Hadi Choopan Dominated The Arnold Classic!


by Christian Duque

The Persian Wolf lived up to all the hype winning the 2024 Arnold Classic in Columbus, OH. This was the first time the 2022 Mr. Olympia had ever competed in the United States, except for the Mr. Olympia. Many fans believed this was going to be his opportunity to redeem himself from last year’s Mr. O where he narrowly lost the title to Derek Lunsford. And while Choopan and Lunsford are both Evogen athletes and both are prepped by Hany Rambod, the defeat stung so much more.

For much of his reign, The Persian Wolf was ignored by the bodybuilding media. While they were ecstatic that he’d finally won a Sandow, he didn’t capitalize on the victory. We didn’t see him hit the expo circuit, we didn’t see him guest posing on every continent as would be expected from someone who held the top title in bodybuilding. In many regards, Hadi did what his predecessor Big Ramy had. He kept a very low profile, returned to his home country, and expected that the world of bodybuilding would talk about him ad nauseum because after all he was the best in the world.

When you win the Mr. Olympia you’re the #1 athlete in whatever division you competed in, but it doesn’t get you sustained press. The problem is, bodybuilding isn’t structed where any one title automatically gives you fame and fortune. Just like when a competitor turns pro, it’s not like all the hard work stops and all the money pours in. This is a sport that requires everyone to hustle – including Mr. Olympia. Other champions like Jay, Phil, and Ronnie knew this all too well. They won the top title and hit the ground running.

Despite being very low key and more or less inactive, Hadi made some other blunders that cost him the level of notoriety that maybe he was hoping for when he beat Big Ramy back in 2022. The fact of the matter is that for his entire reign as Mr. O, Hadi was cast in the shadow of Derek Lunsford. While Lunsford had been his runner-up, he was U.S. based and was everywhere. While Hadi trained in his little gym in Iran, Derek was doing the business of bodybuilding. He was guest posing, handing out awards, speaking and meeting the fans. The press, in turn, had no choice but to give the lion’s share of the attention to whoever they had in front of them. But it was more than that.

I think in 2022, a great many people wanted Lunsford to win. They were tired of Ramy’s laziness. And that’s just how the cookie crumbled. By the time the Olympia rolled around, Choopan was totally spent. I think that psychologically he was so over being ignored that that played a role in his ultimately not bringing his best.

There were also political concerns that maybe because Choopan hadn’t done enough to grow the sport and/or to grow the Olympia, that maybe the powers that be wanted regime change. Maybe they wanted someone that was hungrier, more passionate. Maybe in Hadi’s mind, he saw the writing on the wall. The last straw was actually hearing Bob announce Derek the winner. Hadi just couldn’t take it, and that’s why I think he walked off stage a couple poses short of the conclusion.

By Hadi walking off stage in the way that he did, he earned the dislike of a huge segment of the bodybuilding world. Even though he stayed for the vast majority of the poses and congratulated Derek, people just couldn’t let go of it. The clips of Brandon trying to convince him to stay went viral. Derek’s look at Hadi went viral. The guy walking right by Bob Cicherillo went viral.

When it was all said and done, there was a huge amount of backlash for The Persian Wolf. Many called for sanctions and even some of the more extreme elements wanted him suspended. The bottom line is that Hadi’s reputation was in the toilet. And that probably took a toll on everyone associated with him. I mean would you want to support a company that sponsored a guy you thought was a sore loser? That doesn’t seem to make very much business sense.

Competing in the 2024 Arnold Classic was a must for Choopan. I wasn’t super enthused by the decision for the same reason I wasn’t enthused when Big Ramy announced he’d do it last year. Ramy competed in the Arnold in 2020 and had his ass handed to him by both Wiliam Bonac and Dexter Jackson. It’s the second most prestigious contest and it’s very hard to do well there. It’s by no means a cakewalk by virtue of being a past Mr. O. Ramy learned this the hard way in 2023 where despite looking better than the previous year’s Mr. Olympia, he was still unable to win the contest. And not only didn’t he win the show, but he got the same placing (and against lesser quality guys).

Therefore, my concern was the same as with Ramy. I figured that if Hadi was injured or that if he had some of kind of health issue to address from last year’s O that he should take time off. I even stated in one of my Instagram Live Chats that it wouldn’t be the end of the world for Hadi sit out the season and then consider whether or not to do the 2024 Olympia. I mean as a former Mr. O he’s automatically qualified so he didn’t have to do the Arnold or any other show.

So then why did he do it?

Hadi needed a big win. He needed to best a guy like Samson who was part of the Olympia Top 3 and who was also the defending champion. Although he wasn’t battling Derek, he was doing the next best thing. If he could come into Columbus in top form, beat Samson, and really break out of of his shell, he could turn it all around. He could undo the PR blunder from the O and he could help fans forget his loss in Orlando, FL. And it wasn’t like he got annihilated – he placed 2nd, but when you’re a defending Mr. O, especially in your first title defense, and you take 2nd, there’s very little honor in that. Hadi needed the win in Columbus and it had to be a resounding one. Winning by the skin of his teeth or because Samson was off wasn’t going to provide him with the desired effect.

Samson was ready and looked amazing. Although he could have been more conditioned, he brought tremendous shape and flow. At nearly 6’ and 300lbs, the towering champion dwarfed The Persian Wolf. Plus Dauda’s look is just so much more pleasant to look at than most ankle-biters.

The truth is, years ago Samson’s much taller look and much heavier physique would have been what made any notion of 212’ers doing well in the Open, laughable. Let’s just say that times have changed. Now, not only do former 212’ers do well, but they’re the 1st and 2nd best bodybuilders in the world, respectively. And it’s Samson who’s the odd man out.

Even though Dauda had the prettier physique and even though he was dialed in, Hadi was just so much more peeled. His cuts were far deeper and he clearly suffered to get himself in the best condition possible. What was worse for Dauda is that Hadi knew he had the edge. The more they posed, the harder The Persian Wolf got and no one could ignore it. The fans were in an uproar as Samson almost looked watery at times next to the Iranian half-pint that was pushing him to the brink.

What’s also noteworthy, however, is that these guys had a great time. No one was bitter. No one was elbowing each other or being disrespectful. I think both Hadi and Samson knew they brought the best of the best in shape and condition. They also knew that it’s the judges who decide. Competitors who aren’t civil only make themselves and the sport look bad. I was very happy to see that even the two guys with the most to win and the most to lose, were the ones having the best time. That’s exactly what this sport needs.

After the prejudging everyone was of the opinion that Hadi had it in the bag. The same feelings were had after the finals. The Top 3 was pretty much set in stone. Everyone I know had Hadi 1st, Samson 2nd, and there may have been some discussion for 3rd. The vast majority of people had 3rd going to Rafael Brandao, who I wrote about just last week here at Iron Magazine. A few folks believed Jon Delarosa had a legitimate claim to the Top 3 and he most certainly did. He’d ultimately get 4th. That said, everyone had Hadi winning and when The Persian Wolf was announced the winner, no one had any issues. The fans didn’t boo and all the athletes were very happy for each other.

This is precisely the kind of win, in all aspects, that Ramy had hoped for in 2023. It’s great that Hadi was able to get everything he had hoped for. And now there is no question that he’s the #1 contender. He will have that distinction regardless of who wins the upcoming Arnold shows internationally, whoever wins the NY Pro (the 3rd largest show), and whoever wins any other contest. As a result of being last year’s Olympia runner-up and this year’s Arnold champion, EVERYONE will be looking at Hadi to win back the Olympia in Las Vegas, NV.

The only problem there is that in 60 years it has only happened once. The math, the history, and whatever role politics may or may not exist, do not favor Hadi’s odds. Only time will tell, but one thing Hadi can count on for the rest of the year is that he will NOT be ignored!!