New contenders, resurgence of former champions, contract disputes: What to watch in each division in 2022

Mixed martial arts is an ever-evolving and rapidly changing sport. Indeed, the only thing we enjoy more than remembering one night of fighting is thinking about the next.

We can say the same of the impulse that makes us look anxiously at the calendar year that has just begun. Last year was wonderful. We enjoy it. Of course, we will not forget everything that happened. But now it’s time to talk about 2022. All due respect to what we’ve just seen, but what about everything we’re about to see?

Next, we present something that we will have present in all the categories of this sport in this New Year.

Strawweight: Marina Rodriguez

Carla Esparza will be Rose Namajunas’s next challenger for the title. However, Rodríguez will be next. Regardless of who wins when Rodriguez reaches the top, she could be a problem. In 2020, he faced Esparza, losing in a split decision that could have easily gone in his favor. He has enough skills to become a difficult opponent for Namajunas. If this division suffers a major shake-up in 2022, it will be with Rodriguez’s rise to the title.


Flyweight (women): The young promises

Valentina Shevchenko is the number 1 figure to keep in mind in this division, without a doubt, because she is an almost perfect practitioner of martial arts. But the other element to take into account is young talent, because Shevchenko needs new challenges. No member of the next generation of fighters at 125 pounds is likely to reach the top in the next 12 months; however, before us we have the rise of Maycee Barber (23 years old), Mariya Agapova (24), Miranda Maverick (24), Casey O’Neill (24) and Erin Blanchfield (22). They all need time; but they are also fantastic young prospects.


Flyweight (men): Deiveson Figueiredo

Brandon Moreno had a huge coming out party last year. He went from being the underdog in his first fight against then-champion Figuereido (a majority draw in December 2020), to being the slight underdog in the rematch (Moreno’s victory by submission to clinch the title last June ), until becoming the great favorite for the last chapter of the trilogy, which will be staged on January 22. Will Figuereido lose to Moreno again? The division will be in very good hands if Moreno successfully defends his belt, and he will have every conceivable option before him. We know that well. What we don’t know is what Figuereido would do next. So, going into this year, my biggest unknown at flyweight is how Figuereido will fare at UFC 270 and how that night’s result will affect his future at flyweight.


Bantamweight (Women): Amanda Nunes

This one is obvious: How will Nunes respond to Julianna Pena’s upset victory? That is the million dollar question. Dana White believes the rematch will be the biggest fight in Women’s Mixed Martial Arts history. Regardless of whether it’s the biggest or even close to it, it’s going to be a huge event. Nunes will be under the most pressure she has experienced in a long time. Can he get the title back? And if he does, was his December loss a mere stumble or a hint of something bigger? Perhaps it is that he has lost motivation within this sport? We will see.


Bantamweight (Men): Sean O’Malley…and Sergio Pettis-Kyoji Horiguchi 2?

“The media is starting, always hyping Sean O’Malley!” I can already hear the skeptics complaining.

But O’Malley has done his job, you know? He has dominated the competitive level he has fought at so far within the UFC, garnering a wide following. Now, it’s time to collect. He is 27 years old. He had his tenth fight as a professional less than two years ago. He hasn’t exactly fought second-stringers for 10 years. His competitive level has been appropriate. Now, it’s time to take the plunge and this sport can’t wait to see what happens.

As far as promoter Bellator MMA is concerned, the Bantamweight World Grand Prix will be in the news all year long. I will not be able to stop being aware of all the necessary details to finalize the rematch between Pettis and Horiguchi, because I would love to see it.


Featherweight (women): Any challenger for Cris Cyborg?

If you’re looking for something of interest in this division, you have to look toward Bellator — because realistically, this division doesn’t exist in the UFC beyond its champion, Nunes. We’re five years into the UFC’s leap into women’s featherweight, and the company still doesn’t even have enough 145-pound women on the roster to create a top-10 ranking. There’s nothing to talk about there.

In Bellator, the element that sparks interest is that old and familiar question: Will anyone be able to challenge Cris “Cyborg” Justino? Cat Zingano? Leah McCourt? It doesn’t seem likely in 2022, but you never know.


Featherweight (men): Giga Chikadze

We won’t have to wait long to see Chikadze for the first time in 2022, as he will be a figure in the main event of the first UFC Fight Night of the year, this Saturday against Calvin Kattar. We are talking about a great fight in which anyone could emerge as the winner. However, the curiosity factor is much higher around Chikadze. What is your true ceiling? He is 7-0 in the UFC. He comes from a major camp like Kings MMA. And it has one of the best abilities to finish combats. If he manages to stay on his feet during the fight, is there anyone he can’t beat? I can think of a lot of questions about this division that we’ll know the answers to in 2022 and the first one is “How good is Giga Chikadze?”


Lightweight: Is the era of Islam Makhachev coming?

Will this division pass from one era of Dagestani rule (Khabib Nurmagomedov) to another (Makhachev) with a short break in between? I can mention a lot of talent to watch out for in 2022 – this division is always saturated with them. But the most important thing to keep in mind at 155 pounds is Makhachev’s tentative dominance. If he’s as quality as everyone says, a multi-year title reign by a Khabib protégé is imminent. Obviously, it has to happen long before that becomes a reality… and 2022 will tell us a lot about it.


Welterweight: Khamzat Chimaev

Chimaev is one of the best fighters in the entire sport, regardless of divisions, that we need to keep in mind in 2022. I want to give credit to Leon Edwards though. He’s done more than enough to deserve his title shot and garner some attention and respect. That said, we hadn’t seen anything like Chimaev. And who knows? It could end up crashing. There are always chances of this happening. However, judging by what has been seen so far, there are no limits to what this one can achieve and all the expectation it will generate while achieving it.

In fact, I will say it: if you only pay attention to one thing in 2022, pay it to Khamzat Chimaev.


Middleweight: Israel Adesanya…to the microphone

We affirm this, assuming that Adesanya does what he knows how to do inside the Octagon. follow me If Adesanya continues to dominate his competitors in the 185-pound division (far from a given, as his difficult Feb. 12 matchup with Robert Whittaker is looming), listen to what he says. What is Adesanya trying to achieve? The man is quite the genius when it comes to creating his next match. He did an excellent job setting up fights against Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori, and he’s done an amazing job setting up fights that haven’t happened: specifically, in the cases of Jon Jones and Darren Till. If Adesanya continues to win, I’m curious to hear what he wants. Hopefully, he’ll tell us.


Light Heavyweight: Jiri Prochazka

Obviously, this division continues to feel the impact caused by Jon Jones. When you have a dominant champion for so long (light heavyweight was pretty much ruled by Jones and Daniel Cormier for 10 years), it takes some time to figure things out. Just when it looked like Jan Blachowicz was emerging to become the man to beat at 205 pounds, Glover Teixeira hit the table at 42 years old. Right now, if anyone is going to establish himself as the dominant force at light heavyweight, it will be Prochazka. It has the greatest potential to achieve it. Otherwise, this division will be volatile: upsets, bumps, belts changing hands. And if that is the case, it will serve as an incentive for a fighter of the stature of Adesanya, middleweight champion, to try to win a second belt.


Heavyweight: The Francis Ngannou Contract

The UFC and its heavyweight champion find themselves in a peculiar position heading into the title fight on January 22. Ngannou is not committed for the long term. In fact, the fight against Ciryl Gane is the last in the champion’s contract. If he loses to Gane, Ngannou immediately becomes a free agent, which is surprising. If Ngannou prevails, he will remain linked to the UFC under a champion clause, and then it will be necessary to see if both parties can agree on an extension. Whatever happens, 2022 will be a year of great definitions for Francis Ngannou’s career.