Shaun Clarida WINS Reno Sports Fest!

by Christian Duque

What did I say last week in my article for Iron Magazine? I said, once you look past the initial height and weight differences and you focus on assessing physiques, 212 Mr. Olympia Shaun Clarida would do major damage in Open Bodybuilding. I also said, publicly, that I thought Clarida had a very strong chance of winning the competition.

Many of the doubters chimed in. How could Clarida beat guys over 100lbs heavier than him? How could he beat guys that were a whole foot (or more) taller than him? They said it couldn’t be done. They said Shaun was acting the fool; meanwhile, many of these same people were posting comments on his wall challenging him to do just that ever since he won the 212 Olympia in 2020.

The Reno Sports Fest wasn’t a small show by any stretch. This was a massive lineup. Even I didn’t even realize how many competitors it had. There were something like 14 pro’s in open bodybuilding and it was a somewhat deep lineup. You had Arnold champion Cedric McMillan, you had NY Pro champion Sergio Oliva Jr., and Canadian superstar Regan Grimes. You also had Tonio “The Mutant” Burton, crossing over into the Open from 212 and competing in his hometown, after an impressive Top 10 at the 212 Olympia Showdown and a key win at the 2021 Indy Pro. Everyone who hit the stage in Reno, NV, wanted to snag an early Mr. Olympia qualification for 2022 and I can assure you, hardly anyone thought that Shaun Clarida was going to be the guy to walk away victorious. In fact, when it came down to the Top 3, which included Clarida, Oliva, and Grimes, very few (even then) thought Clarida was going to get the W. I’ll be honest, when each guy took front and center, I was starting to think the judges were going to relegate the 212 champ either to runner-up or third, but I was pleasantly surprised when The Giant Killer’s name was announced as winner. It restored a lot of my faith in the judges.

Look, it’s a subjective sport, I get it, but when you look at the condition that Clarida brought, it would have been a downright robbery had they given it to Oliva over Clarida. And while Reagan did look far, far better than he did at the Olympia, his winning would also have been incorrect. The fact is, Shaun picked this contest to do his pro debut, because he held his peak from the O. His physique was ultra-shredded and later it was full. He timed everything perfectly, he posed hard, and he also had fun while he was up there. Most of the open guys were all business, but Clarida, ever the showman, had fun with the mandatories and comparisons. Perhaps the biggest feather in his cap was his level of confidence. He was the only man on that stage with an Olympia title under his belt – and it showed. Even in his preparations for the contest, he wasn’t about to balloon up. That’s not what won him the title in 2020 and it wasn’t how he was going to battle with the open guys. He stayed true to his physique and true to his foundations and when the dust settled, he was the one man that won it all.

Before I move on, I’d like to commend the promoters on a fantastically run contest. The production was top notch and from all the videos I’ve seen, I found everything to have been done first class. The stage, backdrop, the venue, it was all quite noteworthy. While I wasn’t there, I knew of plenty of people that were. I didn’t want to overlook these elements so I made sure to ask my friends what they thought. Not a single person had a disparaging remark. And if you know my friends, you’ll know that’s pretty rare.

There’s also something special about this contest because it wasn’t Shaun’s first time there. He’d won the 212 title and he returned to win the open. And just like he said on his social – mission accomplished. I don’t think the champ closed his eyes and competed at whatever contest his finger landed on. This was well thought out and everything ran smoothly.

The big question, now, is what happens next? Shaun made a point to state, emphatically, that he wasn’t leaving the 212; however, with an Open win and an Olympia qualification, is he going to let that lapse? By winning in Reno, that’s one less spot to the big dance for the open guys. Sure, the spot will be taken by guys who qualify through points, but how often does it happen where a guy gets a qualification and then doesn’t use it?

Would Jake Wood, Dan Solomon, & Co. consider allowing Shaun to compete in both Open & 212, in 2022? It wouldn’t be a Special Invite because he’s qualified for both, but it would be a Special Exception.

I for one, would love to see the Giant Killer stand next to Big Ramy – it’d be a real David vs Goliath situation, but I’d also love to see him go the distance against Derek Lunsford to re-claim his title. I’m pretty sure if you were to poll bodybuilding fans, they’d like to see that more than anything.

Could you imagine? In the end, the IFBB Pro League and Jake Wood could come up with some kind of a working framework, the question is, would that be something they’d consider? Both the Pro League and the Olympia want to appease the fans. After all, that’s why we have a People’s Champion award and that’s why we have the Special Invite. Anything’s possible, right? It’s our job in media, to help communicate what the fans want. That’s one of the biggest contributions we make, here, at Iron Magazine.

With regards to the 212, quite a few pro’s publicly congratulated Shaun. That’s in keeping with the general disposition of the Division. These guys are united, they have excellent camaraderie, and they like to see each other succeed. Interestingly, when I tagged 20 212 Pro’s for my 212Bodybuilding Instagram page on a video pushing Shaun to win, very few liked or commented, when they normally would on other posts I tagged them on.

Could Shaun’s win have made some of the competitors in the 212 a little salty? I doubt it, but you never know. After all, what he did is groundbreaking. It hasn’t been done in a long time, and while guys like Hadi and Bonac did it, they weren’t Shaun’s height and they certainly didn’t do it under 200lbs. While Lunsford may have narrowly edged out Shaun for the 212 title, Shaun just turned the tables by winning an open pro show. Now, he’s not just the 212 runner-up, he’s the guy who beat 13 open guys, two weeks after the Olympia. Imagine the fire that’s going to light under him for the months leading up to the 2022 Showdown!!

In a very real way, we could potentially see the Arnold Classic committee extend Clarida an invitation. They’d be fools not to. No offense, sorry but not sorry. Would Shaun consider it? Would he consider doing the open Olympia? It’s one thing to say he’ll never leave the 212 while he’s competing for a debut, but now with an Olympia qualification, does that change anything? And what does he have to lose? The 212 prize money isn’t exactly spectacular. Even with a Top 6 placing, that’s about as much as he’d make taking runner-up at the Showdown. He could always win again, but guys like Hadi and Bonac gave up on that.

Why spend your life trying to win a title that pays so little, in a division not represented at the Arnold, and quite frankly, plays second fiddle to Open Bodybuilding? Plus, unlike Choopan and Bonac, Clarida has already won the 212 title. Unless his goal is to chase James “Flex” Lewis’ 7 titles, then I could totally see him trying to go for the open.

And for those of you who say, he can’t win, maybe he can’t – or – maybe he can, but that’s not the point. The point is about being competitive and trying new things – on his own terms. Look back to when Lee Priest was Top 6 in the world. If he had the choice between being #1 in the 212 (if it existed then) or #6 amongst the best of the best at the Mr. O, which do you think he would have picked? I honestly think Shaun will be the next Lee Priest and go even farther (if he wants to). He did something monumental in Reno and that should not be the end of it.

Anyone who’s called Ronnie Coleman 2.0 should reach for the stars. What say you?