by Christian Duque
The sport of bodybuilding requires each champion to promote in order for it to grow. This is especially true for whoever is Mr. Olympia. Unlike mainstream sports, bodybuilders need to be seen and heard throughout the year in order to bring more followers and keep interest from the mainstream coming.
Imagine asking a Superbowl winning team member “what did you do to grow football?” Such a question is likely to be met with varying levels of puzzlement. This is because pro football players, pro basketball players, and/or pro baseball players don’t actively grow their respective sports. That’s not how mainstream sports work. They do sneaker deals, they do tv commercials, and hopefully they stay out of prison and/or other embarassing situations likely to be run on TMZ and tabloid papers.
They grow the sport simply by being themselves and it just magically happens. This is because everyone knows about the mainstream sports. These programs are offered in school, college, and people just play them on their leisure time. Whether it’s a pickup game of hoops at the neighborhood court or it’s going to the batting cage for a few minutes or an hour.
Then you look at bodybuilding. It’s highly uncommon for a couple soccer dads who don’t know squat about bodybuilding to suggest hitting the gym out of the blue and talking about who won the last Mr. Olympia or who’s on the invite list for the upcoming Arnold Classic.
Mainstream people don’t know about competitive physique-based sports and they’re not likely to discover them randomly, either. Everyday people don’t tend to stumble upon the likes of Big Ramy or Hadi Choopan. And much hasn’t changed over time. Just like people won’t just happen to see Hadi Choopan in their day to day lives, today, they were equally unlikely to run into a Blood ‘N Guts Dorian Yates DVD when visiting the local Blockbuster Video in the 1990’s.
Whether in the 1990’s or the 2020’s, bodybuilders need to go out of their way to grow this discipline or sport or whatever you choose to call it. Muscle alone doesn’t even sell among muscleheads so it stands to reason it isn’t enough for everyday people. There needs to be a real emphasis made and that emphasis requires extensive travel, meeting tons of people, and really working hard on to make connections with folks from all walks of life.
This requires athletes to work expos, put on seminars, do in-store appearances and rack up some serious air miles. It’s not enough to just sit on your phone. The net has opened a lot of doors, but actual travel and actual interactions are more needed than ever. You have got to be out and about where things are happening. If you’re not, you’re not going to be a superstar and you’re certainly not going to grow the sport of bodybuilding.
As I said just moments ago, social media has really helped push the sport in ways that weren’t even imaginable in the 80’s, 90’s, or even 2000’s. Although the net hit the scene in the 90’s and networking sites like MySpace and Facebook made a huge mark in the 2000’s, the advances in cell phones and the prevalence of social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok have given more niche sports like bodybuilding, powerlifting, and armwrestling, the ability to get in front of a sizeable new audience. That being said, you have to strike the iron while it’s hot, and you only get so many times. There’s still a lot of preconceived notions about a sport that has oiled up guys in speedos posing for a panel of judges. It’s not like driving a Formula 1 car 250 miles an hour or Shaq smashing a backboard.
The fact is social media has provided the vehicle to get bodybuilding in front of millions more faces, but that’s not enough. Once prospective fans see the sport, one of the next common moves to see who’s the Michael Jordan of the sport. That’s what people who have just discovered a new sport do. They want to know who’s the best and in physique-based sports that’s Mr. Olympia. People want to see what that person looks like, what they do, and what they’re all about. If that champion is Jay Cutler, Phil Heath, or Ronnie Coleman, then chances are they’ll want more and more. Sadly if that champion is Big Ramy or Hadi Choopan, they’ll get bored.
I’m sorry folks, but Ramy and Hadi don’t do much more than lift some weights, eat a few meals, and stay in their respective parts of the world. I don’t think we’ve seen Choopan on network tv or making any cameo appearances in major motion pictures. The fact is Hadi didn’t even guest pose at the President’s big show in Pittsburgh. Then again, neither did Ramy.
While I understand Hadi doesn’t speak English and may have hearing issues, that really has nothing to do with posing on a bodybuilding stage, signing autographs, or getting his butt on planes and traveling the world. The fact is, Hadi is lazy in the promo department, as was his predecessor, and that’s not going to grow this sport or this industry. Touring Iran isn’t much better than touring Egypt. Hadi and Ramy couldn’t hold a candle to what guys like Phil, Jay, and Ronnie did. I mean compare their runs to Brandon Curry or Dexter Jackson. Let’s not even compare them to multi-year champions. Even guys who held the tile for just 365 days, did way more.
The Olympia may be the Super Bowl of Bodybuilding and the sport may add new contests and expos around the world, but the sport is not going to grow unless we get a Mr. Olympia that hits the ground running. Anyone, at this point, will do a better job promoting than Hadi. I don’t take any pleasure in stating the obvious, but it is what it is. Hadi may be a great bodybuilder, but he stinks at growing the sport. Only time will tell if he changes for the better, but that’s assuming he can successfully defend his title in 2023. There’s more to being Mr. Olympia, than winning the Mr. Olympia.
A great many people want to see a Mr. O like Derek. He’s young, he lives in the United States, he obviously speaks English and he’s got the gift of gab. He likes being around fans, he’s in his element posing for photos and signing autographs. Lunsford is a competitor I’ve seen come up the ranks. I’ve seen work in the trenches and I’ve seen how youngsters look at him. I’ve seen how he talks to guys in middle age, too. He’s got a real gift to get people excited about the sport. He guest poses, he gives competitors advice, he’s beyond active on his social media platforms. He’s exactly what the sport needs in terms of a great personality with tremendous ambassadorial qualities. Others have it in varying degrees. Whether it’s Nick, Hunter, or Samson.
I wish Hadi had done more. I wish Ramy had done more. But I just think they didn’t care enough. They didn’t see the bigger picture and as a result, the sport suffered. Who knows what the future holds. I, for one, am hoping for a new champion in a couple of weeks in Orlando, FL. Sorry Hadi; sorry Ramy; but the sport can do better. And maybe it will.