Bodybuilding fans had a lot to chew on in 2022. In the sport’s most high-profile division — Men’s Open — a slew of new competitors burst onto the scene, signaling that the next generation of physique greats had indeed arrived. In other divisions, longtime champions added to their reputations by pulling out more wins and making their cases for being among the best of all time.
Below, we put together a list of seven of the most impressive bodybuilders from 2022. Some of them won the biggest contests in their divisions, while others made the list by simply having an impact on the bodybuilding culture. And if they continue doing what they’re doing, don’t be surprised to see them on this list in 2023.
The Best Bodybuilders of 2022
The ironic part about Hadi Choopan landing on this list is that he was fairly quiet throughout 2022. Sure, fans would see the occasional physique update or training video with coach Hany Rambod, but he’s not the type to post YouTube videos of himself eating fish and steamed rice every week.
But none of that mattered because Choopan simply needed to show up for one weekend out of the entire year: the 2022 Olympia. And he didn’t just show up — he dominated. Looking muscled-up and shredded, Choopan was otherworldly compared to an already-stacked lineup that included the reigning champion, Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay.
In the end, the package he brought to the stage was too impressive to deny, and the judges awarded him with his first Mr. Olympia title.
Since he first stepped onto the Mr. Olympia stage in 2019, Choopan’s chances of winning have always been haunted by one word: If.
It was always “If Big Ramy comes in too heavy, Hadi Choopan can win” or “If Big Ramy isn’t conditioned, Hadi Choopan has a chance.” The reality is that Choopan just needed to rely on his own strengths to get over the hump and finally take home that elusive Mr. Olympia title.
If you Googled the name Michal “Krizo” Križánek back in December 2021, chances are you wouldn’t find a lot outside of YouTube footage from a handful of relatively smaller bodybuilding shows with a few thousand views. Google him now, and you’ll discover a competitor with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, a growing YouTube page of his own, and a jaw-dropping physique that had past Mr. Olympia winners like Samir Bannout and Jay Cutler singing his praises throughout 2022.
The hype around Krizo reached a crescendo in October 2022 after he scored his pro card and officially qualified for the Olympia by winning his pro debut just weeks later. That’s a career’s worth of accolades for some bodybuilders — Krizo did it faster than it takes the milk in your fridge to spoil. While he finished 12th at the 2022 Mr. Olympia, the Slovakian athlete raised his stock considerably in the bodybuilding world in the second half of the year.
You don’t often see a competitor go from being virtually unknown to a Mr. Olympia dark horse contender in just a few months, but Krizo didn’t let the opportunity slip through his fingers. With a growing fanbase and more experience in the IFBB, he’s primed to enter 2023 as a top name in bodybuilding.
Derek Lunsford bet on himself in a big way in 2022, and it paid off handsomely. Most people assumed that the 2021 212 Olympia champ would defend his title in Vegas in 2022, but a guest-posing routine at May’s Pittsburgh Pro changed the course of his career.
At this show, the world saw a bigger Lunsford who looked primed for a switch to Men’s Open. Months of speculation went by, and, sure enough, he was awarded a special invite to compete at December’s Mr. Olympia, despite not officially qualifying for it.
At the show itself, Lunsford didn’t just prove that he belonged with the big boys — he toppled past Mr. Olympia champs like Big Ramy and Brandon Curry. He also placed ahead of other top contenders like Nick Walker and Hunter Labrada.
When the dust had settled, Lunsford was awarded second place and $150,000 in prize money. That’s triple the amount he earned for coming in first in 212 the year prior.
Ever since Lunsford got that special invite back in September, he’s taken advantage of every opportunity that came his way. He’s no longer a past 212 winner who got a lucky break — in the span of four months, he transformed himself into a force in the Men’s Open division and, perhaps, a future Mr. Olympia himself.
There aren’t many ways Figure competitor Cydney Gillon could improve upon her 2022. She won her second Figure International title at the Arnold Classic in March. Then, in May, she debuted her very own show, the Cydney Gillon Peach Classic, which featured guest-posing routines by Andrea Shaw and Terrence Ruffin.
To finish the year on a high note, she took home her sixth Figure Olympia title in Vegas. Only a handful of competitors in any division have more Olympias on their resumes, and Gillon doesn’t look like she’s slowing down anytime soon.
There’s dominance, and then there’s whatever bodybuilder Harold Kelley is doing in the Wheelchair division. When Kelley won his division’s Olympia title on December 17, 2022, it was his fifth consecutive time coming in first. Not only that, but he’s the only champion the division has ever seen since its debut in 2018.
And this isn’t a small division, either. Kelley competed against 11 other athletes to come out on top. But it wasn’t Kelley’s win that made his 2022 impressive — it was the fact that earlier in the year, at the Arnold Classic, he actually came in second to Gabriele Andriulli in the Wheelchair division.
Undeterred, Kelley pressed on and topped Andriulli on the Olympia stage to cap off a historic win.
Andrea Shaw’s 2022 was pretty much the same as her 2020 and 2021. It just so happens that “same old, same old” for Shaw means she won another Ms. Rising Phoenix show and another Ms. Olympia. For those keeping count: That’s three consecutive wins at both shows. In fact, since the Ms. Olympia returned in 2020, Shaw has been the only competitor to win the contest.
Since switching from the Physique division to Women’s Bodybuilding in 2019, Shaw has virtually owned the competition. And she’s not simply out-sizing the rest of the field — when BarBend spoke to her in the summer of 2022, she said her focus was to fine-tune the smaller details of her physique in the off-season. Well, mission accomplished.
Shaw further solidified her place as the face of the Women’s Bodybuilding world in 2022 and is now in the discussion of the most dominant athlete in the entire sport.
Bodybuilder Nick Walker had the type of 2021 that most competitors can only dream of: He won both the New York Pro and Arnold Classic and came in fifth at his first Mr. Olympia. And while he didn’t take home any victories in 2022, he came in third at the 2022 Mr. Olympia; up two spots from his “O” debut.
Fittingly, Walker also won the People’s Champ title at the 2022 Olympia, further illustrating his growing popularity among bodybuilding fans. As of December 2022, Walker had more than 1.2 million followers on Instagram and more than 221,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel.
On top of that, his prep for the 2022 Mr. Olympia garnered serious buzz throughout the bodybuilding world, with physique updates regularly racking up more than 100,000 likes on Instagram and catching the attention of Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman.
You can argue that Walker was the most-discussed Men’s Open competitor outside of Big Ramy in 2022. And as his following grew, so did his physique — at one point, he hovered around 300 pounds and was incline pressing 200-pound dumbbells for reps. He put on a show the entire year, and the fans were more than willing to watch.
Looking Ahead to 2023
The world of bodybuilding slows down for a few weeks at the start of 2023, but it picks back up again for the Arnold Classic from March 3-4. This is arguably the second-biggest bodybuilding show of the year, and it’s where past and future Olympia winners look to score high-profile wins. Then on May 20, 2023, there’s the New York Pro, which counts former Olympia champs like Phil Heath, Dexter Jackson, and Big Ramy as past winners.
Both of these shows are 2023 Olympia qualifiers, so expect them to set the tone for the rest of the year.
Featured Image: Chris Bernacchi