Winter is here. Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Ellsbiay has been echoing the Game of Thrones promise of something overwhelming for the past two years: “Winter is coming.” He delivered an ice storm last December, becoming the fourth Mr. Olympia in four years. The question was: Could the Egyptian deliver this year and repeat, or would the Sandow once again go home with someone new?
Despite the same top two as last time, the 57th Olympia in Orlando on October 8-9 was a changing of the guard. Not only was 2008 Mr. O Dexter Jackson not on stage for only the second time since the ’90s, but 7-time Mr. O Phil Heath was also in street clothes (dishing an alternate YouTube commentary). The Blade has retired. Has the Gift also hung up his trunks? Together, those two legends had competed in 33 Olympias (a record 21 for Jackson, 12 for Heath). On the other end of the spectrum, 27-year-old Nick Walker was competing in his first, two weeks after winning the Arnold Classic. It was the second Olympia for 29-year-old Hunter Labrada, but, like Walker, it was only his fourth pro show and second pro year. As the saying goes, the Olympia is where legends are made.
This Olympia wasn’t just younger. It was more international. Before two competitors couldn’t make it to the U.S., the lineup featured twice as many non-U.S. competitors (12) as American (6), and zero trained in California. By contrast, 20 years ago, all but three of the 21 competitors lived in the USA, over half trained in Southern California, and the highest foreign finisher was 14th. As the world grew connected via the Net, it grew smaller, too. With social media you can publicize yourself from anywhere, and the popularity of bodybuilding has exploded in the Middle East and beyond.
In a Friday night show that lasted nearly five hours (!), the Mr. O prejudging came last. Finally, what we’d all been waiting for. Each competitor went through the poses alone. Then came the crucial first callout. After the presumptive top guys were moved to the all-important center, it was (from left to right): Nick Walker, Hadi Choopan, Mamdouh Ellsbiay, Brandon Curry, Hunter Labrada, William Bonac.
This looked like a three-man contest between Choopan, Ramy, and Curry, with the judges never moving the competitors. Choopan brought the best conditioning, and his front and rear lat spreads were arguably the best in the show. Ramy was off, but he looked better from the back. Curry was winning poses, starting with the front double biceps.
Let’s take a quick look at the third callout, which replaced Ramy and Curry with Iain Valliere and Justin Rodriguez. It showed once again that Choopan was very on. Look at the Iranian dominating the front lat spread in this group. Alas, he was destined for third in this contest, like two years ago; and, like that year, he was again the People’s Champ (voted on by spectators).
For only the second time in Olympia history (the others were 1972 and 2015), this came down to a one-two finish between two previous winners, in this case the last two: #15 Brandon Curry and #16 Mamdouh Ellsbiay. I thought Choopan deserved to be in the mix, but at the end of prejudging, head judge Steve Weinberger called out only Ramy and Curry. The judges put them through all eight mandatory poses twice in a row. In my opinion, Curry won all four front poses based on his superior conditioning and shape. Ramy’s abs were nearly absent.
From behind, it was a different story. Ramy’s size was able to win him the rear lat spread and the crucial rear double biceps, the pose that shows the most. They say contests are won from the back. Would those two shots put him over the top? From the side, it was close: Curry had the better upper body, Ramy had the better lower body. Overall, this was definitely an apples-or-oranges call, but I had Curry winning Friday’s prejudging.
Saturday’s judging provided more clarity about the top four when Labrada joined Choopan, Curry, and Ramy in a four-man callout. The quartet were brought out again for the final callout of the contest. As for the two 20-something Americans: Labrada certainly sported a fuller, more balanced physique than Walker, but he lacked Walker’s grainy definition, fostering a debate that will no doubt continue until next year’s Olympia.
Ramy looked tighter on Saturday. Was it enough? In the end, the judges thought so. The genial giant repeated as Mr. O in a decision that is sure to spark controversy. Conditioning or size? Aesthetic or freaky? Legs or arms? One thing is certain, it’s tough to knock out the champ, especially when he’s the biggest guy on stage. Checking the scorecards, the judges had Ramy ahead of Curry by only one point on Friday, but they gave him straight firsts on Saturday. Congrats to two-time Mr. Olympia Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Ellsbiay. He joins an even more exclusive club, becoming one of only 11 multi-year winners in the Mr. Olympia’s 57-year history.
1. Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Ellsbiay $400,000
2. Brandon Curry $150,000
3. Hadi Choopan $100,000
4. Hunter Labrada $40,000
5. Nick Walker $35,000
6. William Bonac
7. Iain Valliere
8. Justin Rodriguez
9. Akim Williams
10. Mohamed Shaaban
Top 5 qualify for 2022 Olympia. Scorecards and full results are here.
First 5 photos: NPCNewsOnline; comparisons: Olympia livestream.