Relive the 10 Most Iconic Moments From Dubai Fitness Championship History

In 2022, one of the premier fitness events in the CrossFit space celebrates its 10th year of competition.

Since 2012, a small local competition has consistently grown to become one of the premiere fitness competitions in the world. This year in 2022, the Dubai Fitness Championship (DFC) celebrates its tenth year of existence by hosting 40 of the top women and men in the sport to the United Arab Emirates from Dec. 2-4.

[Related: 2022 Dubai Fitness Championship Men’s Roster Preview]

The event has been known for its innovative programming, along with iconic moments and event locations. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the competition, we have compiled the top 10 moments in DFC history.

Dubai Fitness Championship Top 10 Moments

Editor’s Note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Ricky’s Redemption (2021)

The organizers of the DFC are quite experienced when it comes to bringing attention to and promoting their event. It’s part of the reason they are successful in the space and can put on a quality event year in and year out. 

The 2021 season was no different. Organizers started promoting their event with the announcement that Ricky Garard would make his debut at their competition after serving a four-year ban.

Ricky Garard celebrates a successful log lift with the log steady overhead.
Credit: Patrick Clark / Athlete’s Eye Photography

The announcement came with its share of controversy. Many felt that Garard hadn’t earned the right to compete, especially at such a high-level event. But since the 2021 competition was an invite-only event, the organizers could bring in whoever they wished.

That decision paid off, not just for the DFC organizers, but also for Garard. The Australian won the first two events and ended up finishing third overall, behind Roman Khrennikov and Lazar Đukić. One year later, the DFC’s controversial decision to showcase a polarizing athlete paid off — Garard would repeat his third-place performance at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games

Raising the Bar and Prize Purse (2018)

By the 2018 season, the DFC organizers had built up the popularity of their event and saw many top CrossFit athletes flock to compete during the off-season. One of the allures of the event was the prize purse — at the time, it trailed only the CrossFit Games in terms of athlete payouts.

The 2018 iteration of the event was the high water mark for payouts. It had a payout that exceeded $700,000. The final event of the competition had the organizers throw an extra $30,000 to the women’s and men’s winners.

It was Mat Fraser who would claim that prize, as he famously won six out of the 10 events that year. Fraser walked away with a cool $100,000 for his efforts, thanks in part to him going full-send in the final event even though he had the Championship all but wrapped up.

Introducing the Devil (2012)

The DFC has become synonymous with introducing new and unique movements during their competition. Deck squats, A-jumps, and flying push-ups all got their competition start in Dubai. However, it has been the devil’s press that is perhaps DFC’s crowning exercise accomplishment. 

A simple movement with an appropriate name, the devil’s press is a combination of a burpee and a double dumbbell snatch (or clean & jerk). Since it was introduced at the very first competition in 2012, the devil’s press has found its into the CrossFit vernacular and regularly-scheduled box programming.

Rich Froning, CrossFit Ambassador (2020)

During the 2019 event, one of the greatest CrossFit athletes of all time was highly critical of the programming of the team events. The DFC organizers agreed to hear what Rich Froning had to say. As a result, the four-time Fittest Man on Earth® Froning agreed to program the team events for the 2020 season.

Froning didn’t just program the events, but showed up and made an effort to spread the word about CrossFit both as a sport and a lifestyle. He took time throughout the competition to sign autographs, take pictures, and talk with fans. This was an important moment for the DFC, as Froning’s involvement off the competition floor showed how far the competition had come as a prestige event since its inception.

A Preview of What Was to Come (2017)

The DFC is known for attracting the top athletes to competition. Perhaps more importantly, done a tremendous job of showcasing relatively unknown athletes and putting them center stage alongside those top athletes.

Laura Horvath raises her hand up in victory and smiles.
Credit: Patrick Clark / Athlete’s Eye Photography

The 2017 event is perhaps the best example of that, when 21-year-old Laura Horvath made her debut. Horvath has since made podium at the CrossFit Games three times, including as a rookie in 2018. In 2017, she emerged as an unknown and proceeded to finish second — just behind two-time Fittest Woman on Earth® Annie Thorisdottir and ahead of all-time great Kara Saunders.

In 2021, Horvath went on to take first place in Dubai.

Tola Doing Tola Things (2018)

Tola Morakinyo is widely known as the strongest Olympic lifter in CrossFit — a trait that was on full display at the 2018 event. While competing on the CrossFit Pro 1 team, he snatched 330 pounds (149.6 kilograms) — at the time, this was the heaviest weight hefted in a live CrossFit competition.

At the 2019 event, he wowed the crowd again, this time competing as an individual. There, he clean & jerked 381 pounds (172.8 kilos).

Credibility in Year Two (2013)

The second year of the DFC showed just how word of mouth and the promise of a unique competition environment could draw the top athletes to the UAE. Two-time Fittest Woman on Earth® Annie Thorisdottir and Games staple Frederik Aegidius took home the wins. But the field ran deep, also featuring stars like Lindsey Valenzuela, Kenny Leverich, and Ryan Fisher.

[Related: Hafþór Björnsson Gets Trained By Annie Thorisdottir: “Hardest Session Of My Life”]

Since that year, the roster has been a who’s who of CrossFit stars and up-and-coming athletes from all over the world. The 2013 competition was also held inside the world-famous Dubai Mall.

Playing in the Sand Box (2018)

Braving the elements is traditionally a big part of how CrossFit competitions challenge their athletes. From The Capitol event in the 2022 CrossFit Games to the brutal Ranch Loop at the 2020 Games, premiere CrossFit competitions are famous for throwing the local terrain at their athletes.

As such, you can’t have an event in the desert without taking advantage of the elements. The famous sand dunes of Dubai took center stage in 2018 when athletes had to run eight kilometers in the Al Marmoom Desert Preserve. It wasn’t a simple run in the sand, either. Athletes had to run the first four kilometers while wearing a weighted vest.

Mikaela Norman and Brendan Willis won their respective divisions in the iconic event. But it was what happened after the athletes completed the run that makes this event so unique in the eyes of many fans: The sight of athletes running to a herd of camels to take pictures and ride the desert mammals while wearing their weight vests was a sight to behold.

Enter the Acid Bath (2018)

Not even Murph strikes as much fear in the eyes of many CrossFitters as the term Acid Bath. This is another workout concoction that the community can thank the organizers of the DFC for. This workout consists of a 500-meter SkiErg, a 500-meter row, and a 1,000-meter bike erg. It gets its name from the lactic acid build-up in the legs that leaves even the most elite athletes limping to the finish line.

Roman Khrennikov celebrates as he crosses the finish line at the 2022 Rogue Invitational.
Credit: Patrick Clark / Athlete’s Eye Photography

Introduced in 2018, the Acid Bath is best remembered by Streat Hoerner’s stumbling to the finish line. Roman Khrennikov and Laura Horvath each won events in their respective divisions.

Canadian Battle in the Desert (2019)

The careers of Patrick Vellner and Brent Fikowski have been intertwined with each other since the 2016 CrossFit Games. There, they battled each other for a spot on the podium. The Canadian countrymen have been battling for podium spots ever since.

[Related: 2022 Down Under Championship Results and Recap]

None of those battles were more intense than the one they had at the DFC in 2019. Throughout four days and 11 events, the two friends went back and forth. Fikowski eventually picked up the 22-point victory over Vellner. Fikowski’s eight top-three finishes secured the win, but Vellner brought out the best in him. The win by Fikowski has arguably been the most complete and impressive victory in his career.

Dubai 2022

The Dubai Fitness Championship dropped “CrossFit” from its name in the fall of 2022, but it seems destined to continue as one of the premiere off-season events for professional CrossFitters. As of this writing, DFC has only announced one event. The first event of the DFC 2022 will be The Burj Khalifa Challenge, and it promises to be a jaw-dropper.

As the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa boasts 160 flights of stairs. It totals 828 meters (2,716 feet) and 2,909 individual stairs. The competitors will kick off the competition on the morning of Dec. 2 by climbing all the way to the top — for time.

Featured Image: Patrick Clark / Athlete’s Eye Photography