All photos: OlympiaTV
When he was one of only two remaining at center stage and he finally, finally, finally heard emcee Bob Cicherillo stretch out the “oo” in his name, competitor #1 stage-dived like Ronnie Coleman used to do, overcome by emotions. Hadi Choopan is the 17th Mr. Olympia, and improbably so. A hearing-impaired, 5’6″ Iranian who first competed in the 212 division, he is the Samson who both slew Goliath and fended off another potential, improbable giant-killer. And, thus, the 2022 Mr. Olympia seemed to signify a changing of the guard, in more ways than one.
The 2022 Mr. Olympia, with a record 28 competitors, featured the deepest lineup in years. And this depth extended to the last prejudging callout, where six quality competitors jockeyed for the top places. Usually, by the end of Friday you know how Saturday will go. This time, there was only confusion, and it created a buzz that began just after prejudging and has yet to subside.
Defending and two-time champ Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay was in the first and last prejudging callouts, but was never in the center as expected. Instead, Hadi Choopan and Derek Lunsford spent the most time in the middle. Was Ramy winning so clearly that the judges were focused on Choopan and Lunsford for second? Ramy was good but not that good. Or was Ramy losing by so much he was never even given a chance to battle at center stage to keep his title? Ramy was off, like last year, but was he that off? The buzz grew. Ultimately, the latter was true. And we have a 17th Mr. Olympia champ: Hadi Choopan.
2022 Mr. Olympia: The Top 6
The first and last callouts of prejudging consisted of the same six competitors: Big Ramy, Hadi Choopan, Brandon Curry, Samson Dauda, Derek Lunsford, Nick Walker.
Samson Dauda was the surprise in these callouts, for this was his first Mr. Olympia. But the Nigerian Lion has a pleasing structure and thick and proportionate development. He edged closer to Ramy when next to him in comparisons and was able to hang with the two-time Mr. Olympia, the first sign that the defending champ was in real trouble.
Brandon Curry looked bigger than last year. But as always the lower half of the 2019 Mr. Olympia trails the upper half, and this time he was a little washed out in front shots.
Nick Walker too was bigger. And he also would have benefited from more quad mass, as his legs look narrow from the front. But he was helped by his thick abs, huge guns, and on-point conditioning. Walker is never going to win an aesthetics contest, but he’s maximizing his “Mutant” potential. Ultimately, he won the People’s Champ award and moved into the coveted Olympia top three, setting the 28-year-old up as a top contender next year.
It wasn’t entirely shocking. Some of us had him picked for the top six. Still, even for those of us with high expectations, Derek Lunsford far exceeded them. Lunsford, last year’s 212 Olympia champ, has grown one of the world’s best physiques. His pecs need to be thicker, and his side shots will benefit from more muscle, but his back shots and front double biceps are tremendous. And he nailed his conditioning. It’s amazing that Lunsford, Choopan, and William Bonac, too, were 212 champs. The 212 division has become bodybuilding’s minor league, its proving ground for open bodybuilding success. Oh, and this was Lunsford’s first open pro bodybuilding contest, and he was runner-up in the Mr. Olympia, losing the title by a mere four points, and he’s only 29! The future is bright for him and the Olympia.
I thought Hadi Choopan was the best bodybuilder in last year’s Mr. Olympia. And the judges agreed with me that he was the best bodybuilder in this year’s Olympia, too. The Persian Wolf is tremendously thick with a superb X-frame, and he was peeled. Even in the front lat spread, when others wash-out, his dense abs are a pose-winning strength. And in the crucial rear double biceps, his density from top to bottom won the day. Eyes were drawn to him in pose after pose. But it was far from a unanimous decision. In one of the closest Olympias ever, he won Friday’s prejudging by only one point, and Saturday’s finals by three. Thus, the 35-year-old Iranian became the 17th Mr. Olympia, and the second in a row to live outside America, as professional bodybuilding continues to grow more international.
And then there’s Big Ramy. First, the good news. His quads from the side were the best in the show, and his rear lat spread is still a hang-glider. Though his upper body was a bit watery, his lower body was on-point, including striated glutes. Now, the bad news. His arms have shrunk as have, to a lesser degree, his lower lats. There are divots and lumps on his legs where there shouldn’t be. His calves remain overpowered by his thighs. Nothing really flows together. He’s become a collection of diverse parts. I still like the Big Ramy who won the 2013 New York Pro in his rookie year the best, but that was a long time ago. Bodies change. We’ve likely seen the best of Ramy, but I’d love for him to prove me wrong. Meanwhile, it was good to see balanced and conditioned physiques rewarded. Ramy snuck by last year, but the competition was a lot stiffer this time.
2022 Mr. Olympia: Best of the Rest
The second callout featured Hunter Labrada, William Bonac, Andrew Jacked, Michal Krizo, Iain Valliere, and Raphael Brandao. William Bonac, the pre-contest consensus pick for second place, was one of the show’s biggest disappointments. At 40, age may be catching up with him, as he lacks that same 3-D look he sported when he was third in the 2018 Mr. Olympia. Hunter Labrada was about the same as last year and simply slipped a little against tougher competition. Iain Valliere lacks an ideal structure but continues to grow. His side triceps was his strongest pose. Raphael Brandao sported the most aesthetic physique in the Mr. Olympia and was justly rewarded by cracking the top 10 in his Olympia debut. A cross between classic physique and open bodybuilding, the Brazilian Brandao is, for many, the ideal Mr. O.
And then there were the two highly touted Olympia rookies who came over from a rival pro federation this year. Michal Krizo looks great in the front and side shots. But his back lags. Also, he needed more high-def detailing and a darker tan. Still, it was a promising first showing in the Super Bowl of Bodybuilding. Conversely, Andrew Jacked looks his worst in the side shots (knowing this, he cheats them to the front) but wins poses from the front and rear. He has a superb structure and tremendous legs for such a tall guy (6’2″). Jacked has the most promise of anyone in this callout. If he continues to fill out his long frame while maintaining what he calls his “Mona Lisa” qualities, he may be a future Mr. Olympia.
2022 Mr. Olympia Placings
1. Hadi Choopan ($400,000)
2. Derek Lunsford ($150,000)
3. Nick Walker ($100,000)
4. Brandon Curry ($40,000)
5. Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Ellsbiay ($30,000)
6. Samson Dauda
7. Hunter Labrada
8. Andrew Jacked
9. William Bonac
10. Raphael Brandao
11. Iain Valliere
12. Michal Krizo
13. Partrick Johnson
14. Charles Griffen
15. Justin Rodriguez
Note: There were 28 competitors (#17 & #25 were removed).