Mixed martial arts is an unpredictable sport. When you think you have a sense of where the sport is going or who has control of a division, something — or someone — comes along to throw everything into chaos.
Coming into 2021, a stacked lightweight division without a champion seemed to have endless options for stars who would take the crown. Charles Oliveira was in the mix but not expected to be the man who carried the division forward. Instead, Oliveira wiped out Michael Chandler to win the belt and submitted consensus top lightweight Dustin Poirier to retain his crown.
These are the kinds of strange twists and turns a sport can take in a 12-month period. Knowing all that, the CBS Sports experts still sat down to try and make some big predictions for the upcoming year.
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Islam Makhachev will be Fighter of the Year
There’s only one Khabib Nurmagomedov. Yet, if anyone from fans to UFC brass are looking for a suitable replacement for the unbeaten and recently retired lightweight king, Islam Makhachev is as close to a comparably dominant force as one can find. The 30-year-old native of Dagestan, Russia, who has Nurmagomedov in his corner as head coach, has won nine straight fights inside the Octagon and is closing in on his first title shot. It’s not out of the question he captures UFC gold in 2022 and for him to do so given the incredible depth within the division, Makhachev would be in line for year-end honors as the best fighter of the year. His first-round submission win over Dan Hooker in October was a wakeup call for anyone who has been sleeping on Makhachev’s wild potential. And while current champion Charles Oliveira is unquestionably a dangerous finishing machine, Makhachev’s grinding style just might be the perfect Kryptonite. — Brian Campbell
At least seven new undisputed champions
2021 was a high-turnover year for new champions in UFC. Aljamain Sterling, Francis Ngannou, Rose Namajunas, Charles Oliveira, Brandon Moreno, Glover Teixeira and Julianna Pena all became new undisputed champions. We can expect that to repeat in 2022, with many vulnerable champions with elite-level challengers. Moreno and Ngannou are both in high-risk situations later in January, with Ngannou facing interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane and Moreno facing former dominant champion Deiveson Figueiredo for a third time. There’s significant depth in many divisions and there will be many championship fights throughout the year with close odds — and a handful where the champion will enter the fight as an underdog. 2022 feels like the kind of year where we’re going to see a lot of championships switching hands. — Brent Brookhouse
Glover Teixeria retires as UFC light heavyweight champion
Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira felt like a foregone conclusion. Not that Teixeira would win dominantly, that caught everyone off-guard, but that whoever emerged as champion was simply a placeholder for top contender Jiri Prochazka. Teixeira defied all expectations en route to capturing the UFC light heavyweight crown at UFC 267. He became the oldest first-time UFC champion in history at 42. Yes, Prochazka has skull-shattering power (25 of his 28 wins are by knockout, including his two UFC fights). Teixeira no longer has an iron chin, but I believe in his talent (and ground game). The old king will protect his title once before riding off into retirement and a future Hall of Fame induction. — Shakiel Mahjouri