2022 Top Athletes Collage
(From L-R): Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena, ONE Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson, NBA star Stephen Curry and Formula 1 2022 Drivers' Champion Max Verstappen. Multiple Sources


  • 10 athletes saw their star rise to great heights in an eventful year for sports
  • Stephen Curry, Max Verstappen and Kylian Mbappe were three of the biggest names in 2022
  • Filipino stars EJ Obiena in pole vaulting and Alex Eala in tennis continued to showcase their quality

Sporting events have helped to give some sense of normalcy to the world since the global pandemic kickstarted, and these 10 athletes deserve the praise for their star-making performances in 2022.

10. EJ Obiena (Pole Vault)

Despite the Philippines' love for team sports like basketball and volleyball, pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, better known as EJ, is proving to his fellow countrymen that they can reach great heights in solo sports as well.

Ending his 2021 campaign as the sixth-best pole vaulter in the world which featured a gold medal finish and new Asian record in pole vault (5.93 meters) at the International Golden Roof Challenge, the 27-year-old from Manila, Philippines climbed to third.

Obiena handily nabbed the gold in the 2021 SEA Games that took place in May of this year due to the global pandemic's onset and he posted a new competition record of 5.46 meters.

His biggest achievement of the year though was at the World Athletics Championships where he became the first Filipino to earn a medal and also shattered the Asian record that he set the previous year by successfully attempting a 5.94-meter vault.

All in all, Obiena is one of the country's burgeoning athletes and his star is only expected to rise in the coming years.

Ernest John "EJ" Obiena
Ernest John Obiena of the Philippines during the Pole Vault Final for Men at the Olympic Stadium during the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games on August 3rd, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

9. Jalen Hurts (American Football)

The Philadelphia Eagles are in the thick of a potential Super Bowl run after racking up an NFL-best record of 12-1, and Jalen Hurts is on track to become league MVP.

Many wondered whether the former Alabama Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooner product is going to be the Eagles' quarterback of the future and he has stepped up to the challenge, thanks to the benefit of having the same offensive coordinator since 2021 for the first time since his high school career.

Through 13 weeks of action, Hurts has put up 3,157 yards and 22 touchdowns with a completion rate of 68%–all of which are career-highs.

With how the Eagles are performing with him under center, it is no surprise that Hurts is on pace to become NFL MVP and the first for Philadelphia since "The Dutchman" Norm Van Brocklin did it in 1960.

Jalen Hurts Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Hurts #2 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws the ball during a game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. Norm Hall/Getty Images

8. Islam Makhachev (MMA)

Islam Makhachev has gone from Khabib Nurmagomedov lite in the eyes of many MMA fans to becoming one of the most must-see fighters due to his star-making performances.

Undefeated since September 2016, Makhachev started 2022 off with a bang as he put Bobby Green to sleep during their encounter at UFC Vegas 49 in February.

His crowning achievement came a few months later as he claimed the vacant UFC lightweight strap over former titleholder Charles Oliveira at UFC 280, putting him on the floor with a vicious right hook to the jaw before sinking in an arm-triangle choke that had the Brazilian tapping out.

Makhachev's body of work did not go unnoticed as two-division ONE king Christian Lee called him out for a fight.

He is currently preparing for his UFC 284 matchup against the No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the form of Alexander Volkanovski on February 11.

Islam Makhachev
Islam Makhachev inside the octagon against Brazil's Davi Ramos at UFC 242. Getty Images / Francois Nel

7. Naoya Inoue (Boxing)

Better known by his ring name "The Monster," no other boxer came close to Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue's dominance.

Inoue added two knockouts to his growing list of finishes with a highlight reel-worthy body shot knockout of Filipino superstar Nonito Donaire in June and an 11th-round knockout of then-WBO bantamweight champion Paul Butler in a unification bout.

Following the Butler fight, the newly-christened undisputed bantamweight champion revealed that he is considering a move up to super bantamweight by effectively cleaning out the whole division.

"I finally became the undisputed bantamweight world champion... I was able to make this goal of becoming an undisputed world champion. Now, I'm considering going up to super bantamweight," Inoue said via a translator as quoted by Bad Left Hook.

Naoya Inoue
Japan's Naoya Inoue (L) fights against Philippines' Nonito Donaire during their Bantamweight unification boxing match at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on June 7, 2022. PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images

6. Alex Eala (Tennis)

Joining fellow Filipino EJ Obiena on this list, young tennis star Alex Eala is riding a wave of momentum into 2023.

At 17 years old, Eala has been highly touted by her countrymen as one of the standard-bearers in the nation's bid to gain recognition outside of team sports like basketball.

Eala made her professional debut in March 2020 and entered the Women's Tennis Association's (WTA) top 1,000 plus winning her first-ever senior title in the first leg of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) W15 in Manacor, Spain the following year.

Her success would carry into 2022 as she became the first Filipino tennis player to win a junior Grand Slam singles championship after stunning No. 2 seed Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic in the finals of the 2022 US Open in New York City.

Currently ranked as World No. 214 and the ideal mix of potential and success under her belt at a young age, Eala is a name that tennis aficionados should definitely keep an eye on in 2023 and beyond.

Alex Eala, Tennis
Alex Eala poses with her trophy after her historical performance in the 2022 US Open. Asian Tennis Federation/Facebook

5. Aaron Judge (Baseball)

2022 was a landmark year in the already remarkable career of then-New York Yankee and current MLB free agent Aaron Judge.

The 6-foot-7 behemoth from Sacramento, California signed a one-year, $19 million deal with the Yankees after failing to come to terms during the offseason, and Judge deciding to bet on himself appeared to be the right move.

Judge became the second-fastest player in history to 200 home runs on July 30 against the Kansas City Royals and his August 29 434-foot homer versus the Los Angeles Angels allowed him to write his own name in the record books as the 10th player in MLB history to record multiple 50-home run seasons.

Amidst his stellar achievements, Judge also became the third MLB player in American League (AL) history to record 60 homers in one season on September 30 and eventually set the new single-season record at 62 on October 4 in their match against the Texas Rangers.

When it was all said and done, Judge had 62 home runs, scored on 133 runs, 131 runs batted in (RBI), and 111 walks, all of which led up to his first-ever American League MVP award.

Aaron Judge New York Yankees
Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees hits a double to left field to score Brett Gardner #11 and Aaron Hicks #31 against Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians during the second inning in Game Four of the American League Divisional Series at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Mike Stobe/Getty Images

4. Demetrious Johnson (MMA)

Demetrious Johnson suffered his first knockout loss in 2021 against Adriano Moraes, but the new ONE flyweight champion bounced back in a major way this year.

His first fight of the year saw him face ONE flyweight Muay Thai king Rodtang Jitmuangnon in the sport's first-ever hybrid rules MMA – Muay Thai matchup at ONE X in March, forcing Rodtang to tap out in the second round.

"Mighty Mouse" followed up that performance by exacting revenge on Moraes, claiming the ONE flyweight title while also avenging his knockout loss in poetic fashion with a meteoric knee of his own.

With their trilogy fight set to take place in May 2023, Johnson will get another chance to prove that his win over "Mikinho" was not a fluke.

Demetrious Johnson
Demetrious Johnson gets a taste of gold in ONE Championship. ONE Championship

3. Kylian Mbappe (Soccer)

French superstar Kylian Mbappe has continued to reach great heights in his young soccer career, but 2022 will forever be remembered as his crowning glory despite the outcome of the World Cup.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker had been the leading man for his club since transferring from Monaco in 2018 and his goal-scoring abilities only continued to grow, logging 12 goals in 14 appearances thus far for "Les Parisiens" in the 2022-23 Ligue 1 season.

However, all eyes were on his France side in the recently concluded global soccer tournament.

Mbappe was an early favorite for the Golden Boot when he logged three goals in the group stages to help France secure their spot atop Group D and would later increase those numbers to five ahead of the finals against Argentina.

France needed every bit of Mbappe's magic as they fell into an early 2-0 hole and forced the game into an extension when he scored two markers at the 80th and 81st minute.

As France fell behind 3-2, the mantle of "generational star" became even more apparent when he scored a penalty at the 118th minute to force the game into a shootout.

Mbappe would score the first penalty for France, but Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni both failed to rise to the occasion and allowed Argentina to take home their first World Cup trophy since 1986.

His efforts would not go unnoticed as he was awarded the Golden Boot for his eight-goal outing in the World Cup, with his hat trick against Argentina earning the respect of fans around the world.

Kylian Mbappe takes on Lionel Messi during the World Cup final between France and Argentina
France's Kylian Mbappe (left) battles Argentina's Lionel Messi (right) for control of the ball during the 2022 FIFA World Cup final. AFP

2. Max Verstappen (Auto Racing)

Little needs to be said about the Belgian-Dutch speed demon of Formula 1 as Max Verstappen in his formidable Red Bull car continued its run of domination this past season.

Verstappen's season was not without issue as he was forced to retire in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in mid-March and in the third race of the year at Australia in April due to fuel system issues and had him falling behind to Charles Leclerc and Ferrari by 46 points in the Drivers' Championship.

However, Red Bull sorted out their issues following the Australian Grand Prix and responded with five wins out of the next seven races.

Overall, Verstappen's efforts would see him be rewarded with the Drivers' Championship as early as the Japanese Grand Prix in early October, winning 15 out of a possible 22 races.

Max Verstappen (left) celebrates his second world championship with Red Bull engineers and pit crew at Suzuka
Max Verstappen (left) celebrates his second world championship with Red Bull engineers and pit crew at Suzuka. AFP

1. Stephen Curry (Basketball)

The 2022 NBA Finals saw Stephen Curry finally capture the one award that has continued to elude him in four previous championship runs: Finals MVP.

Curry led the Golden State Warriors from a disappointing 2020-21 campaign that saw them be unceremoniously dumped from the play-in mini tournament to securing the third seed the following season and their fourth title since 2015.

He went on an absolute tear in the playoffs after averaging 27.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.3 steals in 34.7 minutes of game time with his efforts being supported by guys like Jordan Poole, Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II.

Other than another ring on his finger, Curry also claimed one of the most prestigious records a player can have in the NBA's offense-heavy era: the all-time record for most three-pointers made.

Curry continued to make history in 2022 when he claimed his first-ever NBA All-Star Game MVP, as well as the records for most threes in a quarter and the most made in a single game with 16.

2022 has been on the side of arguably the greatest shooter to ever live and will look to reach even more rarified air in the postseason with a potential sixth NBA title to attain a feat that has not been seen since Michael Jordan's time.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors raises the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics 103-90 in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. Elsa/Getty Images