- WSL / Brent Bielmann

As the news of three-time World Champ Gabriel Medina's withdrawal from the Billabong Pro Pipeline still reverberates around the surfing universe, those that it impacts the most, his fiercest rivals, find themselves in a unique position to start the 2022 Championship Tour season.

With Medina's departure, there are currently only three surfers in the draw with a World Title next to their name: Kelly Slater, John John Florence and Italo Ferreira. This same trio are also the only three currently on the Championship Tour to have won CT events at Pipe.

Highlights Day 4: John John Florence Passes A.I. For Wins On The North Shore At "Super Epic" Pipeline
With three straight wins on home soil, the 2x World Champ becomes the 2021 HIC Pipe Pro champ.

Winning the 2021 Billabong Pipe Masters presented by Hydro Flask and the HIC Pipe Pro last month, Florence is undefeated in his last two starts at Pipe. Recovered from the knee injury he sustained at Margaret River last season, he's been in supreme form all winter. It's been a few years since we saw a fully healthy Florence, and given the surfing he's been doing this winter big things could be in store.

Then there's Slater, who will cross over the half century mark in a couple of weeks. Slater won his first Pipe Masters crown in 1992, a full 30 years ago. Should he go on to win the Billabong Pro Pipeline at nearly 50 years old, that would transcend surfing and become the stuff of sporting legend.

And it's not exactly like Slater's a slouch out at his favorite wave. He's posted third-place finishes three out of his last four starts at Pipe. In '17 he was stopped in Round 5 by Medina -- and Medina's not in the event. So yeah, the GOAT's got a chance.

Perfect 10: Kelly Slater at Backdoor
In his 27th appearance at the Billabong Pipe Masters in 2019, the 11x World Champion and greatest of all time earned a perfect 10-point ride.

Ferreira's the other World Champ in the conversation. He famously beat Medina in the epic final of the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters to win the event and the World Title. But Ferreira is a surfer that thrives on emotion, and without Medina there to fire him up there's a chance he won't surf with the same edge as when he became a Pipeline champ.

But this is Italo Ferreira we're talking about. He's never had a problem getting pumped up before a heat in the past, and given the opportunity he may see to sprint ahead of Medina in the rankings, that may be all the motivation he needs.

To be clear, we're just talking Pipe here. Medina has not made his intentions clear past the start of the season. Confident in his ability to get the results he needs when he needs them -- he only missed two Finals last year -- he's hardly taken himself out of the World Title conversation at this point.

With a solid forecast to start the event there's heaps of surfing to be done and the road to the 2022 World Title starts now.

Italo Ferreira Wins 2019 World Title and Becomes A Pipeline Champion
The 25-year-old becomes the third Brazilian ever to win a World Title and is now officially a Pipe champion.

The waiting period for the Billabong Pro Pipeline gets underway on January 29. Keep it locked right here at WorldSurfLeague.com for the latest news and info as we countdown the start of the 2022 Championship Tour.

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