Scratch beyond the surface and UFC delivered plenty of memorable moments over the first half of 2022. What the year lacked in huge marquee matchups, it made up for with rich stories told inside and outside of the Octagon.
Gripping championship fights, the rise of what may be a generational athlete and a real-life dispute with the company are among the UFC’s biggest highlights from January through June. Everything that occurred over the first six months of 2022 set the stage for an intriguing second half.
Let’s take a look at five moments from the first half of the year that shook up the UFC.
Charles Oliveira is undeniable
Oliveira is the uncrowned king of the UFC lightweight division and it only adds to the drama of his unexpected rise. Back-and-forth fights against Michael Chandler and Dustin Poirier in 2021 had him in the running for Fighter of the Year. A thrilling win over Justin Gaethje this year erased any lingering doubts. Yes, Oliveira gets rocked and dropped, quite a bit, but his spiderweb of jiu-jitsu deters opponents from finishing the job. Add to that an unbreakable will and fight-ending power and Oliveira is must-watch programming.
Oliveira was stripped after missing weight for his lightweight title defense at UFC 274, but there was enough chaos surrounding the incident to save him face. You were hard-pressed to find a genuine threat to Khabib Nurmagomedov at the time of his retirement, but Oliveira has emerged as the other half of that dream match.
Francis Ngannou vs. UFC
Pay disputes between UFC and its fighters are nothing new but this one feels a little different. Heavyweight champion Ngannou has remained steadfast in his desire for a more equitable deal from UFC president Dana White and company. It is one of the more high-profile battles between White and a fighter and one where neither party has appeared to budge. Ngannou was on the last fight of his contract when he narrowly defeated Ciryl Gane at UFC 270. His victory was made all the more impressive by his use of wrestling, once his Achilles heel, and news that he fought with a torn MCL and injured ACL. The resolution of Ngnannou vs. UFC is unclear but it made for a fascinating start to the year.
Jiri Prochazka and Glover Teixeira inspire in an all-time classic
Teixeira vs. Prochazka was pure magic. It may not have had the finesse of Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson, but Texeira-Prochazka was a masterclass in the warrior spirit. Teixeira, the defending champion, continued to defy expectations at 42 years old. He survived Prochazka’s barrages and dragged his young opponent into deep waters. Each man knocked on Death’s door repeatedly but, with immortality at stake, refused to step through. As fatigue set in, Teixeira and Prochazka stripped weapons from each other’s arsenals. Teixeira leaned into his striking and nearly knocked out Prochazka early in Round 5. Prochazka, only 30-seconds away from losing the fight, snatched a Hail Mary submission that forced the champion to tap. Pure drama.
Khamzat Chimaev proves himself as a genuine title threat
Chimaev is the real deal. Expectations of Chimaev were understandably high. He absolutely mauled his UFC opponents in the lead-up to a fight with recent welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns. Chimaev landed 112 strikes and only absorbed one in his first four UFC fights. Chimaev and Burns beat the tar out of each other in UFC 273’s Fight of the Night. Those disappointed with how competitive the fight was are woefully ignorant of Burns’ talent. This was a steep, steep increase in competition for Chimaev. The mere fact that Chimaev won the fight with so little experience against top-flight competition bodes well for his championship campaign.
Michael Chandler delivers KO of the Year leader
Chandler’s ceiling in the UFC is still under examination but you cannot deny the man delivers the goods. His fight with Gaethje was named CBS Sports’ Fight of the Year, he earned a performance bonus in his UFC debut by knocking out Dan Hooker and putting on a thriller against Oliveira for the vacant title. That trend continued at UFC 274. Chandler bounced back from a tough first round against Tony Ferguson and delivered an all-time memorable KO. Chandler planted a picture-perfect front kick to Ferguson’s chin. The photos were difficult to look at. The impact of Chandler’s kick stretched Ferguson’s face out like a latex mask. A celebratory backflip was the cherry on top of the frontrunner for KO of the Year.