Freestyle Fighters
Aaron Noah M.
Location: Dubai, UAE

When Praveen and I called up our fellow GV correspondent to join us for the Red Bull X-Fighters event, we got this response from Phil:  “X-Fighters?  No, no, I don’t like that violent stuff…”

“Not Ultimate Fighters,” I explained, “but X-Fighters…you know, the motocross bikes.”

“Oh…that!  Yeah, sounds good.”

On Friday, 13 April 2012, the three of us caught a taxi to the Dubai Marina to catch the first round of the 2012 Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour season.

The X-Fighters events are freestyle motocross motorbike stunt competitions held in different arenas all over the world, including Spain, Turkey, Germany, Australia, and the United States.  The drinks company Red Bull conceived the contest back in 2001, with its first event staged in a bullfighting ring in Valencia, Spain.  Since then, the X-Fighters World Tour has grown in stature, attracting the top freestyle motocross riders from around the globe.  Dubai hosted the event for the first time last year.

We arrived about two hours prior to showtime to secure our tickets.  We were hoping to take the Standing Zone option (AED 75), but the front booth was only selling Grandstand tickets (AED 165 Side Grandstands, AED 265 Center Grandstand).  This is an old event gimmick to try to push the high end zones, so we knew we just had to wait around until the promoters started to get nervous about filling the place.  Sure enough, within about 45 minutes, the cheaper Standing Zone tickets were soon on offer.

The venue setup was incredible.  A few weeks earlier the X-Fighters arena was nothing more than a parking lot and a beach.   A great deal of effort must have gone into transforming this site into three massive grandstands, light towers, and tons of dirt to create a motocross playground.  It was an impressive setup, but the only conspicuous omission was the lack of F&B stands commonly found at other events.  No problem for us; we took refuge in a nearby sports bar until showtime.

A few drinks later we came back to find the front gates swarming with people, but the entry procedure was smooth enough and soon we were circling around the immense dirt course.  At full capacity the arena could hold 20,000 spectators, although I don’t think they quite filled it, especially in the Side Grandstand areas.  The Standing Zone was crowded enough though, and it took us some time to find a bit of breathing room to break out the cameras.   There was a brief show exalting the local fishing trade (dhows on wheels and at least ten minutes of guys casting nets into the dirt) and then out came the bikes.

Flippin’ Motorbikes!

The concept is fairly straight forward: riders have a set time limit to perform stunts on a dirt course with ramps, and the types of tricks (complexity and danger) available to a rider changes as each round progresses.  There are five contest judges and one head judge.  The head judges is mostly concerned with keeping track of the rider’s time limit, while the other judges each have a category to score:  variety, execution, style, use of course, and energy.  Qualifying sets up the rider order, and then the competitors are paired up for head-to-head matchups.  The loser from each pair is eliminated and the winner advances into the next round.

Straight forward on paper, but quite a different scene out there on the course…these riders are crazy!  These guys catch mega air on high speed jumps, and while they’re up there they do all kinds of ridiculous things: kicks, flips, spins, and even letting go of the bike.  As the competition progresses the level of trick riding absurdity gets more and more hair-raising.  By the end of it, it was hard to believe some of the stunts we were witnessing.  Even when I look at the photos now, much of it just doesn’t look real, like some kind of bizarre man and machine dance meters off of the ground; a testament to these talented and gutsy X-Fighters.

And who was the best madman of the butch?  The final matchup was a Down Under contest, pitting the Australian Rob Adelberg against New Zealander Levi Sherwood.  When the dust settled, the Kiwi came out on top, earning his first win since 2010.  En route to victory, Levi took a surprise scalp by ousting defending champion Dany Torres in one the early rounds.

Here are the 2012 Overall Championship Standings:

Kiwi Victory

01 Levi Sherwood NZL 100
02 Rob Adelberg AUS 80
03 Javier Villegas CHI 65
04 Josh Sheehan AUS 55
05 Andrè Villa NOR 45
06 Todd Potter USA 35
07 Edgar Torronteras ESP 30
08 Dany Torres ESP 25
09 Eigo Sato JAP 20
10 Mat Rebeaud SWZ 15

Click on the thumbnails below to see more photos of the Red Bull X-Fighters Dubai 2012: