by Christian Duque
If one take home message can be taken away from the 2023 Arnold Classic it’s this – size in bodybuilding means nothing. We’ve often read about this theory on paper and we’ve heard about its application in the sport during its Golden Era and even in the 1980’s when guys like Lee Labrada were able to push towering mass monsters like Lee Haney to the limit. In the 80’s, many fans thought Labrada could have done the unthinkable.
In the 1970’s it was Frank Zane, who despite never breaking much more than 200lbs was able to single-handedly defeat much heavier guys with relative ease. His lines were perfect, his muscle flowed, and he was the epitome of balance.
That all, seemingly, changed in the 1990’s with the introduction of a guy named Dorian Yates. Yates brought tons of mass and dwarfed pretty much everyone. This tendency pressed forward with challengers to his title like Paul Dillett, Nasser El Sonbaty, and of course the next Mr. O, Ronnie Coleman.
Ronnie took off from where Dorian left off and went to places the sport had never been. While 1998-1999 Ronnie was just a bigger version of Flex Wheeler or Kevin Levvrone, what he did in 2003 would forever change the sport. From there it was mass, mass, and more mass. You had Greg Kovacs, Markus Ruhl, just an endless sea of massive guys who all wanted to try to knock Coleman out. In fact, Gunter Schilerkamp nearly did just that after his big win at the 2004 GNC Show of Strength. There were some smaller guys who did well, but from Ronnie it went to Jay. Although Dexter won in 2008 and Phil represented a more streamlined look they were still up in the 240’s. The title continued to be in the hands of aesthetic, but bigger guys in the Rhoden and Curry, but when Big Ramy won the title in 2020, it was a throwback to the Dorian and Ronnie days, so much so that his top contenders included other huge guys like Nick Walker. When Ramy lost the title in 2022 and decided to do the 2023 Arnold Classic a great many people thought he would clean house. But what actually happened is that BIG RAMY nearly got beat by the one and only Shaun Clarida – the shortest and lightest competitor out of the entire lineup! How could that happen?
It could happen because Shaun is probably the most muscular competitor in the entire sport of bodybuilding. When you look at his height and you look at his weight you’re left scratching your head trying to figure out how and where he could possibly put on more muscle. And what’s crazy is that each time you see him, he always does the unthinkable. He always keeps raising the bar despite the fact that the vast majority of fitness outlets look at him as a non-factor. You know how there are longshots and dark horses? Well Shaun is neither. Most pundits will show him respect as a 2x 212 Mr. Olympia and they might even recognize that “Reno show” where he won against guys like Regan Grimes and Sergio Oliva Jr., but that’s just a blip on the radar. Even though the NJ native slayed giants 100 pounds heavier than him, most pundits refuse to give him more than a few seconds of their time. They’re more busy focusing on the favorites.
Clarida has always been the underdog. He knows all too well what it is to be ignored and overlooked, but unlike what a lot of guys in that position would do, he thrives off of it. You see a lot of guys would be salty. They’d play the victim card, they’d scream about politics, and they’d make their lack of coverage something personal. We’ve seen this movie play out many times before where the spited guys who want attention will ultimately get it because they declare war on the world. Not Shaun. That’s not how he gets down.
You want to ignore Shaun? Ok, he’ll show you. And he’ll do it with a level of training that’s second to none. He’ll do it by not cheating on his plan. He’ll do it by never giving up. Because in the end all that talk is just hot air and negativity. You will never see GK on IG or TikTok trashing the next man. If anything, he builds people up. He didn’t go from being ignored to then being #1 and repeating the vicious cycle. He’s not about to give anyone the cold shoulder. Even up and coming guys who say his days are numbered, he gives them spotlight and shows them love. He knows what it is to be hungry and feel like a non-factor. It’s kind of funny if you think about it because after the 2023 Arnold Classic – finally – I think people got the memo. Even those holdout pundits in the cheap seats who still like to poke fun at the notion that a guy Shaun’s height and Shaun’s weight could not only win some random open show, but could be in the fight for a huge show like the Arnold Classic. And if Clarida could get Top 5 in Columbus, what’s to say he couldn’t do it at the Olympia? And if he COULD get Top 5, he could win it all as well. It’s just not “possible” for most until it happens, but I know better. I have tremendous faith in The Giant Killer!
Something really pivotal happened at the 2023 Arnold Classic. Not only did Shaun beat more open guys now including the likes of Akim Williams (a former Olympia Top 6 finisher) and William Bonac (a 2x Arnold Classic champion), but he was also pushing 2x Mr. Olympia Big Ramy. You could see that Ramy was noticeably shook up and he had reason to be. The scorecards tell the full story. The gap between 3rd and 4th was far greater than the difference between 4th and 5th. What this means is that Shaun Clarida came very, very close to beating Big Ramy. Talk about David vs Goliath.
And Big Ramy wasn’t off! Many of the commentators immediately pointed out that The Egyptian Phenom was improved from the Olympia and that he looked good! The Oak, himself, was seen taking selfies while Ramy was on stage in what looked like a throwback to the days he used to do that with the late great Cedric McMillan. Maybe Arnold thought that Ramy was going to win. And not only didn’t he win, but Shaun Clarida nearly beat him!!
How ironic is it that Shaun – the reigning 212 Mr. Olympia – did that well at a contest that got rid of the 212 Division?!?! If that’s not food for thought I don’t know what is. I just hope that Shaun is very seriously considering doing the open 2023 Mr. Olympia. I think he’d be very competitive. If he nearly beat Big Ramy in Columbus, OH, just a month ago, he can beat anyone!