by Christian Duque
From training and posing with 2022 Mr. Olympia runner-up Derek Lunsford to numerous guest posing and other appearances throughout the bodybuilding world 2023 Arnold Classic champion Samson Dauda has been growing the sport like no other. He is a prime example of the kind of champion that’s going to make this niche sport into a household name.
Unlike reigning Mr. Olympia Hadi Choopan, Dauda has made a point to narrow the gap between the fans and the stars. He has been able to achieve this goal through intensive activity on various social media platforms. This level of activity should be the norm for all Mr. Olympias, however, we have seen practically no activity from The Persian Wolf or his predecessor 2x Mr. Olympia Big Ramy.
The fact of the matter is that we live in an age when everyone lives on their cellphones and as a result all other formats play second fiddle. Desktop computers are used only in workplaces, tablets are used mostly on planes, and print media is on life support. FLEX and Muscle & Fitness no longer print in the United States, Muscle Mag is gone, IronMan covers only natural bodybuilding, and Muscular Development is scarcely available at newsstands. This is why I say print is on life support. Therefore, the vast majority of folks get their news from digital formats all accessible from their phones. The cutting edge media outlets keep traffic and engagement high. They go out there to break stories, do podcasts, and get great interviews. Guys like Samson aren’t just connecting with the fans on their own platforms but they’re also working closely with various bodybuilding outlets. That too is key.
We find ourselves during a very critical point in time insofar as whether bodybuilding will stay a niche sport or will make moves to grow into other segments of society. If physique-based and strength-based sports can grow into wider spheres of influence we may start to see more mainstream sponsors. This will create sufficient interest to warrant competitions moving into larger venues and receiving far more preferential treatment from the mainstream media.
Although there’s a school of thought in our world that’s indifferent to how the everyday crowd treats our sport, that’s small potatoes mentality. Sure, there are purists who are happy with contests being run out of high school auditoriums and keeping dungeon-like meathead gyms as the standard for physique-based athletes, most folks want to see growth. Everyone is wanting a better quality of life, more prize money, and more recognition. That all requires looking at the big picture and it’s all the more reason we need more guys like Samson Dauda holding key titles and less guys like Ramy and Hadi. Look at Dorian. He took a lot of flack for being isolated and that was in the pre-social-media 90’s!! Even then people found his isolation counterproductive. Imagine how backward it is in 2023.
We can’t keep rewarding competitors who are lazy – I don’t care how great their physiques are!! If they don’t promote the sport, they can’t win. That’s not to say that what they present on stage isn’t important. It’s practically 95% of everything! Just look at the guy who we’re talking about.
Dauda is tall, muscular, and symmetrical. Unlike many of the mass monsters that are quite frankly unpleasant to look at, he’s pushing a look that’s easy to market. Let’s not forget that very much like athletes are trying to win over the judges by getting the best scores so too is the sport of bodybuilding trying to win over the mainstream with champions people will be impressed with. Making people sigh or be disgusted may get that freak factor going but that’s not what’s going to win over new fans.
As freaky and gnarly as Nick Walker may be, you tell me, which physique do you think is prettier to look at? Nick’s or Samson’s? Again, it’s a strange adjective outside of our world, but speaking relative to muscle, symmetry, and balance, which of these two guys has a better look? I think it’s night and day. One guy presents an artistic look where each side compliments the other. To see a massive guy with veins popping everywhere and looking like a refrigerator, that’s not going to win hearts and minds. Existing bodybuilding fans will be fans for life and have probably been following along since they were in high school. They’re not going anywhere and while it’s very important to keep your diehard fans happy it’s also important to think outside the box and strive for new fans.
Arnold as a promoter has had luck in finding champions that actually do something when it comes to promoting his event and the sport in general. Although Nick Walker didn’t successfully defend his title in 2023 he was there. That says a lot because there’s a number of contests that do not see their titles defended. It’s also great to see previous years’ winners in the mix. It tells the world that it’s a title that’s sought after and it always increases the production value of a show to have previous champions there gunning to get the title back.
In fact before Arnold raised the prize money by $100k, Samson was one of the six guys who were committed to battling it out in Columbus. He had his eyes set on the prize. After all, the ASC is the second biggest contest in the sport. You wouldn’t have known it by the fact that people were dropping like flies and very few folks seemed inclined to sign-up in 2023. Whatever the case may be it all worked out and Samson went on to win one of the most competitive Arnold Classics in modern day history. And what’s great about his win is that the real work started after he claimed the title. He didn’t take his winnings and ride off into the sunset.
I have a tremendous amount of faith in Dauda and I believe the work he’s done to date shows that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I mean we could easily sit here and talk about how he trains or how impressive his physique is but I think focusing on the great work he’s doing growing the sport is key. We have a reigning Mr. Olympia who would be wise to take a page from Dauda’s playbook. He still has five or so months where he could actually start getting out in the world, being seen, and if anything else making great money by promoting himself and his sponsors. Sadly, I think it’s going to take a new Mr. Olympia to see that kind of work ethic. Whether it’s Samson, Derek, or Brandon, we’ll have a Mr. O who sees the bigger picture and knows the importance of being at events and really working up their social media.
I couldn’t be happier with the reigning Arnold Classic champion we have. I also love the fact he understands how much the fans appreciate seeing him posing alongside another top guy like Derek Lunsford. At the end of the day, cutting-edge content doesn’t require a lot of bells and whistles. Sometimes something as simple as a couple of guys hitting some poses and chit chatting about what show they’ll be presenting or guest posing at next is all that it takes. But the fans need to see and hear from the stars. Anything short of that just isn’t going to cut it in 2023 and beyond.