moment of success early in the fourth, securing a waist lock and looking to sink his hooks, but Usman worked free and instantly put Edwards on the deck, grinding on him from before letting loose with his hands right before the end of the round.
Usman remained on the pressure in the fifth and final round before a low blow paused the action with just under two minutes remaining. On the restart, Edwards had a little bounce in his step, and as Usman hung out at range, “Rocky” uncorked a left high kick that landed flush and instantly shut off Usman’s lights.
Edwards celebrated before the emotion washed over him, while Usman sat on the stool, wondering what went wrong.
The rivals will likely have to do it again after Usman enjoyed such a lengthy reign and controlled the majority of the fight, but Edwards will be walking into the rematch with the gold around his waist.
What a finish!
It was far from a barn burner in the UFC 274 co-main event, but after 25 minutes, Carla Esparza repeated her 2014 victory over Rose Namajunas, regaining the UFC strawweight title in the process via split decision.
Scores were 49-46, 48-47, 47-48 for Esparza.
It was a war of nerves in the opening frame, with both fighters cautious as they looked for an opening to exploit, but neither pressed the action.
Esparza made her first move early in round two, but her takedown attempt was thwarted by Namajunas, marking the only significant action in another round that didn't make the crowd too happy.
Namajunas began firing off more strikes to begin round three, Esparza responding with a brief takedown that the champion rose from immediately. What followed was a repeat of the first two rounds, as there were no sustained offensive attacks from either fighter.
In the second minute of round four, Esparza again got a takedown, but Namajunas scrambled back to her feet. There was little follow-up aggression from the champion, though, and she was grounded again with under 90 seconds to go. This time, Namajunas landed a right hand on the way up, but Esparza took it well.
There were a few exchanges in the fifth, each fighter getting a shot or two in, but there was still no sustained action, and the crowd let them know about it. Namajunas did end the bout with a takedown in the final seconds, but it was not enough to save her title.
This was an absolutely phenomenal contest that not only answered every question that lingered about Sean O’Malley, but showed once again the quality of Petr Yan, with “Sugar” earning the split decision victory.
O’Malley delivered an outstanding performance, hurting Yan in the first and cutting him with a big knee in the third, while the former champion constantly made adjustments and had long stretches where he controlled the action. It was an incredible back-and-forth where each man needed to dig deep and find ways to be successful, and each did that many times over throughout the contest.
This is a massive victory for O’Malley, who is now unbeaten in his last five and takes a gigantic step forward in the bantamweight division. As for Yan, he’s in an odd position, having gone 1-3 over his last four fights, with the victory earning him the interim title and all three of the setbacks being close, debated contests.
High drama and tremendous theatre; you couldn’t ask for more.
Kai Kara-France made his case for a shot at the flyweight title as he handed Askar Askarov his first pro loss via unanimous decision.
Scores were 29-28 across the board for Kara-France
Askarov put Kara-France on his back in the second minute, and he quickly moved to his foe's back. Kara-France rose to his feet with two minutes left, but Askarov remained on his back and worked for the rear-naked choke. The Kiwi made it out of the round, though, and in the second it was a different story, as Kara-France successfully defended Askarov's takedowns and began tagging and stunning him with big shots upstairs in the final 90 seconds of the frame.
Askarov went all-in for the takedown in the final round, but again, Kara-France defended well and was able to separate and go back to looking for the strikes that would end the fight. And though Askarov took those shots well, there were enough of them to secure the win for the birthday boy from New Zealand.
Bantamweights Raoni Barcelos and Victor Henry went to war for three rounds, trading blows for much of their 15-minute match before octagon newcomer Henry impressively won his debut via unanimous decision.
Scores were 30-27 across the board for Henry.
The first round was fought at a frantic pace, with Barcelos holding an early edge on the feet and even getting a takedown in the final minute. But once Henry got a read on his opponent's speed and timing, he started landing and hurting the Brazilian. And as the crowd roared while the local favorite surged late, Barcelos walked back to his corner bloodied and in need of that between rounds break.
The second round was just as intense as the first, with Barcelos getting a second wind and Henry still working on his first one, making it a tough frame to call as the two continued to exchange in the pocket at a high level of technical expertise.
In the third, Henry's pressure began to chip away at Barcelos' defenses, but there would be another rally from the Brazilian in the final minute before the judges got called into action.
Alex Pereira is the new UFC middleweight champion!
Down on the scorecards entering the final round, the challenger pressed forward, looking for the kind of power shot that ended their second kickboxing bout, and with Adesanya pinned on the fence, he found one. The champion was clearly rocked and Pereira swarmed, firing off power shots en masse, leaving Adesanya with nowhere to go and referee Marc Goddard no choice but to stop the fight.
Adesanya fought exceptionally well for more than 20 minutes, but Pereira’s power was too much to deal with, proving to be the ultimate difference-maker in this instant classic to close out UFC 281.
In just one year and four appearances inside the Octagon, Pereira has ascended to the top of the middleweight division, ending the impressive reign of “The Last Stylebender” in stunning, come-from-behind fashion.
Aljamain Sterling didn't win the UFC bantamweight title he way he wanted to the first time. But in his rematch with Petr Yan, he unified it with no controversy, as he won a close split decision over the interim champion in the UFC 273 co-main event.
Scores were 48-47, 48-47, 47-48 for Sterling.
Yan turned away Sterling's first takedown attempt, but the New Yorker stayed busy, landing several hard kicks to the body. All the while, Yan kept marching forward, missing wildly at times when he threw, but he did score with a left hand late.
In the second minute of round two, Sterling got the fight to the mat and quickly took Yan's back. And while he wasn't able to get the finish, it was a dominant frame for the "Funk Master."
It was a repeat in round three, as Yan was taken down again in the second minute, with Sterling quickly getting his back and controlling the action as Yan was unable to escape.
Behind on the scorecards, Yan went on the attack to start round four while also defending Sterling's takedown attempts. Two minutes in, Sterling briefly locked up a triangle choke that Yan easily got out of, ultimately settling into his foe's guard. Sterling tried to scramble out of trouble, but Yan kept the fight grounded, allowing him to take an important round.
Yan defended Sterling's takedown attempts with regularity in the first half of the fifth round, and in the second half, the Russian added to his offensive point total and was clearly the fresher fighter as he controlled the action until the horn.
Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis lived up to the hype in their co-main event, with Tuivasa stopping Houston's Lewis in the second round in a clash of heavyweight knockout artists.
The early part of the fight was spent in the clinch against the fence until referee Dan Miragliotta separated the two when the action stalled. A brief exchange led to another clinch punctuated by a takedown from Lewis. While there, Lewis landed several hard shots, but Tuivasa took them and fired back as the two rose and went back to the clinch. A Lewis takedown followed with a minute left, but the two rose quickly, staying in the clinch until the horn.
An uppercut by Lewis rattled Tuivasa in the opening minute of round two, and after a brief clinch, the two went swangin' and bangin', with a Tuivasa elbow upstairs putting Lewis down and out, with the official time of Dan Miragliotta's stoppage being 1:40 of the second stanza.
Roman Dolidze made the absolute most of his short-notice opportunity against Jack Hermansson, finishing “The Joker” in the second round to pick up his third victory of the year and fourth straight win overall.
Hermansson seemed to be in control of the fight for the most part, using his off-rhythm striking to keep Dolidze off balance for much of the contest. But when the two spilled to the canvas midway through the second, the burly Georgian attacked off his back, locking up a calf slicer before forcing Hermansson onto his belly, where he could not escape.
Dolidze kept unloaded and Hermansson had no outs, leaving referee Marc Goddard no choice but to step in and stop the fight.
This was an outstanding performance for Dolidze, who jumped in on short notice, replacing Derek Brunson, and should find his way into the Top 10 with this victory.
Marcin Tybura became the first man to defeat Alexandr Romanov on Saturday night.
The Top 15 stalwart got manhandled by Romanov in the opening round, elevated and slammed to the canvas on multiple occasions as the undefeated Moldovan heavyweight looked to get the veteran out of there early. But the Polish veteran survived the initial onslaught, and when the second round started, it was clear that Romanov was running on fumes.
Tybura controlled the next two frames by working at a methodical clip, attacking with kicks to the legs and midsection, mixing in the odd clean punch finding a home as Romanov offered very little.
With Romanov having pitched a shutout in dominating the first round, it felt like the duo were destined to battle to a draw, but only one judge awarded the unbeaten wrestler a 10-8 score in the first, resulting in Tybura rallying to secure the win.
This is a great bounce-back effort for Tybura, who rebounds from his loss last October to Alexander Volkov and has now won seven of his last eight, bouncing Romanov from the ranks of the unbeaten in the process.
Voters – Thomas Gerbasi, Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas, Cory Kamerschak, E. Spencer Kyte, Steve Latrell, McKenzie Pavacich, Gavin Porter, Zac Pacleb