On Aug. 20, 2022 at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Leon Edwards shook up the MMA universe when he pulled a beautiful head kick out of his back pocket to crumple then pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman.
It was an upset. It was a massive moment. A new champion was crowned in front of a raucous crowd, who seemed to be on delay as their brains processed what just unfolded. The UFC 278 main event knockout was as lot of things, but regardless of which word comes to mind first “comeback” is certainly at the top of most lists.
After a successful first round, the wheels quite frankly fell off the wagon for Edwards, as Usman methodically picked him apart in Round 2, then Round 3, then Round 4, and most of Round 5 – until the improbable happened.
Only Edwards himself knows what exactly sparked the one-strike come back, but coach Dave Lovell likely played a big part. In between Round 4 and 5, Lovell gave one of the most memorable pump-up speeches in UFC history.
As the fifth round progressed, many viewers slipped into the fog of the monotonous and somewhat mundane flow of the fight. It looked like the round would coast and Usman would win. That’s particularly what commentator Daniel Cormier indicated, until his partner Jon Anik talked him down, an almost on-queue reprimand proven correct.
A left jab pump fake was followed by a textbook left high kick. Usman brought his hands down when they should’ve gone up. Edwards’ shin clattered off the then-champion’s noggin and Usman sat down before his upper body flopped over backward due to a mix of gravity and unconsciousness.
As fans tried to wrap their heads around what just transpired, Edwards celebrated upon the cage and gave his best rendition of the billy-strut. Usman, meanwhile, was tended by medical professionals, somewhat clueless to what had just transpired.
The moment will go down in history as one of the biggest and most prolific comebacks in UFC history. That’s why it’s MMA Junkie’s 2022 Comeback of the Year.
We’d be remiss not to mention a comeback, that in likely any other year would be the winner of this award.
What Matt Schnell did at UFC on ABC 3 in July was one of the most improbable “from the brink of defeat” sort of rallies in major promotional MMA history. He was pummeled, rocked, on the ropes, whatever you want to call it. Schnell was in trouble. Referee Jacob Montalvo may have initially been in the minority to let the fight continue, but he proved to right in the end.
After an absolute whooping by Su Mudaerji at USB Arena in Elmont, N.Y., Schnell slowly but surely flipped the script. The punches piled up and eventually Schnell got the fight down to the canvas. When Mudaerji briefly reversed position, Schnell locked a triangle choke and choked his opponent unconscious from the bottom.
The image of an out-cold Mudaerji covered in blood as he laid on top of Schnell’s leg is one of the best MMA Junkie captured in 2022.
With the victory, Schnell etched himself in UFC history and gained a lot of street credit as a perhaps unwarrantedly overlooked flyweight fighter.