2022 marked the 29th year of the UFC and the business has kicked into another gear since the pandemic, hosting over 40 events, 12 of which were headliners with title fights.
Here, we take a look at the main takeaways from Saturday's blockbuster UFC 282…
The future is here
The future of MMA looks in safe, but ironically dangerous, hands. The two young guns on the UFC 282 card, Raul Rosas Jr. and Cameron Saaiman, lived up to all their hype on Saturday. Both are products of Dana White's Contender Series and look set to challenge the existing status quo.
21-year-old Saaiman showed fantastic poise after being on the cusp of being disqualified for an illegal knee to come back and finish Steven Koslow on the feet in the third round. Later in the prelims, 18-year-old phenom Rosas Jr. smothered Jay Perrin in under three minutes, submitting a fighter 11 years his senior. The result saw the Mexican teenager become the youngest fighter to chalk up a 'W' in the promotion.
UFC overlord Dana White was in a generous mood, handing them both $50 000 performance bonuses. "Whatever, it's Christmas," quipped an unusually jolly White in the post-fight presser. But that money pales in comparison to their potential earnings in the years to come…
Judges stealing the spotlight, again
Unfortunately, inconsistencies in the various athletic commissions' judging panels are becoming a recurring theme. The swashbuckling, self-promoting Paddy Pimblett would surprisingly get his hand raised for an incredulous unanimous decision win over Jared Gordon who outstruck (100-97), outwrestled (3-0 takedowns) the Scouser and racked up over six minutes of control time.
Pimblett still had the audacity to argue his case for a performance bonus, further souring the situation.
What makes the confounding decision worse is that the UFC is firmly on board Pimblett's hype train all the way to the bank, so a controversial decision that benefits their budding cash cow leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. Now it's important to understand that the judges - which are appointed by each state's athletic commission - are completely separate from the UFC. However, the regularity that their decisions are contrary to several MMA experts and the court of public opinion is becoming alarming.
To this end, White has implored his fighters over and over again not to leave it up to the judges. Though it's concerning when fans are wincing less at brutal headshots and more at the scorecards.
The dull main event between Jan Blachowicz and Mogamed Ankalaev seemingly also fell victim to questionable judging with a surprising yet unsatisfying draw, which brings us to…
The light-heavyweight championship bout round-a-bout
It was rather honourable of Jiri Prochazka to vacate his belt due to shoulder surgery last month. After former champion Glover Teixeira declined a quick turnaround to fight Ankalaev for the title, next in line was another former champ, Blachowicz.
On paper, the match-up between two heavy hitters had the potential to entertain but in reality, it turned into a wrestle-fest dominated by Ankalaev after the Polish star severely compromised his legs. But when the everlasting Bruce Buffer announced the draw, the disappointment from everyone involved was palpable.
So angered was the UFC top brass that another title fight had already been secured before the fighters even left the cage. White told the media post-fight that Teixeira will fight Jamahal Hill in January for the belt. Hill subsequently appeared on the MMA Fighting show, where he told Ariel Helwani that his manager called him about the fight during the octagon interviews.
As an aside, all this brings to light just how dominant Jon Jones' reign at the top of the division was. Hill could be the fourth different light-heavyweight champion since Jones defended his belt for the last time in 2020.
A rising contender in Middleweight
Dricus du Plessis rolling over Darren Till is a real-world example of the adage "out with the old, in with the new". Just a few years ago, the Englishman was fighting for the welterweight title but that loss to Tyron Woodley has become a watershed moment, as he's lost four fights since.
But as quickly as Till's star fades, du Plessis' has risen in equal measure. The South African pinned his opponent in the opening round and hammered away, almost finishing the fight. While Till enjoyed some bright moments on the feet in the second, the bigger man executed takedown after takedown to eventually take Till's back and force a submission.
The nasty face crank marked du Plessis' fourth win and third finish since joining the UFC in 2020 and will see him move into the top ten of the middleweight division. As such, the former KSW and EFC champion will be coming for some big names in 2023...