The favorites are obvious. The potential underdogs are more understated.

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As the 2022 Mr. Olympia launches this weekend, the general expectation is that two-time defending champion Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay will take home his third straight title in Las Vegas, NV. In fact, bodybuilding legends with a wealth of knowledge about the sport, like fellow eight-time Mr. Olympia winners Ronnie Coleman (1998-2005) and Lee Haney (1984-1991), believe Elssbiay is a virtual lock.

However, every Olympia can present a surprise, such as a new contender making the most of their first contest berth. Even if they don’t win the whole thing, a result near the top while toppling some usual mainstays still more than qualifies as a sterling performance. Here are five dark horses who might thrive at the 2022 Mr. Olympia and shock the bodybuilding world on Dec. 16-18, 2022.

This 2022 Olympia dark horse list is not short on diversity, especially in competitive backgrounds. It has a former champion, albeit in a different division. It has respective young, ascending stars looking to make their mark. It even has an athlete who made a late push to qualify but seems more than ready to maximize his golden opportunity. It is in no particular order as a highlight of those potentially overlooked at the contest but who probably shouldn’t be.

Blessing Awodibu

Per NPC News Online, Awodibu is relatively new to the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Pro League competitive circuit. In his debut year in 2021, he took home third place at the Indy Pro and finished sixth at the New York Pro. He improved upon those results by winning the 2022 iteration of the Indy Pro outright to qualify for his first-ever Olympia.

Awodibu himself certainly hasn’t shied away from taking cues from those who have been there and done that. The most notable example might be when he trained with seven-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath (2011-2017), putting his arms through the wringer. Meanwhile, Coleman has cited Awodibu as someone with the necessary aesthetic to shine in a debut performance.

It’ll be a potentially tall order to actually capture the Olympia title, but a stellar top-five placing isn’t out of the question for the Irish athlete.

Michal “Krizo” Križánek

Another newcomer, Krizo made headlines during the 2022 calendar year for his summer transition from the IFBB Elite Pro League to the IFBB Pro League division. He had set his ambitions on a quick turnaround to qualifying for the 2022 Olympia and didn’t fall short. The Slovakian competitor succeeded with his goals when he earned his Pro Card at the 2022 Amateur Olympia Italy and then got a place in the Olympia by winning the 2022 EVLS Prague Pro.

Unlike Awodibu, Coleman previously asserted that Krizo still has a lot of ground to make up with his physique despite some “great arms.” Though, from a glance, his ripped body still resembles someone who could make some noise in a first appearance.

Samson Dauda

As someone with a little more IFBB Pro League seasoning, Dauda has been knocking on the Olympia doorstep for some time. The 2022 edition of the contest will mark his debut after roughly five years in this competitive bodybuilding circuit. Dauda can boast a recent host of podium finishes like a second-place result in the 2021 Romania Muscle Fest Pro and the 2021 Yamamoto Cup Pro.

Dauda may have really burst onto the scene when he took home fourth place at the 2022 Arnold Classic. Given that established powerhouses like 2019 Olympia champion Brandon Curry and perennial Olympia contender William Bonac were some names who finished above Dauda, the result undoubtedly furled some eyebrows.

The British athlete will look to turn even more heads at the Olympia.

Andrew Jacked

Some view Chinedu Andrew Obiekea, a.k.a. “Andrew Jacked,” as the latest phenom in bodybuilding, and they might not be wrong. The Nigerian athlete exploded onto the scene in 2022, winning both the 2022 Texas Pro and the 2022 Arnold Classic UK. Such performances drew rave reviews from four-time Arnold Classic champion (1993, 1997, 1998, 2000) Ken “Flex” Wheeler, who previously noted that Jacked’s general lack of “mileage” puts him in an advantageous position compared to his peers.

Entering the 2022 Olympia, Jacked will likely be riding a wave of hype. He may even live up to that simmering reputation underneath.

Derek Lunsford

Amidst all the newcomers and Olympia rookies, Lunsford seems to be sitting pretty as his first-ever Men’s Open appearance unfolds. After gaining more weight and muscle than he expected, the former 212 Olympia champion (2021) formally transitioned to the division in September 2022 and seemingly hasn’t looked back.

Coming from the 212 division, Lunsford will have to contend with a host of competitors who weigh 260 pounds and above. As the Olympia M.C. Bob Chicarello stated at the Dec. 15, 2022, Olympia press conference, Elssbiay will likely weigh 300 pounds on stage. That’s a lot of mass to contend with. However, if anyone has the pedigree and experience to not only get a top-five result but potentially win it all, it’s Lunsford.

The athlete has previously discussed the raw emotions behind competing on stage at the Olympia. Aside from the expected butterflies of any professional athlete, it doesn’t sound like this dynamo will be intimidated by the new obstacle on his plate in the least.

Anything is Possible

While heavy favorites like Elssbiay will likely shine, the 2022 Olympia is bound to surprise with a few up-and-comers. Any number of these dark horses in a stacked field could soon become household names in a stacked field. Fans can keep up with all the action by purchasing a pay-per-view premium package for $69.99 at the Olympia website —

Featured image: @dereklunsford_ on Instagram