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The 2022 MMA World Cup: Can Brazil repeat as champions?

World Cup 2022
MMA Fighting

This weekend marks the start of the biggest sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup. For the next month, 32 nations will square off to determine bragging rights for the next four years, with billions of people watching (not ONE Championship’s “billions,” actual billions of people). But, on the precipice of this massive global event, we are once again faced with the question: what if instead of kicking a ball, countries faced off to determine who can throw down the best?

Four years ago, MMA Fighting answered this question with the inaugural World Cup of MMA, and now we seek to do so again. In 2018, Brazil — anchored by Amanda Nunes, Jose Aldo, and a host of top 10 fighters — ran the table on their way to hoisting the trophy, but there’s one major difference this time around: the United States of America.

As per the previous rules, the World Cup of MMA runs side-by-side with the FIFA World Cup, meaning only teams qualified for the latter are entered into the former. In 2018, the United States missed the tournament, but this time around, the Yanks are here, and they’re fielding an excellent team. Brazil is still one of the top-to-bottom deepest squads in the field though, so the Seleção are very much a live to run it back.

A reminder on how this all works: Football teams start with 11 players, so we pick 11 fighters — one for each of the premier weight classes in the sport — to represent each country in an MMA tournament. We then play out the various matches and see what country takes home the gold. Not every country has fighters in every weight class, but we did the best we could to fill out teams, taking a few liberties but also only using people who have fought somewhat recently. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do, donkey.

Special shoutout to Tapology, without whom this endeavor would be nearly impossible.


GROUP A

Group A - 2022

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the World Cup hosts don’t have a team. Well, sadly, there isn’t much that can be done about that. There are only two Qatari fights even in Tapology and neither have fought remotely recently. Also, given the myriad issues with Qatar in general, it probably wouldn’t play host to a tournament featuring women fighting, but oh well. They’re bounced out of the group immediately.

As for the remaining three teams, the Dutch squad cruises in the group phase, with a strong core of Alistair Overeem, Gegard Mousasi, and Reinier de Ridder, backed by some solid regional talent. Ecuador, meanwhile, is able to edge past Senegal on the strength of Marlon Vera and simply fielding a full team.

Results: Netherlands wins the group. Ecuador advances.

Best Fights: Michael Morales vs. Brian Hooi is a low key banger but the marquee fight here is Alistair Overeem vs. Reug Reug.

UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Volkov Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

GROUP B

Good gracious, the Group of Death is fierce this time around.

In 2018, Iran, with a worse team, won their group and made it to the quarterfinals. This time around, Iran fails to win a single match. They really need to start turning their deep wells of wrestling talent into more MMA fighters.

As expected, the United States comes out hot, showing why they are the tournament favorites this time around with strong performances from Aljamain Sterling, Demetrious Johnson, and all three women. Meanwhile, England has to fight off a scare from Wales, but their core of Leon Edwards, Arnold Allen, Tom Aspinall, and Muhammad Mokaev are a tough out for any country.

Shout out to Wales though, who would have advanced to the knockout stage in practically any other group.

Results: The United States win the group. England advances.

Best Fights: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman 3, Curtis Blaydes vs. Tom Aspinall 2, Max Holloway vs. Arnold Allen, Beneil Dariush vs. Dustin Poirier, Jared Cannonier vs. Darren Till, Molly McCann vs. Katlyn Chookagian, Brett Johns vs. Davey Grant.

UFC 280: Sterling v Dillashaw Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

GROUP C

Group C - 2022

Poland was the darling team of 2018, making it all the way to the finals before falling to the juggernaut Brazilian squad, and the Biało-czerwoni look to be at it again, returning six of their fighters from the last time out, including getting Joanna Jedrzejczyk to return from her recent retirement for one final run with the red and white. Meanwhile, Argentina cannot keep up with Mexico’s trifecta of women pair with top 5 fighters in Yair Rodriguez and Brandon Moreno.

Results: Poland wins the group. Mexico advances.

Best Fights: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Alexa Grasso, Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Lupita Godinez, Jan Blachowicz vs. Laureano Staropoli.

UFC 275: Official And Ceremonial Weigh-Ins Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/NurPhoto via Getty Images

GROUP D

Group D - 2022

After a disappointing showing in 2018 where they fell short against the juggernaut Russian team, Australia is back and once again has designs on a top 4 finish. Led by the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, Alexander Volkanovski, the Aussies are a deep roster that’s able to outlast France to win the group stage. The French roster is notable less experienced than in 2018 but they still have enough juice to survive strong showings from Denmark and the feisty Tunisia.

Results: Australia wins the group. France advances.

Best Fights: Francis Ngannou vs. Tai Tuivasa, Robert Whittaker vs. Nassourdine Imavov, Jake Matthews vs. Nicolas Dalby, Mads Burnell vs. Salahdine Parnasse

UFC 284 Media Opportunity Photo by Paul Kane/Zuffa LLC

GROUP E

One of the more competitive groups in the tournament this time around, Japan is still the class of Group E, returning six of their 2018 starters including Kyoji Horiguchi, Kleber Koike Erbest, and Mizuki Inoue. Costa Rica, sadly, does not field enough of a team to be truly competitive, but Germany and Spain go hammer and tongs for the second position in the group, with Spain just edging the contest thanks to big performances from Juan Espino and Joel Alvarez.

Results: Japan wins the group. Spain advances.

Best Fights: Daniel Weichel vs. Kleber Koike Erbst, Satoshi Ishii vs. Juan Espino, Rin Nakai vs. Mandy Bohm

RIZIN Fighting World Grand-Prix 2017 2nd Round Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

GROUP F

Group F - 2022

Like the United States, Canada missed out on the 2018 World Cup but now Georges St-Pierre’s team (he’s the coach) figures to be one of the tournament favorites, breezing through the group stages to secure their position in the round of 16. The battle for second position is a torrid one in this group, as Belgium, Croatia and Morocco all have clear weaknesses to overcome. Ultimately, Roberto Soldic and company are able to scrape past the young Belgium squad and the shallow Morocco group.

Results: Canada wins the group. Croatia advances.

Best Fights: Roberto Soldic vs. Mike Malott, Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Ottman Azaitar, Sebastian Di Franco vs. Hakeem Dawodu

UFC Fight Night: Gane v Tuivasa Ceremonial Weigh-in Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

GROUP G

Group G - 2022

Once again, Brazil is an absolute powerhouse. Serbia and Switzerland field respectable teams this year but they are wheat before the scythe in this group. Not only does Brazil win the group, but they go a perfect 33-0, sending a message to everyone else in the tournament that they intend to repeat.

The battle for second in this group is the real story with Cameroon giving a good accounting of themselves despite being short-handed. If Francis Ngannou had chosen to represent Cameroon instead of France, perhaps they’d have had a better chance here but instead they don’t field enough bodies to compete with Serbia and Switzerland, who go head to head for second with Serbia edging it out thanks to their strong heavy personnel grouping of Darko Stosic, Aleksandar Rakic, and Dusko Todorovic.

Results: Brazil wins the group. Serbia advances.

Best Fights: Glover Teixeira vs. Aleksandar Rakic, Aleksandar Rakic vs. Volkan Oezdemir, Volkan Oezdemir vs. Glover Teixeira, Charles Oliveira vs. Uros Medic

UFC 282 Media Day Face Off Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

GROUP H

Group H - 2022

In 2018, South Korea just missed advancing from the Group of Death but this time around they have a much easier path, and a deeper team to work with. Chan Sung Jung, Kyung Ho Kang, and Jun Yong Park anchor a well-rounded squad that advances without too much trouble.

Unfortunately, the battle for second isn’t nearly as competitive in this group as in others, with Ghana missing too many spots to compete, and Portugal featuring enough top end fighters to dispatch and Uruguay team that is just starting to develop on the international stage.

Results: South Korea wins the group. Portugal advances.

Best Fights: Andre Fialho vs. Rae Yoon Ok, Pedro Carvalho vs. Korean Zombie, Manel Kape vs. Hyun Sung Park, Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Da Un Jung

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Well, that’s it for the group stage. What takes the World Cup two weeks, we managed in just under 1500 words. Now we’re onto the knockout stage. Here’s the bracket.


ROUND OF 16

Netherlands vs. England

We knew England was fielding a strong team but this matchup really showed the Brits’ class. The Netherlands have a strong history of combat sport success and are led by some legitimate legends, but they’re too thin to put up much of a fight against the red coats. Gegard Mousasi, Reinier de Ridder, Germaine de Randamie, and Isis Verbeek are able to pull out wins, but it’s not nearly enough.

Winner: England wins a straightforward 7-4 battle.

Poland vs. France

France only returned four fighters from their 2018 squad but the influx of youth proves to be a huge boon to Les Bleus as the aging Poland crew just can’t quite keep pace. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jan Blachowicz, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Mateusz Gamrot do their part, but Francis Ngannou and company continue to roll.

Winner: France wins a fun scrap with Poland, 7-4.

Japan vs. Croatia

Good on Croatia for making it out of a competitive group, but Mirko CroCop’s squad is out of its depth here. Japan is simply too deep for the regional talent of Croatia to put up much fight. Roberto Soldic and Ivan Erslan try their best, but they are simply overmatched against Kyoji Horiguchi and the rest of the Japanese team.

Winner: Japan routs Croatia, 9-2.

Brazil vs. Portugal

Can anyone stop Brazil? Portugal certainly could not. With three current UFC champions, one Bellator champion, and three former champs, Brazil brings unparalleled firepower that Portugal has no chance to keeping pace with. Try as they might, Manel Kape and Andre Fialho are washed away in the flood of the Seleção.

Winner: Brazil dominates Portugal, 11-0.

United States vs. Ecuador

Not to give away the game here, but barring a huge upset, it looks like we’re headed for a United States vs. Brazil finals. The U.S. didn’t have as easy of a time in their group stage as Brazil did but a team that features nine fighters in the pound-for-pound lists figures to be monstrously difficult to defeat. Ecuador finds that out the hard way as even their team captain, Marlon Vera, falls to UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling.

Winner: United States blanks Ecuador, 11-0.

Australia vs. Mexico

Now this is the kind of contest we came for!

Australia gets out to an early lead, sweeping the heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, and welterweight categories with ease as Mexico doesn’t have much high end talent in those weight classes. Jamie Mullarkey then edges out a close battle with Rafa Garcia, meaning Australia only needs one more win to clinch it, but that’s when the Mexican team starts battling back. Brandon Moreno, Cristian Quiñonez, Irene Aldana, Alexa Grasso, and Lupita Godinez surge to wins, tying the score and putting everything down to the featherweight clash between Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez. In the end, the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world does his part and keeps Oz in it after the matchup of the tournament thus far.

Winner: Australia survives Mexico, 6-5.

Canada vs. Spain

Simply put, Spain is not a deep enough team to make a run at the World Cup, at least not yet. Juan Espino and Joel Alvarez are quality pieces for any squad with big goals, but their lack of depth and experience, particularly in the women’s divisions, is ruinous. Canada is the mid-2000’s Detroit Pistons of this thing — solid all around, without any standout stars — and that’s more than enough to make it to the quarterfinals.

Winner: Canada takes a convincing victory over Spain, 9-2.

South Korea vs. Serbia

The final Round of 16 matchup ends up being less fun than we might have hoped. While Serbia has some big names in the lineup, their lack of women is a crippling weakness against the well-rounded South Koreans. The women’s divisions spot South Korea three points, and Korean Zombie, Hyun Sung Park, and Rae Yoon Ok take care of the rest.

Winner: South Korea eases into the quarterfinals with an 8-3 victory over Serbia.

UFC 277: Pena v Nunes 2 Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

QUARTERFINALS

Interesting to note that there are an even split of teams returning to the quarterfinals from 2018, and new groups making the Round of 8. Australia, Brazil, England, and France were all here the last time around, while Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the United States are first timers.

England vs. France

Now that we’re getting down to it, some incredible fights are really starting to come out way. Francis Ngannou vs. Tom Aspinall? Hell yeah. Nassourdine Imavov vs. Darren Till? Let’s go! In the end, Ngannou, Imavov, Oumar Sy, and Manon Fiorot should get wins for France, while Leon Edwards, Arnold Allen, Muhammad Mokaev, and Melissa Dixon handle business for England. That leaves Paddy Pimblett vs. Mansour Barnaoui, Davey Grant vs. Taylor Lapilus, and Lanchana Green vs. Stephanie Page to sort out this quarterfinal, and in the end, the French team narrowly gets the job done.

Winner: France advances past England, 6-5.

Japan vs. Brazil

I’ll be honest, Brazil is looking pretty unstoppable at this point. Japan is a solid, well-rounded team that has been in top form throughout this tournament, cruising past the group stage and then Croatia. And Brazil stomps them.

Amanda Nunes, Taila Santos, and Jessica Andrade build up an early lead for Brazil, and while the featherweight, bantamweight, and flyweight bouts are all competitive, it simply does not matter as the rest of the Brazilian team leave no doubt as to who is the superior side.

Winner: Brazil flattens Japan, 11-0.

United States vs. Australia

As has been the case all tournament, the United States is looking just as good as predicted coming into it, making quick work of what has been a very strong Australian side up to this point. Alexander Volkanovski is forced to dispatch Max Holloway yet again, and Robert Whittaker does the same to Jared Cannonier, but beyond that the Australians simply can’t keep pace with Kamaru Usman, Dustin Poirier, and the rest of the red, white, and blue.

Winner: The United States rolls past Australia, 9-2.

Canada vs. South Korea

Quite possibly the most competitive matchup of the entire tournament. Both Canada and South Korea field deep teams that lack true superstars, meaning that just about every one of the 11 fights here are toss-ups. This matchup ultimately comes down to the featherweight scrap between Hakeem Dawodu and the Chan Sung Jung, and given the circumstances, it’s impossible to pick against Korean Zombie here.

Winner: South Korea advances, 6-5.

UFC 278: Usman v Edwards 2 Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

SEMIFINALS

France vs. Brazil

Brazil is a threshing machine with bad intentions.

France is as hard-nosed and scrappy of a team as it comes, lead by the heavyweight champion of the world and featuring elite talent up and down the roster, and still, they are but kites riding a hurricane in the face of the mighty Brazil. No team has had an answer for the trifecta of Amanda Nunes, Taila Santos, and Jessica Andrade that’s run roughshod over this tournament, and despite their best efforts, the French middle line of Mansour Barnaoui, Salahdine Parnasse, and Taylor Lapilus couldn’t fend off the dominant Brazilian center group. If there’s such a thing as a moral victory here, Ngannou does become the first person to score against Brazil, but Les Bleus can’t manage anything more than that.

Winner: Brazil demolishes France, 10-1.

United States vs. South Korea

The key to any single-elimination tournament is making sure you’re playing your best when it gets down to the wire, and the United States, despite having some competitive scraps earlier are peaking right now. South Korea overachieved to get this far, but the Cinderella run has to end for Korean Zombie and company as their plucky group of solid fighters doesn’t have much to offer the American team rounding into form. Still, good on you South Korea for making it to the semifinals.

Winner: The United States cruises past South Korea, 11-0.

UFC 269 Weigh-in Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

THE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH

This is it. The matchup we’ve all been waiting for. When the World Cup was announced this year, and both Brazil and the United States qualified, everyone hoped this would be the matchup we’d get in the finals. The two pre-eminent nations in combat sports (particularly with Russia on the sidelines this year) battling it out for MMA supremacy. Who will hoist the Cup and claim everlasting glory?

Well, as it so happens, four of these fights have already happened before (one of them twice). Amanda Nunes and Julianna Peña split fights, with Nunes winning their most recent encounter, Charles Oliveira beat Dustin Poirier in December, Kamaru Usman beat Gilbert Burns at UFC 258, and Corey Anderson stymied Glover Teixeira back in 2018. So factoring in those outcomes, we’re 2-2, with seven fights to go.

From there, it seems fair to say that Curtis Blaydes should beat Jailton Almeida, Taila Santos should beat Katlyn Chookagian, Aljamain Sterling probably beats Jose Aldo, and Jessica Andrade would thump Carla Esparza, bringing things to 4-4. That leaves the flyweight, featherweight, and middleweight matchups.

Alex Pereira, as UFC middleweight champion, gets benefit of the doubt when it comes to the 185-pound weight class, and Max Holloway, as the clearly superior fighter, gets the same when it comes to 145 pounds. Meaning the entire World Cup comes down to Demetrious Johnson, the greatest flyweight of all time, facing off with the current UFC flyweight champion. And given that Johnson is the current top-ranked flyweight in the world, there’s really no choice at all.

WINNER: The United States wins the 2022 MMA World Cup, 6-5 over reigning champions Brazil!!!!!!

UFC Fight Night: Johnson v Reis Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

As I said last time, this obviously is not an exact science. Liberties were taken, snap judgments were made, and this didn’t factor in things like injuries, fouls, or just the general wackiness of MMA. Still, a lot of time and energy was spent trying to create the best, most accurate teams and outcomes possible — and when everything is said and done, the outcome feels right. Both the United States and Brazil are the two dominant MMA countries in the world at the moment, and it’s a coin flip as to who has the upper hand at any given moment. I will say though, things could get interesting in four years if the U.S., Brazil, and Russia all make it in.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to hit me up on Twitter (assuming it’s still working), and for the sake of thoroughness, France soundly beats South Korea, 7-4, for third place.

Thanks for reading, love you guys.

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