Roundtable: Which fighter has the most to be thankful for in 2022?

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Even the most talented and hardworking athletes need a bit of luck, and there are a few elite fighters who should be grateful for the breaks they’ve had this year.

This doesn’t detract from the important victories we’ve witnessed, but some of MMA’s biggest stars have undoubtedly benefited from fortuitous circumstances that set the stage for some of the best performances of their careers. Maybe it was a lucrative matchmaking or an open path to a title shot. Maybe it was a questionable refereeing or a deciding judge. But if there’s one thing we need to keep in mind as we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, it’s that you have to be lucky to be good (and good to be lucky).

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MMA Fighting’s Jed Meshew, Damon Martin and Alexander Q. Lee choose three fighters who should be very grateful for how the cards have played out for them in 2022.

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Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Alex Pereira

Meshyu: Let’s rewind the clock 18 months.

The future 34-year-old Alex Pereira is the Glory Middleweight and Light Heavyweight Champion and the best kickboxer in the world. He had an incredible couple of years at Glory, creating an unblemished legacy in the sport. And yet, he is still far from world-famous or super-wealthy. “How is that possible?” Pereira asks. Well, because it’s kickboxing. It is not the most profitable sport in the world.

“If only I had a way to turn my incredible tendency to hurt people into big bags of money, not related to working for a criminal organization,” thinks Pereira. And then it comes to him. “Kickboxing may be a niche sport, but MMA is incredibly popular!” he exclaims. – And I even dabbled in it!

And as Pereira sits and thinks about it, he also realizes that there is a man in the UFC at this very moment who he beat twice in kickboxing. The man he knocked out the last time they fought, and the man who also happened to be world champion and the real star of the company. A man who was starting to come under fire for a dominating, uninspiring performance, and who needed a real opponent, someone who would inspire fans to shell out their hard-earned money to watch him try for the title.

“THIS IS IT!” Pereira screams. “Here’s my food stamp! I will get into MMA, I will fight Israel Adesanya and beat him again, and then I will have fame, wealth and all the most beautiful things in life! HURRAH!!!”

Look, I’m not here to tell you that this is exactly what happened with Pereira. But for all intents and purposes, it might as well be. This is a man who fought for the world middleweight title only in his eighth professional MMA fight (after losing his debut, may I add) and a year and six days after his first fight in the UFC. And he did it because he could, because the UFC ran out of interesting matches for Adesanya, because he had a story that made him compelling, and so the UFC found the perfect set of opponents to speed him up to one of the least deserved titles. footage in history (by the way, I’m not knocking him out or the UFC for this, it’s just the truth). Then, when the moment came, he capitalized.

Now he is a world champion, although he may not even be in the top ten fighters in his weight class. It’s incredible.

So, of all the people in MMA, Pereira should be the most grateful this year (other than UFC President Dana White, who always has to thank his lucky ones for fighters being too short-sighted to figure out how to get their fair share). because in 10,000 different time periods he is not a world champion. He should be thankful to the UFC for putting this fight together, thankful to Adesanya for agreeing to the fight, and thankful to the rest of the middle division for not being able to either a) beat Adesanya or b) be interesting and good at the same time. . He should be thankful again to Adesanya for fighting in a way that allowed him to knock out and win the title.

I have no idea how long Alex Pereira’s championship will last. It could be six months or six years. It wouldn’t surprise me. But for someone in their 30s with less than 10 MMA fights to their credit, suddenly becoming world champion is, well, almost miraculous.

UFC 280: Jan vs. O'Malley

Petr Yan and Sean O’Malley
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Sean O’Malley

Martin: If there was one major blow to Sean O’Malley as he became one of the most talked about fighters on the entire UFC roster, it was his level of competition.

Of his first seven wins in the promotion, only one fighter he defeated still holds a spot on the UFC roster. The rest have long been released or retired.

Two of the biggest trials of O’Malley’s career ended in a loss to Marlon “Chito” Vera, and a withdrawal after an accidental eye gouge prevented Pedro Munoz from continuing to compete at UFC 276. Touted as a future title contender and top prospect, O’U Mally simply didn’t have a resume to support those claims.

But then, out of nowhere, the upstart got the opportunity to take on former bantamweight champion Petr Yan at UFC 280. Just to be clear, O’Malley was given the right to fight the number one contender in the 135-pound division after he made an accidental a foul that stopped his last fight, which was then declared a no contest.

There was no way to climb the stairs. There was no rematch with Munoz. There was not a single victory over a rating opponent.

Instead, O’Malley faced Ian and the winner was likely in position to challenge for the title after his last fight ended due to an eye poke. Not a knockout. Not a submission. Poke in the eye.

To his credit, O’Malley was in one of the most spectacular fights of the year, walking back and forth with Jan for 15 minutes. The bantamweights put on a show. But when it was over, every journalist who received minus one in battle (according to MMA Solutions) gave the victory to Jan. However, two judges in Abu Dhabi disagreed, giving O’Malley the split decision win.

Now O’Malley is in line for a potential bantamweight title fight with reigning champion Aljamain Sterling, who sees him as a true contender for the top spot thanks to that victory over Yan. Of course, O’Malley had to find a way to beat Jan, who was a former title holder and one of the most dangerous bantamweights in the UFC. But the fact that he completely skipped the line and convinced two judges that he deserved to win that night at UFC 280 didn’t hurt the case.

With a name like O’Malley, you have to understand that luck played a part in all of this and he should definitely be grateful.

Fedor Emelianenko and Vadim Nemkov
Lucas Noonan, Bellator MMA

Vadim Nemkov

Lee: For most of 2022, Vadim Nemkov didn’t feel like a true Bellator light heavyweight champion.

Of course, he did his part to defend the title during the 205 lb Light Heavyweight Grand Prix and secured his place in the final. But much of the buzz in the tournament revolved around Corey Anderson and the sheer possibility that Anderson might just be the best light heavyweight in the world. In the end, Anderson pulled victories over Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz (although Blachowicz knocked Anderson inside the round in their rematch), two recent UFC champions, and he edged out former bi-division champion Ryan Bader by just 51 seconds.

Let’s be honest, with Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier no longer on the list, the #1 spot has been up for grabs, and while Jiri Prochazka currently tops the MMA Fighting Global rankings, Anderson is firmly established in the top 3, two spots ahead of Nemkov.

That rating looked justified when Anderson finally ended up in the cage with Nemkov in April of this year. The fight was tied on official scorecards after two rounds, but Anderson began to get the better of his wrestling game and would likely have taken the lead in the 4th round if not for an accidental clash of heads that occurred when Anderson was throwing a ground-and-pound . A cut over Nemkov’s left eye left referee Frank Trigg no choice but to stop the fight, and the judges were not asked for a technical decision as the fight did not go to the completion of three rounds. The fight was declared invalid.

Five seconds remained until the end of the third round.

Luckily, an immediate rematch was scheduled for Bellator 288. Luckily for Anderson, Nemkov was even better prepared this time around as he pounded Anderson in the legs for five rounds and blocked 15 of 15 takedown attempts.

Again, seven months ago Nemkov was probably five seconds away from seeing the end of his championship. Now this February, he is getting a high-profile and winning title defense against Yoel Romero live on CBS.

Oh, his win at the Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix also netted him a cool million.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Leon Edwards, for diving deep and finding a “Hail Mary” hit to the head.

  • Nate Diaz for going from fighting Khamzat Chimaev to fighting Tony Ferguson, which resulted in Diaz leaving the UFC victorious and with the middle finger up.

  • Aljamain Sterling, for winning a close decision in his rematch with Petr Yan, and then for being handed the one-armed T.J. Dillashaw.

  • Rose Namajunas for reclaiming Zhang Weili’s UFC flyweight title, giving her a great shot at another championship fight despite being half…


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