2022 Year in Review: Few highs and some huge lows result in up-and-down campaign for the UFC

2022 was a wild one for the sport of MMA, and so with the year now officially in the rear-view, MMA Fighting is taking a look back at what happened in the major promotions, where they succeeded, where they failed, and what’s in store for 2023.

UFC By The Numbers

In 2022, the UFC held 42 events, including 13 pay-per-view events. All totaled, the UFC promoted 511 fights (not including Contender Series bouts), resulting in 237 decisions, 171 knockouts, 98 submissions, three draws, one no contest, and one disqualification. Among those fights, the promotion held 19 title fights and crowned 10 new champions.

The Highs

While the UFC remains the runaway winner for the title of premier organization in MMA (despite what some other promotions may try and claim), accounting for over 82 percent of the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, 2022 was somewhat of a down year for the promotion, with few truly must-see events on its calendar. That being said, the promotion still put on more quality events than any other promotion, and had some remarkable wins last year.

For starters, the UFC returning to a traveling road schedule was sorely missed, and delivered some of the best moments of the year. His first return to London, after a three-year hiatus due to COVID, was absolutely electric and gave birth to some new stars for the promotion. It wasn’t just London though, as the UFC made its long-awaited France debut, and in general just got out of the APEX and back into the wild more with the fans. That difference could be felt watching from home.

Second, 2022 was an excellent year for the promotion from a star-building point of view. Islam Makhachev finally ascended to the lightweight title, and with Khabib Nurmagomedov still firmly in his corner, he now presents a fighter the UFC can build around for the foreseeable future. That starts with his first title defense against pound-for-pound king Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 284, which gives the UFC a massive fight early in 2023 already. Then there’s the group of highly-talented prospects who debuted in 2022 — Bo Nickal, Jailton Almeida, Jack Della Maddalena, and Muhammad Mokaev — all of whom will be fighting for titles sooner rather than later, which is good for the UFC.

Last and most importantly, though, were the moments.

As the top promotion in the sport, the UFC lives and dies with big events, and while there were fewer of those than usual, there were some stories that will live forever in MMA history. Alex Pereira came out of nowhere to take the middleweight title, Jiri Prochazka and Glover Teixeira put on one of the best fights ever, and Leon Edwards pulled off one of the greatest comebacks of all-time to win the welterweight title, which led to possibly the greatest MMA video in history (I’m re-watching that now, five months later, and it still gives me chills).

When the UFC was cooking in 2022, it was cooking with gas.

The Lows

While 2022 may not have been a banner year for the UFC, it certainly wasn’t the worst either. The promotion retained a stranglehold on the sport of MMA. Still, there were several noticeable lows for the UFC last year.

First up is UFC Vegas 65, which was not a singular instance of something terrible but more serves as the avatar for the UFC’s largest ongoing problem: Event quality is dropping across the board. No disrespect to Kennedy Nzechukwu and Ion Cutelaba, but that fight is not a main event. It’s not even really a co-main event. But because the UFC is beholden to ESPN for a certain number of shows a year so they can reach the quota, the UFC delivers those shows, even if it means rolling out something like this. The fact is that the UFC does not have enough fighters to deliver solid main and co-main events for 42-plus cards a year, particularly while they still try to stack pay-per-views to some extent. That leaves the fans with 10 or so events a year that aren’t particularly good on paper anyway, and if something goes wrong, then turn into a glorified LFA card.

This segues nicely into the second low point: The light heavyweight title situation. As things stand, the UFC light heavyweight title is vacant, and the truth is that it is vacant because the UFC keeps skimping on talent. UFC 282 was a dangerously thin card to start with, and when Jiri Prochazka was forced out with an injury, that left no title fight to headline with. So the UFC decided to crown a new champion, but in doing so, they back-doored Glover Teixeira. Ultimately, Glover came out alright when the makeshift title fight between Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev ended in a draw and the organization threw together a new fight for UFC 283, but it was still a terrible look for the UFC.

Speaking of bad looks for the UFC, remember back in September when they were shamelessly trying to get Nate Diaz murdered on television because he wanted to leave the company? Again, the MMA Gods decided to intervene, but the optics remain terrible for the UFC, and the internet does not forget.

Finally and most notably is James Krause. Krause’s student Darrick Minner got run over by Shayilan Nuerdanbieke in just 67 seconds at UFC Vegas 64, and did so while looking for all the world like he entered the fight with a preexisting injury. It became very apparent very quickly that there was something rotten in Denmark, as the gambling line shifted dramatically just hours before the event. That’s especially bad since Krause is a notorious MMA gambler who spoke openly about running a Discord where he charged users for betting tips. An investigation has been launched to look into what exactly happened here, and more is certainly coming to this story. But for the time being, confidence in betting on the UFC has been eroded, with two provinces in Canada even temporarily banning betting on UFC fights. This was an unequivocal L for the UFC.

The Future

In hindsight, 2022 may be seen as a transitional year for the UFC. Seven weight classes saw new champions crowned, some of the biggest names in the sport either exited the promotion or have a foot out the door, and a rising crop of young talent seems poised to hasten the old guard’s exit. All that means 2023 will be a fascinating year for the promotion, and that’s not factoring in the huge number of problems it is now facing.

First, the Ali Act will supposedly be reintroduced to Congress this year. Although it may not pass, or may take time to enact, the Act would fundamentally disrupt the UFC’s entire business model, and almost overnight help Bellator, the PFL, ONE Championship, and everyone else to even the playing field.

Second, of course, is that UFC President Dana White started the year off by getting caught assaulting his wife on camera. It appears that Endeavor and the UFC’s various partners are content to hope this story fades away, but the truth is, it won’t. That’s going to loom over the promotion for some time, particularly as White and company continue to move forward with Dana White’s Power Slap League. At the minimum, the PR for this will be a nightmare, and there is always the possibility that White is eventually forced to step down or step away.

Finally, the James Krause gambling saga isn’t going anywhere. It’s still too soon to have any idea how that particular knuckleball is going to break, but again we are talking about a major story in MMA. The UFC almost certainly isn’t to blame for whatever happened, but it is heavily integrated with the gambling community right now, and there’s no telling what the fallout will be.

It’s entirely possible that 2023 will define what the next 10 years look like for the UFC.

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