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.
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. After a three year hiatus because of COVID, the UFC’s return to London was electric. It also gave rise to new stars. The UFC’s long-awaited debut in France was also made. That difference could be felt watching from home.
Second, 2022 was an excellent year for the promotion from a star-building standpoint. Islam Makhachev has finally been promoted to lightweight champion, with Khabib Nurmagomedov still in his corner. This makes him a potential fighter for the UFC. 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.
Lastly 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.
While 2022 may not have been a banner year for the UFC, it certainly wasn’t the worst either. The promotion maintained a strong grip on MMA. Despite this, the UFC saw several significant lows 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. Kennedy Nzechukwu or Ion Cutelaba are not to be disrespected, but this fight isn’t a main-event. This fight is not even a co-main. The UFC has to deliver a set number of shows per year in order to reach their quota. 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 especially good on paper anyway, and if something goes awry, then turn into a glorified LFA card.
This leads nicely to the second low point, which is the light heavyweight title. The UFC’s light heavyweight title, as it stands now, is unclaimed. This is because UFC continues to cut back on talent. UFC 282 was a perilously thin card to start with, and when Jiri Prochazka was forced out with injury, that left no title fight to headline with. The UFC elected to crown a champion but, in doing so, 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.
Remember September, when the UFC tried to murder Nate Diaz on TV because he wanted out of the organization? Again, the MMA Gods decided to intervene, but the optics remain terrible for the UFC, and the internet doesn’t forget.
Finally and most notably is James Krause. Krause’s student Darrick Minner got ran 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. This is especially concerning as Krause, a well-known MMA gambler, spoke out about operating a Discord in which he collected tips from users. A probe has been initiated to investigate what happened. More information is likely to follow. 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.
In hindsight, 2022 may be viewed as a transitional year for the UFC. New champions were crowned in seven weight classes. Some of the most prominent names in the sport have either left the promotion or are leaving the UFC. A rising pool of talent may accelerate the departure of the older guard. 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 might not be passed or take some time, this Act will fundamentally change UFC’s business model and help Bellator and the PFL and ONE Championship to level the playing field.
The second is the fact that UFC President Dana White was caught on camera assaulting his wife. 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. This will create a lot of negative publicity. There is also the possibility of White being forced to resign or leaving.
The James Krause gambling scandal is not ending. Although it is too early to know how this particular knuckleball will end, we still have a huge story to tell in MMA. Although the UFC is almost certain not to be at fault for what happened, it is closely integrated with the gambling industry right now and we don’t know what the consequences will be.
It’s entirely possible that 2023 will define what the next 10 years looks like for the UFC.