by Christian Duque
When Derek Lunsford put out his most recent Instagram physique update it sent shockwaves throughout the fitness industry. The former 212 Mr. Olympia nearly won his first Sandow at last year’s Mr. Olympia and has his sights set on 2023. His coach, Hany Ramrod, also coaches the guy who won the contest in 2022, The Persian Wolf Hadi Choopan.
While Hadi is a throwback to Big Ramy and Dorian Yates before him, Lunsford is all over the scene. He’s at contests guest posing, he’s at expos greeting fans, he does interviews and he’s constantly posting social media content.
As a result, the sport has a champion that’s essentially a ghost, and it has a #1 contender who people can’t stop talking about. This has created an undeniable sense of tension between Choopan and Lunsford at least as far as their fans are concerned.
Whereas many assume Choopan is toiling away building a better package, there’s only so much he can do. He’s older, he can’t pack much more muscle onto his frame, and some of the aesthetic weaknesses and peculiar looking muscles he carries can’t be done much with. All he can really do is keep the size from last year, maybe come in even more conditioned, and hopefully pose hard on stage. Lunsford, on the other hand, has youth on his side, he’s growing like a weed, and he’s incorporating the judges’ feedback. One major critique they gave him was legs. While Derek has no lagging body parts, many believe his upper body overpowered his lower body. Some pundits believe this may have cost him the title in 2022 and the up and coming Mr. The USA is not about to take another runner-up spot because of the same thing in 2023. In fact, many believe this year’s Olympia is Derek’s show to lose.
When the news hit that Derek is 10lbs heavier during this stage of his prep than last year that got a lot of people thinking. Although it seems Derek is topped out on size, he still has a little more in he can add in wheels department. At some point, though, Hany will pull the brakes, but there’s still a little more he can add on.
One look at Lunsford and you know he’s pushing the card but he still has remarkable shape. When he drops back and hits the rear lat spread – its lights out. His most muscular is downright freaky and his arms put most others to shame. Plus when he poses on stage, he’s very much in his own world. Very few guys will hit shots with him during the posedown and a great many will make themselves scarce. What he lacks in height he more than makes up for with his larger-than-life stage persona. This is why he’s always been such a major draw for guest posings.
In a very real way, guys like Lunsford and Nick “The Mutant” Walker know exactly how to bring the house down. They’re younger and they know how boring the sport can be if guys don’t have any heart. If you don’t work the stage and if you don’t make the audience feel part of the presentation, you’re going to lose them. Entertainment is the name of the game. That’s what all the great showmen of yesteryear were all about. I mean who can forget Ronnie Coleman?!?
Interestingly enough, Derek has visited Coleman and even done videos with him. We’re not talking years ago, we’re talking mere days ago. Lunsford is quickly becoming the People’s Mr. Olympia months out from the contest. And instead of having sour grapes at being 2nd last year, he’s been nothing but gracious and kind. He’s been happy for Choopan and has never said an unkind word about his Evogen brandmate.
Choopan has also not fired any shots. That being said, there’s undeniable tension between the two. Hadi has not been able to savor a single day of his reign without the constant comparison to Lunsford. He doesn’t get compared to 2023 Arnold champ Samson Dauda. He doesn’t get compared to past Mr. O’s actively competing like Brandon Curry or Big Ramy. He doesn’t even get talked about much next to Nick Walker. All Hadi hears and reads is fans comparing him to Derek.
I don’t care how good of a sport The Persian Wolf is, that’s got to get annoying. And while you’d think he’s counting the days before he shuts the world up and beats Derek once and for all, he might not be that enthusiastic for game day as some of us might believe.
What if Hadi is dreading the showdown? It was tough enough for the judges to decide between the senior bodybuilder and the young gun last year, but if Hadi maintains his 2022 look with better condition, meanwhile Derek comes in with bigger and diced wheels, it’s game over for Choopan in Orlando, FL. And once you lose the title, you don’t get it back. The only man who has been able to make that happen was Jay Cutler in 2009. Those are some pretty bad odds. Only one man in a contest running over sixty years has done it. That one guy was also the man that toppled, arguably, the greatest bodybuilder who ever lived in Ronnie Coleman. Could we compare Hadi Choopan to Jay Cutler in his prime? I think not. No offense, Hadi.
That said, the danger with Lunsford being 10 lbs heavier in his prep than last year is the danger that faces any bodybuilder in his position. When you’re 2nd in the world you don’t want to go out and reinvent yourself. You’re the runner-up for a reason and usually to get over that last hump requires only minor fine-tuning.
In Derek’s case, though, the upgrade is far more noticeable. If he was doing this all on his own, it might account for a pretty big gamble, but seeing as he’s doing it based on what the judges want to see, he’s going to get some leniency for that. At least in my opinion.
I think the judges reward competitors, especially at the level of Top 3 in the world, who listen and really try to implement their feedback. So let’s say that it’s nail-bieter in Orlando. Let’s say that it’s down to a point or two and we’re looking at a dead heat. I’d say that the guy who followed through with the judging feedback has an edge. Can I prove this? Of course not, but it makes logical sense to me.
The judges, after all, are the only ones who decide the placings. It doesn’t matter how good you look on Instagram or how much you claim to weigh on a podcast. Being the best at the press conference or looking the sickest at weigh-ins is all cool for creating content, but none of that matters when it comes to crowning the greatest bodybuilder in the world.
It’s all about what the judges see – and that they don’t see. It’s all about what the bodybuilder presents and how he hides his weaknesses. Posing makes perfect on game day and being able to hold your peak throughout. I can guarantee you that Lunsford is posing so much that he’s ready for a long prejudging. Other guys may be gasping and cramping, but the judges can move Lunsford around for an hour or more and Derek won’t be phased.
Usually being a whole 10lbs heavier during the same time on a prep from the year before might raise red flags, but in Derek’s case, I think it might be the kind of green light he and his coach have been working towards. Something tells me – everything is going according to plan – and we will have a new Mr. Olympia come November. I think it’s going to be Derek all day, from the moment he hits the stage at prejudging to when Bob Cicherillo announces him the winner at the conclusion of the finals.
What say you? Will Derek be your 2023 Mr. Olympia?