MMA 2022 Year in Review: Upset of the Year

Larissa Pacheco wins our Upset of the Year for 2022
Larissa Pacheco, PFL 10: Championships at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (Cooper Neill / PFL)

With 2023 quickly approaching, it’s time to hand out our annual Year-End MMA awards. Last year, for the first time in the history of this publication, we introduced an Upset of the Year category. There was little surprise when it came to our inaugural Upset of the Year, with the award going to Julianna Pena’s defeat of women’s GOAT Amanda Nunes.

2022 once again sees the focus on the women’s side of the sport, and another historic upset. Read on for our reasoning in awarding the 2022 Upset of the Year!

Jay Anderson: I’m going with Larissa Pacheco here, though to be honest, she did show she cold hang with Kayla Harrison through their first two meetings. In two prior fights, she pushed Harrison, taking her the distance both times. Finally, the third time was the charm, and she served up Kayla’s first loss while winning a million dollars in the process. Also of note: Pat Downey came into MMA with a lot of hype thanks to his wrestling pedigree. His first fight went very much according to plan. Fight number two? Not so much. Christian Echols, a +1500 underdog at times, dropped Downey like a sack of potatoes. Reminding us all that in MMA, anyone can win on any given night.

Gabriel Gonzalez: Aljamain Sterling vs Petr Yan. At least Leon Edwards had put together a ten fight win-streak going into his rematch with Kamaru Usman.  Most had said that Sterling was on borrowed time as a champion after he looked to be on his way out of the first fight with Yan before the infamous knee ended their bout in controversy.  To brilliantly execute a new strategy while also returning from a procedure on his neck gives Sterling this one in a year that saw several upsets.

Eddie Law: Leon Edwards over Kamaru Usman.

Alex Behunin: Larissa Pacheco vs. Kayla Harrison. I gave Larissa Pacheco literally 0% chance to beat Kayla Harrison and well, she shut me and everyone else up. She ended Harrison’s dominant run and took her 0. Great stuff.

Jamie Theodosi: Larissa Pacheco vs. Kayla Harrison. For Alex Pereira to come over to the highest level of MMA and win the title so soon, over someone who has been completely dominant, is nothing short of spectacular. Despite the history between them, this stands as a huge upset this year. But since we’re talking MMA as a whole, I’ll go Pacheco over Harrison.

Val Dewar: Kayla Harrison had already beaten Larissa Pacheco twice, was on the road to having big money superfights with Amanda Nunes and/or Cris Cyborg, and was around an 8-to-1 favorite over her opponent coming into the 2022 PFL Championships. However, it was Larissa Pacheco who shocked the world by pulling off the upset to win one million dollars, and not just by a flash knockout or submission, but rather by decision. With this, Pacheco showed the world she can compete with the best, even when the best is an Olympic Gold Medal judoka.

Michael Lynch: Sean O’Malley over Petr Yan. Self explanatory. Everyone thought O’Malley was getting rushed to a title then delivers against one of the best in his division.

End Result: Despite a couple of fights in the running, Larissa Pacheco was the clear favorite. There’s really no surprise here, with Harrison having previously been the most dominant talent in her weight class.