Title fights, rematches and slugfests: The must-see MMA fights still to watch in 2022

Ryan Clark can't believe Daniel Cormier's top fighters list (0:57)

Ryan Clark voices his dismay at Daniel Cormier's top-five fighters list. (0:57)

The MMA calendar is at its home stretch for the year, with just four UFC events remaining in 2022, along with marquee fight cards in Bellator, ONE Championship and PFL.

It would be easy to overlook these next seven weeks, considering we're fresh off one of the best pay-per-view events of the year in UFC 281. Plus, the first quarter of 2023 is already coming together with anticipated international title fights between Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski and Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman.

But let's not put a bow on 2022 just yet. There are plenty of good storylines to keep firmly on your radar before switching to 2023. Brett Okamoto outlines his top 10 fights to watch on the UFC, while Jeff Wagenheim highlights five additional bouts to pay attention to outside the Octagon.

Ranking the 10 best UFC fights still to watch in 2022

Double Shoeyvasa alert! Tai Tuivasa celebrates after stunning win

Tai Tuivasa does a pair of shoeys after his epic knockout win vs. Derrick Lewis at UFC 271.

10. Tracy Cortez vs. Amanda Ribas, flyweight

UFC Fight Night, Dec. 3

This fight will tell us a lot about these two. They've each shown a ton of potential. Ribas is 29, with a UFC record of 5-2. She holds a notable win over Mackenzie Dern, and is coming off an extremely competitive split decision loss against a great litmus test in Katlyn Chookagian. Cortez, 28, is 4-0 in the UFC, and this is a step up in competition.

Both have guaranteed futures in this weight class, but as far as inserting themselves into a title conversation, this is a massive fight. We need to see potential turn into performance in this fight. A dominant win by either would set up a possible big fight with a ranked opponent at the beginning of next year. They both have built solid foundations, and now it's time to take the next step with a signature win.

9. Tai Tuivasa vs. Sergei Pavlovich, heavyweight

UFC Fight Night, Dec. 3

As Tuivasa would say, 'Let's get to bangin.'" If you're in the mood for just pure, slobber-knocking heavyweight action, this is the one. My interest in this goes a touch further, though, and it's on the Tuivasa side. The last time he saw his momentum stall was in 2018. He had built a good run with wins in his first three UFC appearances, but when he lost to Junior dos Santos, he lost three straight.

It's a similar situation here. Just two months ago, he rode into Paris on a five-fight win streak, but suffered a knockout loss to Ciryl Gane. I'm a little surprised we're seeing him back so quickly. Tuivasa is all about entertainment, but he's also in a thin division, and he's talked about wanting a title shot.

Will we see a prepared, invested version of Tuivasa? Or is this more of a fan-pleasing paycheck opportunity for him before the holidays? Because Tuivasa is in a good enough position to make a serious run at a title shot if he wants to, I'm excited to see his primary motivation for this fight.

8. Matheus Nicolau vs. Matt Schnell, flyweight

UFC Fight Night, Dec. 3

We're three fights into this list, and all three are on the Dec. 3 card in Orlando. This is a sleeper Fight of the Night for that event. It'll get overlooked because of the depth of that card and the heavyweight bout we just discussed, but Schnell has won Fight of the Night in his last two appearances, as well as two Performance of the Night bonuses in previous fights. Some fans will still sleep on this one. Don't be one of them.

7. Michael Morales vs. Rinat Fakhretdinov, welterweight

Morales drops Fugitt for TKO in Round 3

Michael Morales delivers a powerful blow to Adam Fugitt in the third round to drop him to the canvas and pick up the TKO win.

UFC Fight Night, Dec. 17

At 23, Morales is one of the top prospects in the UFC. He's learning a little bit on the fly, which was evident in his last fight against Adam Fugitt (Fugitt took the fight on short notice, but still put up a fight as a massive underdog). The power and the hunger in this fighter from Tijuana is very, very clear. UFC is not slow-playing him with Fakhretdinov, who isn't well known but is experienced and boasts an 84 percent career finish rate.

6. Darren Till vs. Dricus du Plessis, middleweight

UFC 282, Dec. 10

It's time to go, Darren. Since riding a rocket ship to a UFC welterweight title fight against Tyron Woodley in 2018, Till is 1-4. He's been finished in three of those four -- and probably worse, he's been injured plenty during this skid. He's had to pull out of three fights in the last two years due to injury. At 29, he's still young, but he needs some positive momentum to close out 2022. And it'd be nice to see him go into next year healthy.

This is a dangerous fight. For all that's been wrong for Till as of late, everything has been right for du Plessis. The South African is 3-0 in the UFC with two knockouts.

Till has left the comforts of Liverpool to train with Khamzat Chimaev in Stockholm and, most recently, in Thailand. He's so popular that one clean victory here would erase much of what he's been through in the last three years. But if it goes the other way, it will be difficult not to panic about the state of his career, regardless of his age.

5. Arman Tsarukyan vs. Damir Ismagulov, lightweight

UFC Fight Night, Dec. 17

The UFC has to find a way to draw attention to this fight because neither of these guys are going anywhere anytime soon. This is the future of the lightweight division.

Tsarukyan is only 26, and no disrespect to his last opponent Mateusz Gamrot, but I thought he won his previous fight. Without question, Tsarukyan could be a future champ, which is why no one wants to fight him. He's elite, and not enough people know that.

Same with Ismagulov. He has taken out some of the toughest competition casual fans are unaware of -- names like Joel Alvarez, Thiago Moises and Guram Kautateladze. If you follow this division closely, you know the high level of those names. Ismagulov is still looking for his first finish in the UFC, but if he beats Tsarukyan, he will have won six in a row.

Persuading top names to fight either of these guys is going to take a lot of work in 2023, but I'll tell you this -- it will be far easier for the winner to get a Top 10 fight than the loser. So, for that reason, there's a lot at stake.

4. Jiri Prochazka vs. Glover Teixeira, light heavyweight championship

Jiri Prochazka stuns Glover Teixeira, becomes new light heavyweight champ

Jiri Prochazka stuns Glover Teixeira and the entire crowd with an incredible submission at UFC 275.

UFC 282, Dec. 10

Of course, the first fight in Singapore was excellent, and both showed incredible heart. However, one thing they didn't always show was fight IQ. I think both would agree they each made some regretful decisions in the first fight. That's part of what made it so much fun to watch because it led to momentum swings, but I have to imagine they will look to make better choices in the rematch.

I'm sure some will scratch their head at this fight being No. 4. It was one of the most entertaining fights of the year, and we're getting it again to close out the PPV schedule. How can it not be No. 1? Don't get me wrong, it will be a great fight, but I'm more intrigued by the next three.

3. Bryce Mitchell vs. Ilia Topuria, featherweight

UFC 282, Dec. 10

Battle of the unbeatens. Mitchell is 15-0 as a pro, and Topuria is 12-0. Two fascinating styles, in entirely different ways. Mitchell's grappling could be a serious problem -- a potential ace card against even the top of the division. A specific, dominant skill set such as his would be fascinating to see against Top 5 contenders. And Topuria is just a truck. A 25-year-old spark plug with A+ finishing ability. The winner of this will be in title contention in 2023.

2. Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev, light heavyweight

UFC 282, Dec. 10

No one has looked comfortable against Ankalaev. A championship fight between Ankalaev and Prochazka, if that's the way it were to play out, would be one of the most intriguing matchups at light heavyweight in a long time. In my opinion. I have the utmost respect for Blachowicz, though. Ankalaev has been a puzzle thus far, and you have to favor him to win, but if someone is going to disrupt that and figure him out in this spot, it's Blachowicz.

This is such a crucial fight. Of course, the title fight on this PPV deserves the limelight, but this one will tell us a lot about the year(s) to come. Either way, we'll eventually get multiple chapters of Prochazka vs. Ankalaev, because they're much younger and the matchup is so good. But this event will see if the veterans Blachowicz and Teixeira will get one final say.

1. Stephen Thompson vs. Kevin Holland, welterweight

Kevin Holland gives thumbs up to fans after takedown

The UFC announcers think Kevin Holland is about to be submitted, but Holland gives a thumbs up to the camera and the fans.

UFC Fight Night, Dec. 3

I've laid out a lot of 'What's at stake' scenarios over this list, but No. 1 is based mostly on the fact I believe it's going to be a hell of an entertaining contest. That Orlando card is sneaky good top to bottom, and this welterweight main event is so much fun. The UFC threw a few options Thompson's way, like Sean Brady, and he held out because he wanted someone who would strike with him -- and I agree with that holdout. He's 39. He doesn't look like he's slowing down, but who knows how much longer he's got? Can we see 'Wonderboy' strike, please? It's a special thing, and we haven't seen it for a while.

For Holland, let's just throw that Khamzat Chimaev fight at UFC 279 out. Entirely. Just forget it happened. Does he still have wrestling issues that need to be addressed if he's ever to be a serious title contender? Absolutely. Will that ever happen? For this one, it doesn't matter. This is a ranked fight, but it's more about a show. You want to watch this fight regardless of what it means in the division. And I'm expecting it to live up to expectations.

The must-see Bellator, ONE Championship and PFL fights left in 2022

Dricus Du Plessis flattens Trevin Giles with one punch

Dricus Du Plessis needs just one punch to knock out Trevin Giles in their prelim bout at UFC 264.

Vadim Nemkov vs. Corey Anderson, light heavyweight

Bellator 288, Nov. 18

Let's start with this weekend's biggest fight. Nemkov, who is No. 8 in the ESPN rankings at 205 pounds, is unbeaten in his 10 fights since 2016. But he was on his way to losing his title to Anderson in April before an accidental clash of heads ended the fight as a no-contest. Now the fifth-ranked Anderson, who utilized his smothering wrestling to seize control of that first meeting, has a chance to finish the job of elevating himself toward the top of the heap among all light heavies.

Brendan Loughnane vs. Bubba Jenkins, featherweight

PFL Championships, Nov. 25 (Buy now on ESPN+ PPV)

Sure, this is just the co-main event of the season-ending event in New York, but we all know what's (likely) going to happen in the Kayla Harrison headline bout. On the other hand, this fight could be the competitive highlight of a night in which $1 million prizes will be awarded to the champs of all six weight classes.

Loughnane is 7-1 in the PFL and has looked sharper with each passing season. But can he handle the elite wrestling of Jenkins, who has won eight of his last nine?

Reinier de Ridder vs. Anatoly Malykhin, light heavyweight

One on Prime Video 5, Dec. 3

The Asia-based promotion continues its push into the U.S. market with a prime-time card headlined by a fight that touches on three weight divisions. This one is champ vs. champ-champ. Ridder, who is 16-0 and owns the belts at both middleweight and light heavyweight, will defend his 205-pound strap against the interim heavyweight titlist, Malykhim, who is also unbeaten (11-0).

Liz Carmouche vs. Juliana Velasquez, flyweight

Bellator 289, Dec. 9

Two top-10 125-pounders meet in a rematch of the April fight in which Carmouche won the title by handing Velasquez the first loss of her career. Velasquez's team unsuccessfully appealed the result, claiming the fourth-round stoppage prematurely ended a bout in which she was ahead on all three scorecards.

Patricio "Pitbull" Freire vs. Kleber Koike Erbst, featherweight

Bellator vs. Rizin, Dec. 31

New Year's Eve fights in Tokyo have become a staple for Rizin, and this year the Japan-based promotion will engage in a rare night of cross-promotional bouts with Bellator. The headliner is a clash of champions. Freire, who is Bellator's 145-pound king and arguably the promotion's greatest ever in any weight class, will face the Rizin titleholder, Erbst. Also on the card will be former Bellator featherweight champion AJ McKee and current Rizin bantamweight champ Kyoji Horiguchi, who formerly held the Bellator belt and once challenged for UFC gold.