Five fighters who spoke the talk and walked the path in 2022


If anyone made a statement in 2022, it was Anatoly Malykhin. The Russian was already interim heavyweight champion when he was presented with the opportunity to take on dominant light heavyweight champion Reinier de Ridder. Both men went into the fight undefeated, with the scene set for some classic grappler vs. striker competition. De Ridder felt he could trip Malykhin and take him down on the ground, while the Russian relied on the strength of his hands and his ability on the ground should he land on his back. Coincidentally, Malykhin scored one of the biggest knockouts of the year, and with it the light heavyweight title. Great things await in 2023.

Aliakbari fulfills his potential and retires Vera

It was the fight Amir Aliakbari had wanted since arriving in one to face off against a former world champion in Brandon Vera. Iran’s Aliakbari came into the fight with some momentum after defeating Mauro Cerilli via TKO in the second round, while Vera may have been past his best but still believed a win would spark another title win could. Coincidentally, it would take Aliakbari less than four minutes to assert his dominance and pick up a landmark win – and one that places him firmly on the heavyweight title picture. The perfect end to a great year for the Middle Eastern favourite.

Saygid Izagakhmaev implemented Khabib’s hype

When you’re tipped for greatness by none other than Khabib Nurmagomedov, the weight of expectation can be heavy. However, there was no such problem for Dagestani’s lightweight Saygid Izagakhmaev. Three wins from three fights in 2022 since his ONE debut in January has seen Izagakhmaev take the division by storm. An assist, a decision and a TKO showed real diversity in his game, and one that will likely see him contend for gold in 2023 if this trajectory continues.

Jarred Brooks works his way to the strawweight title

Jarred Brooks took home the gold

Three fights, three wins and the strawweight title in his possession – 2022 has been pretty good for Jarred Brooks. Victories over Hiroba Minowa and Bokang Masunyane put Brooks on a collision course with champion Joshua Pacio. The buildup was fraught with animosity and trash talk, but when it came to fight night, Brooks set up a clinic, won a convincing decision, and ended the year as the strawweight king.

Christian Lee fulfills his dream of becoming a double champion

When we talk about family dynasties in martial arts, it’s difficult to look further than the Lees. Christian’s sister Angela was the queen of atomic weights but has so far failed to capture two divisions after losing twice trying to capture strawweight gold. This year Christian was able to accomplish the feat for himself and his family. In 2022, Christian has had two fights and won titles both times. First, he reclaimed his lightweight title from Ok Rae Yoon before becoming world champion, defeating Kiamrian Abbasov for the welterweight title – despite Abbasov breaking the weight limit. Any chance of three in 2023?

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