If there's an argument to be made that nothing in pro sports is quite as unpredictable as elite MMA, look no further than the UFC in 2022 as a proof of concept.
Not only did major upsets feel like they were becoming the norm at times, even at the title level, the race for knockout of the year was as competitive as trying to determine which firework on the 4th of July was more vibrant and explosive than the one just before it.
Thankfully, our CBS Sports expert MMA panel was able to settle the difference after a memorable year of spinning knockouts and emotional rallies. Let's take a closer look at the results.
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Winner: Leon Edwards def. Kamaru Usman, UFC 278
It was a real-life "Rocky" story. Edwards, who was criminally underrated despite an 11-fight unbeaten streak dating back to his decision loss to Usman in 2015, avenged the defeat in as dramatic a way as possible in August in Salt Lake City. Edwards wasn't quite lifeless as he entered Round 5 trailing big on the scorecards against Usman, even after the Jamaican-born welterweight, who now calls England home, stunned the defending champion by becoming the first fighter to take him down in the opening round. But no one could've predicted the madness that would take place with just 56 seconds to go in the fight. Edwards, whose corner had delivered to him a motivational speech for the ages before the start of Round 5, kept a note in his mind from watching tape of how often Usman ducked his head to the right to avoid the jab. And straight out of a Hollywood script, just moments after UFC play-by-play announcer Jon Anik uttered a now legendary quote about Edwards' refusal to quit, Usman leaned right and a head kick was waiting. The knockout was made extra sweet by the fact that mostly everyone had dismissed Edwards' chances of winning in any form, especially considering Usman, regarded universally at the time as the pound-for-pound king, needed one more victory to tie Anderson Silva's UFC record of 16 consecutive victories. Whether or not they fight a third time in 2023 or regardless of whether Edwards ever defends his title a single time, one can assume a lifelong victory lap is ahead of him after one of the most inspiring moments in the sport's history. Edwards' emotional post-fight interview, which featured him exclaiming "Look at me now!" to the delight of the crowd, was merely icing on the cake.
Michael Chandler def. Tony Ferguson, UFC 274
Entering this May lightweight duel in Phoenix, the all-action Chandler was riding a two-fight losing skid despite nearly capturing the lightweight title in a dramatic war with Charles Oliveira. But Chandler didn't just deliver a much-needed victory to halt the skid against the always violent Ferguson, he delivered a memorable front-kick knockout to the face in the process. The loss would be the fourth straight in a losing skid that has now reached five for Ferguson, a former interim titleholder. But the first round didn't look like it was headed that way after a resurgent Ferguson pieced Chandler up from the outside and visibly hurt him. Chandler was forced to shoot for a takedown late in the round to put out the fire. His revenge in Round 2, however, was best served cold. Just 17 seconds into the frame, Chandler's right leg shot up unannounced and met the chin of Ferguson. The face-first fall was briefly a scary one as Ferguson laid motionless for an extended period of time.
Weili Zhang def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, UFC 275
The first time this pair of current and former strawweight champions met in 2020, they delivered the greatest action fight in women's MMA history. Their June rematch in Singapore had high hopes for a second helping, even with Zhang having lost her title the previous year in a pair of defeats to Rose Namajunas. The fight shaped up to be just that early as Jedrzejczyk, who entered in the self-proclaimed best shape of her career, dropped Zhang with a leg kick before the native of China used her evolving grappling skills to take the fight to the floor. The wild opening frame saw both fighters land big strikes before the final horn, but it was Zhang who quickly took control in Round 2. After slowing Jedrzejczyk down with body shots and tagging her with pinpoint strikes from the outside, Zhang uncorked a spinning backfist at the exact moment Jedrzejczyk stepped forward. The result was as spectacular a fall as any knockout has produced in recent years as Jedrzejczyk's momentum sent her diving face-first to the canvas. Jedrzejczyk would only add to the memorable nature of both the fight and their rivalry by humbly retiring during her post-fight interview. Zhang, meanwhile, used the victory as momentum to help her regain the title to close the year by submitting two-time champion Carla Esparza at UFC 281.
Others receiving votes: Marlon Vera def. Dominick Cruz, Shavkat Rahmonov def. Carlston Harris, Jamahal Hill def. Johnny Walker, Molly McCann def. Luanna Carolina