British MMA has experienced a meteoric rise over the past 12 months. It has never been in a better place than it is now, and it continues to grow in stature and popularity heading into the new year.
At the beginning of 2022, only two Brits had won world titles in major promotions – Michael Bisping in the UFC and Liam McGeary in Bellator – but thanks to Birmingham’s Leon Edwards and Manchester’s Brendan Loughnane, that number has doubled inside a year.
Edwards was staring down the barrel of defeat in the final round of his championship bout against the UFC’s pound for pound number one fighter Kamaru Usman. He had been outwrestled for the majority of the fight and looked to be heading towards a decision loss, until he pulled off one of the biggest shocks in the sport’s history by knocking Usman out cold with a miraculous head kick.
Commentator Joe Rogan exclaimed prematurely on the microphone that he believed the Jamaican born welterweight had resigned to defeat, but seconds before the fight was over, Rogan’s fellow commentator Jon Anik said: “That is not the cloth from which he is cut.” The pitch perfect head kick landed, and Usman tumbled to the canvas handing Edwards the belt and solidifying his status as only the second British champion in UFC history after Bisping in 2016.
Overlooked and underrated for far too long, Edwards silenced the doubters that night and demanded the respect he has always deserved.
Over in the Professional Fighters league, Brendan Loughnane defeated Bubba Jenkins to claim the featherweight title and win the 1-million-dollar prize. The resilient and determined Loughnane won four fights in 2022, the last of which being his TKO victory over Jenkins in November.
“What a time to be a British MMA fighter, and I can see more gold coming in the very, very near future,” said Loughnane.
Other honourable mentions include Ipswich’s Arnold Allen. He is unbeaten in ten UFC fights and enjoyed notable victories over Dan Hooker and Calvin Kattar this year. If his good form continues, there is no reason why he won’t be competing for the featherweight crown soon.
Tom Aspinall, another English prospect, began blitzing his way through the UFC heavyweight division and looked to be on course for a title shot, but tragically suffered a knee injury at the beginning of his fight with Curtis Blaydes in July. If he looks as devastating on his return as he did before the injury, he will once again rise to be a title contender.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Dagestan refugee Muhammad Mokaev continues to rise up the UFC flyweight rankings, winning all three of his fights this year. He will be one to watch in 2023.
The fact that the UFC came to London twice in 2022 speaks volumes about where British MMA is heading. The action-packed events saw the likes of Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann rise to stardom, and talented featherweight Nathaniel Wood also picked up another win. The electric London crowds showed the mixed martial arts community that the UK has some of the best fans in the world.
The UK scene is thriving and has never looked better, with several fighters in the UK-based promotion Cage Warriors also having successful years. With hot prospects, breakthrough stars and champions being crowned, 2022 was a year to remember, and 2023 promises to be another prosperous year for the British in mixed martial arts.