by Christian Duque
Reigning Mr. Olympia Hadi Choopan has fired warning shots since the big guest posing at the Pittsburgh Pro just a week ago. It featured Olympia runner-up Derek Lunsford looking considerably bigger and very impressive. Lunsford is no longer giving up any size. Ever since he took the stage at the 2022 Mr. Olympia the only thing holding the young former Mr. USA up is height, and bodybuilding isn’t a height contest by any stretch of the imagination. Seeing Derek and guys like Nick Walker hitting poses shows us where the sport might be going.
The Mutant looked considerably bigger as well posing at the President’s show. In fact, even Big Ramy decided to make good on his promised appearance. Although The Egyptian Phenom looked considerably smaller than expected standing next to Samson in off-season-shape, he was definitely in the mix, hitting shots with everyone, and making the fans sit at the edge of their seats. Even though he’s come up short in Columbus and looked less than stellar at this guest posing, his heart is in it, and it seems that the big man may be back for more. It’s a whole different can of worms when competing isn’t about winning or nothing. The Egyptian big man has made the sport fun for himself again. Just one look at the stage interactions and it became quite obvious that the Ramy of old was back.
Hunter Labrada looked very promising and 212 Mr. Olympia Shaun “The Giant Killer” Clarida, fresh from his big move to Texas, looked to be eating up the appearance. He looked super dense, ripped, and was having a blast. Although Clarida was the lightest and the shortest, he didn’t look out of place. He looked like he totally belonged up there. The same could be said for the secret threat of them all, Samson Dauda. The 2023 Arnold Classic champion looked towering in his shots and pushing the envelope with regard to his major success just a couple months ago. The one man that was absent was Hadi Choopan.
The Persian Wolf is facing similar issues to Big Ramy. For whatever reason, most likely visa-related, the reigning Mr. Olympia is out of sight and likely out of mind. This isn’t because the press and the fans don’t recognize his huge achievements but it’s more about him not being present where things are happening. Ramy was never around. He never went to expos, he never guest posed, either.
In many ways Ramy was like a modern-day Dorian. The problem is the modern day has no time for hermits. If you start being absent from big shows like the Pittsburgh, if you don’t make appearances in Columbus, then your reign isn’t what it could be. The fact of the matter is that Hadi is firing warning shots because no one is talking about him and he will become less of a factor in the court of public opinion as he misses more expos and big shows. When it comes to the Pittsburgh, it’s a rare chance to see all the top Olympians in one place, posing just for fun. He won’t see these guys again until Orlando and that will hurt him in terms of generating buzz going into the 2023 Mr. Olympia.
I have no idea why the champ wasn’t present except for the fact he probably had travel issues. If I was Mr. Olympia and if I knew how hard travel is, I’d figure out a way to move to the U.S., western Europe, or Australia. That said, you can’t tell an athlete to leave his family, his friends, and his country just to promote bodybuilding. What if he’s a single year champion? What if he retires in a handful of years? It’s just such a bold move to make and that’s probably why he hasn’t made it. Did Ramy ever leave Egypt? No.
That said, if Hadi is expecting bodybuilding to come to him, he’s in for another story. Just like the sport didn’t pick up and go to Egypt during the two years Ramy reigned supreme, Hadi is finding out that unless he starts being seen, he’ll be forgotten. One look at how the guys were carrying themselves on stage and it would seem that the sport revolved around two champions. You could tell a lot by how the top tier athletes conducted themselves on the President’s stage. Everyone wanted to pose and pose down with Derek and Samson.
If you look at the footage all the other guys were just off doing their own thing, but most cameras focused on Dauda and Lunsford. Both looked huge, both were having a blast, and there was very little commentary with Choopan. In fact, a growing number of American fans think the Top 2 could have gone either way last year in Vegas. Many people believe that with one solid year of improvements and building off his fanfare by intensive special appearances that Derek will bring too much to the table. The more he appears at events, the more those crowds will cheer. Plus being a former Mr. USA and a former 212 Mr. Olympia there’s already tons of clamor to see the kid win the biggest title in bodybuilding.
Derek’s always been about his prep, humble, and never negative. With the exception of bringing about the wrath of Jose Raymond years ago over training intensity, Lunsford has never looked for trouble. He’s a guy who knows how the sport works, shows respect to the judges, and may very well do a better job promoting the sport than Choopan. We saw this happen during the Coleman/Cutler rivalry to a certain extent. Jay always outworked Ronnie in terms of appearances but in reality they always seemed to be somewhat neck and neck. One look at what Derek’s on track for doing as runner-up as compared to Hadi and you’re left hoping that ambassadorial work isn’t a component in winning the 2023 title because if so Hadi will get blown off the stage.
Other fans have already taken to the boards with comments ranging from whether or not Choopan is taking down time to the fact that he might make the mistake of bringing the same look as 2022. What people need to remember is that Lunsford and Choopan have the same coach. Also, there’s no need for anyone to look Olympia ready in May. If any of these guys got on stage super dialed in then that would cause alarms for the big show. What makes this show fun is that the guys can be somewhat out of the Olympia hell week mindset while still keeping their lines and not blimping out. No one looked out of shape. This is because it’s the President’s show and because no one can forget the backlash that the late great Shawn Rhoden faced when he went into that appearance out of shape.
There’s a fine line, as with any guest posing. You want to look like you’re within reach of the beginning of prep, but not out of shape. No one on that stage made the mistake that the 2018 Mr. O did back in the day. Everyone looked good enough to make the fans lose their minds and the fact everyone was looking at Dauda and Lunsford may have ruffled more than a few of Choopan’s feathers. Oh well though. He skipped the contest and now only he can change the hand he’s dealt by making appearances.
Warning shots only work for so long. He was able to remind his public that he’s still around and that all the guys who posed in the 412 are top guys for sure, but he is the top guy. He is #1 and then there’s everyone else. For now his warning shot made the news – Nick’s Strength and Power talked about it. I’m writing about it in Iron Magazine and you may have read about it somewhere else as well. That said, let’s say this is the same situation one, two, or three other appearances into the future. If Hadi is still hiding out from the scene, many will just say “there’s Hadi again, what will he say next.” He’ll become the equivalent of a chihuahua barking behind a door. Eventually the loud barking fades away. And when Choopan takes the stage again – if it’s in Orlando – a lot of fans will be like “who’s that?”
You think I’m kidding, but I’m really not. There’s still a lot of fans who think Big Ramy is Mr. Olympia. Not that he was that public to begin with, but word travels very slowly. Most fans don’t watch the Olympia, they watch social media. The Olympia is old news by this point. Even the Arnold is dated. Right now everyone’s talking about the Pittsburgh and sadly for Choopan, he’s just not in the conversation.
Can Dauda beat Choopan? Can Lunsford, Walker, or Labrada? That’s a toss up. No one knows, for sure, but given the big guest posing show at the President’s show, it’s only natural that more fans will be talking about Samson, Derek, and Nick. Some might give Hunter a second look and there may even be talk about Shaun doing the open again – or – Ramy shocking the world, while having the time of his life, and pulling off an upset at the 2023 Olympia. Will Choopan be making any appearances? Only time will tell, but one thing’s for sure, the champ does not dig being out of the conversation.