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UFC 278: Usman v Edwards 2

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MMA Fighting’s 2022 Knockout of the Year: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman

Leon Edwards landed the head kick heard around the world at UFC 278
| Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Leon Edwards redefined the meaning of an all-or-nothing knockout.

This was it. UFC 278. The moment Edwards had been working toward for seven years. A UFC title shot. Recognition as the best welterweight in the world. A second crack at the indomitable Kamaru Usman.

And it was slipping away.

The talented Englishman had comported himself well enough in the first round, but from there it was all Usman as the welterweight great — our 2021 Fighter of the Year, 2021 Knockout of the Year winner, and, at the time, the No. 2 Pound-for-Pound fighter in the world — settled into a groove and began to pull away on the scorecards. Heading into Round 5, one couldn’t be blamed for tuning out mentally. Usman was no stranger to cruising to decision wins and Edwards was hardly known as a one-shot KO artist.

That narrative held until the final minute of the fight. Then Edwards detonated.

It was the perfect head kick and it came completely out of nowhere. Edwards didn’t put together a late flurry. He didn’t catch a fading Usman. If anything, it looked like the fight was trending exactly as the commentary team described, with Edwards content to lose on points and live to fight another day. When the kick landed and Usman fell, it didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t.

Edwards lost to Usman in 2015 and had to put together a 10-fight unbeaten streak to claw his way back to a title fight. He wasn’t getting another shot like this. It was either immortality for Edwards or just another title defense in Usman’s historic welterweight reign. All or nothing.

Afterward, a superb edit made the rounds, highlighting Edwards’ corner and their impassioned plea for him to salvage the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The video used music from the film Rocky, a nod to Edwards’ nickname tying him to fighting’s greatest fictional underdog.

There’s one major difference though: Rocky lost in his first shot at a world championship.

Edwards? He scored the best, biggest, and most important Knockout of the Year.

Leon Edwards landed the knockout shot of a lifetime.
MMA Fighting

2. MICHAEL CHANDLER VS. TONY FERGUSON

Whether you want it to or not, Michael Chandler’s absurd front kick knockout of Tony Ferguson at UFC 274 is guaranteed to replay in your head over and over and over and over again until the end of time.

Aesthetically speaking, there was no knockout in a high-level MMA contest more thrilling and, at the same time, more gut-wrenching to watch than Chandler leaving Ferguson face-down on the canvas.

Just look at this:

UFC 274: Oliveira vs Gaethje at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona
Tony Ferguson and Michael Chandler
Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

That’s horrifying to look at, much less think about the consequences of a human absorbing a kick like that. And the fact that this happened at Footprint Center in Phoenix? Truly macabre.

Making the scene even tougher is that Ferguson wasn’t faring badly at all in the fight and had every reason to feel good about himself after the first round. Seventeen seconds later, it was over.

By now, we’ve become used to Ferguson taking losses, but never quite like this. You could argue that “El Cucuy” was due for a brutal knockout, but again, we’d never actually seen it. This is a man who ate haymakers from Justin Gaethje for almost five full rounds, only being stopped due to a merciful referee’s call. One does not simply stop Ferguson.

That’s exactly what Chandler did though, unleashing the new frontrunner for the greatest front kick knockout in MMA history. It’s a mantle that’s difficult to hold on to — even Anderson Silva’s legendary foot-to-face finish of Vitor Belfort was usurped just two months later by Lyoto Machida crane kicking Randy Couture. But we can say with confidence that it will be a long time before Chandler’s effort is topped. If ever.

3. ZHANG WEILI VS. JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK

UFC 275: Zhang v Jedrzejczyk 2
Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 275
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s first fight was a war. Their second was a massacre.

After these two warriors put on one of the greatest fights in MMA history at UFC 248MMA Fighting’s 2020 Fight of the Year, as a matter of fact — it would have been a travesty if they never shared the cage again, and fans got their wish this past November at UFC 275. Few could have expected the rematch to live up to the non-stop action of the first meeting. Even fewer could have predicted that Zhang would knock Jedrzejczyk out the way she did.

Zhang was the sharper fighter through five minutes, but there was every reason to believe that Jedrzejczyk could find the magic that made their first fight so memorable and remind everyone that she was once the invincible queen of the strawweight division. Sure enough, Jedrzejczyk looked to push the pace in the second round, but just when it looked like she might have Zhang on the back foot, she found herself on the wrong end of a backfist that landed clean across the side of her head.

Not only did Zhang’s finishing blow definitively shut the door on her two-fight series with Jedrzejczyk, it signaled Jedrzejczyk’s swan song as she announced her retirement shortly after the fight. It was also Zhang’s first knockout in three years, and despite falling short against Rose Namajunas on two occasions — a rivalry destined for a trilogy bout — the Chinese star put herself firmly back on the path to the title, which she reclaimed with authority five months later by submitting Carla Esparza.

4. MOLLY MCCANN VS. LUANA CAROLINA

UFC Fight Night: McCann v Carolina
Molly McCann and Luana Carolina at UFC London
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

March feels like a lifetime ago now, but through the first quarter of the 2022, Molly McCann was a lock to win Knockout of the Year.

“Meatball” couldn’t have been given a better platform to continue her star turn as she became not only the first Englishwoman to compete on a UFC main card in London, she made the absolute most of the opportunity by scoring the first spinning elbow knockout ever by a female fighter in the history of the promotion.

McCann is no stranger to exciting fights, but she had yet to finish any of her first seven UFC opponents before taking on Luana Carolina. The action didn’t disappoint, and McCann made the leap into another level of notoriety when she caught Carolina in the third round with an elbow that left the Brazilian out stone cold on the canvas.

Along with close friend and fellow scouser Paddy Pimblett, McCann has become one of the most popular fighters to come out of the U.K. in recent years, and even if she never lives up to the hype and becomes a true contender, she’ll always have this shining example of spinning and winning to look back on with pride.

5. DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON VS. ADRIANO MORAES

Adriano Moraes and Demetrious Johnson
ONE Championship

How can you not be romantic about MMA?

Heading into rematch with Adriano Moraes, Demetrious Johnson’s time with ONE Championship had been a success for the most part, with a flyweight grand prix win under his belt and a fun mixed rules win over Rodtang that he can tell the kids about someday. But one thing he hadn’t done was capture ONE’s flyweight title.

“Mighty Mouse” had his chance in April 2021, but he was stopped by a brutal knee from the defending champion. It would be over a year before he and Moraes squared off again, and the larger Moraes again gave Johnson everything he could handle. However, in Round 4, Johnson came up clutch as he has so many times in the past.

Johnson rocked Moraes with a right hand and then seized the moment as only he can, tracking a stumbling Moraes to the fence before firing a pinpoint flying knee to the jaw. Before the fight was even officially waved off, Johnson was walking off.

One knee kept Johnson from reclaiming the flyweight throne, another put him back on top of the mountain that he ruled for the better part of the 2010s.

Poetry.


Here is how the voting for MMA Fighting’s 2022 KO of the Year played out.

MMA Fighting

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