by Christian Duque
Samson Dauda’s huge win at the 2023 Arnold has certainly cemented him as the #1 contender even more so than Derek Lunsford who took 2nd place at the 2022 Mr. Olympia. In the sport of bodybuilding the winner of the Arnold has tremendous bragging rights and this particular contest was a true testament to the promoter’s desire to ensure that his show lived up to being the 2nd biggest contest in the world. Initially, the numbers started dipping, and when it got down to just six men, Schwarzenegger upped the prize money by a whopping $100,000.
The total grand prize was $300k and it drew out several top level guys, including Nick Walker (3rd at the 2022 Olympia) and Big Ramy (2x Mr. Olympia). Interestingly, Dauda was among the original six and had always intended to do this contest. This was personal and in hindsight it didn’t matter if the show’s prize raised to 300k or not. The fact is he wanted to make a name for himself in a sport that’s increasingly dominated by a small handful of guys.
After the 2022 Olympia, the group of media favorites for the top title in the sport rested with guys who’d won the Olympia and guys who’d placed Top 3.
Brandon Curry remains a name in any and all conversations. He’s proven himself as being a consistent top finisher and has won the Olympia and the Arnold. Even though he’s already won the biggest title in the sport, he hasn’t lost the drive to keep improving.
Big Ramy, even after his big fall from power in 2022, continues to command tremendous clout among handicappers, commentators, and writers. Many believed that 2022 was a fluke. They blamed Dennis James, others blamed Chad Nicholls. His hardcore fans thought it was an issue of carbs, cortisol, or some other fact that explained why he was unable to win the title back. None of the diehards wanted to concede that maybe The Egyptian Phenom was injured, burnt out, or sidelined.
Other notables that were taking the spotlight included Hadi Choopan – which is a no brainer – considering he’s the reigning Mr. Olympia and has climbed the ranks of The 212 and the open ranks.
Derek is the boy wonder even though he only got to the Olympia based off of a special invite. Nonetheless, no one can deny his stellar performance nor the fact that going into the finals, there was a huge camp that thought he was going to win the show.
Then of course there’s Nick Walker, who is thought to be the next Mr. O by many accounts. He brings tremendous size, and somehow seems to pack on more and more muscle mass. For the Arnold, he was incredibly conditioned, and looked better than the Olympia.
What’s crazy is that no one expected Shaun Clarida to place just one spot under Ramy nor did they think he could shake things up at the Arnold.
Samson didn’t get a lot of love going into the Arnold, even though he had acquired a good amount of fanfare with his Top 6 at last year’s Olympia. That said, he was still trailing considerably insofar as how much love the media was showing him.
When it was just six guys, there was a segment of the press and the fans who thought Samson could win. He was up against two 212 Mr. Olympias and a 2x Arnold champion in William “The Conqueror” Bonac. When Nick Walker threw his hat in, most people all but forgot about Samson. When Big Ramy threw his hat into the ring, Samson became an afterthought.
Most people were looking at the other two big guys because they still looked at Big Ramy as Mr. Olympia and Walker as the future. Also, mass has always played a very big role in bodybuilding. And although the ASC has always been the show that rewards condition and separation over sheer size, most fans lack the ability to process that. They believe that the guys with the biggest and freakiest muscles will always prevail.
That’s never been what Arnold has favored and it’s never been a look that’s done well in Columbus. In fact, who can forget when Walker did win the title, and Arnold couldn’t get out of the venue fast enough? And who can forget his comments years ago about really good bodybuilders like Justin Compton? This has never been a show for mass monsters and even when Arnold busted out his phone to take selfies with Ramy in the background, that doesn’t mean he liked the look. He may have been taking the footage because the guy’s a Mr. O. I can assure you that he didn’t look at The Egyptian Phenom’s body with the same level of respect as he did the late, great Cedric McMillan.
I think these points finally hit fans when they saw the real battle being between Andrew Jacked and Samson Dauda. That’s where the real battle took place and that’s where the judges really had their work cut out for them. It’s something I said before the contest here at Iron Magazine and it’s something I’m saying after it. I’ve only been making this point for the better part of a decade. Guys with shape, condition, and excellent posing skills are the ones who are rewarded in Columbus. That said, I do agree with many Nick Walker fans in that he really upped his game. I’d never seen him in better shape and firing on all cylinders, but the aesthetics still weren’t there. And they may never be.
There are things people can control and there are things they can’t. Muscle can be added. Muscle size can be increased or decreased; however, the shape and look of a physique is something that may be outside the cards to change. A guy like Branch Warren can never recreate himself to look like Dexter Jackson. A guy like Dorian can never look like Bob Paris. They can increase/decrease body weight, create more separation, and maybe they can pose in such a way to present a different look through the use of illusion, but ultimately they have to play with the deck they’re dealt.
Size can and has ruined many great aesthetically-pleasing physiques, but that’s provided they started out with a great look. If you’ve never had that great look, then the freak factor is all you have. This is why guys like Walker and Ramy have smashed through the 300lbs mark. For them, the bigger they get, the more competitive they are. And while both guys have been able to get their waist down, totally control their midsection, and pose hard, even still, guys like Samson and Jacked are too much for them. They have the size, they have the condition, and they have the freak factor.
Not only was no one upset that Samson won the 2023 Arnold Classic, but a great many people were surprised that Nick Walker finished ahead of Andrew Jacked.
And what’s even crazier to think about is that Shaun Clarida finished just short of Big Ramy. The point difference between Ramy and Clarida was far more narrow than between Ramy and Jacked.
Once again, this speaks directly to the point that the Arnold Classic rewards size and condition, but also places a very high value on the bodybuilder’s aesthetics. If this judging criteria is repeated at the Olympia, we could see a situation where guys like Derek, Samson, Brandon and Andrew are battling for the top spots. We could also see Shaun in the mix if he decides to stick with open.
That said, this approach to judging would be very unkind to the defending champion, Hadi Choopan, as well as to Nick Walker and Big Ramy. That said, the Arnold has historically had its approach to doing things and the Olympia has had theirs. Only time will tell what the judges at the Superbowl of Bodybuilding do.
One thing’s for sure, Samson Dauda is now on the map! He is the #1 contender to the 2023 Mr. Olympia!