To this day, I still think of the Arnold Classic as men’s open bodybuilding, almost forgetting that the Arnold Sports Festival now plays host to 60 different sporting events, several of them actual Olympic events. Because it’s expanded to become such a magnet to international sports, the Arnold Sports Festival hosts more athletes than the Olympics, by a lot.
Call me a dinosaur, if you wish, but the genesis of all that bears Arnold’s name in Columbus, OH, today, still lies at the feet of the 15 open bodybuilders who first took to the stage in 1989, when not 60 sports were represented, but only one. men’s open bodybuilding, i.e., the Arnold Classic.
This weekend, 15 competitors are expected to compete for the Arnold Classic title, including former Mr. Olympia Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay. Although with this deep field, it’s tough to predict a winner in advance, here are six visions of what may come out of this weekend’s signature event.
Vision 1: The 2023 Arnold Classic is going to be the most anticipated, the most watched, and the most critically analyzed Arnold in its 34-year history
Back in 1989 the Arnold lineup was a proverbial thunderdome, every athlete a heavy hitter. Check out this list of superstars:
- Former Mr. Olympia Samir Bannout
- Bob Paris
- Bertil Foxx
- Ron Love
- Albert Beckles
- Gary Strydom
- Rich Gaspari
- Robby Robinson
A field as thick as history would allow. For anyone still yearning for a field as deep as the good old days, look no farther than this year’s offerings:
- Former Mr. O Big Ramy
- Akim Williams
- Andrew Jacked (is that a great name for a bodybuilder, or what?),
- Justin Rodriguez
- Kamal el Gargni (last year’s champ and 3rd place Olympian)
- Nick Walker
- Patrick Moore
- Samson Dauda
- Shaun Clarida
- William Bonac
If only half of them show up in shape, judging this thing is going to be next to impossible. This lineup (in shape) rivals any of the venerable ‘90s.
Vision 2: More than half of Saturday’s competitors will show up in shape
If we learned anything from the most recent Olympia, it’s that conditioning has risen to a point of contention high enough to knock a reigning two-time Mr. O to 5th place. The cries for better conditioning (yes, as in the ’90s) has become deafening. The fans love size, but not at the expense of condition. The top of the top has to have both.
Vision 3: Shawn Clarida and Kamal el Gargni will be the two most conditioned athletes competing
They’re also the smallest. Not incomplete, mind you—especially Clarida— but the smallest in stature. Nevertheless, if Clarida shows up at 100%—and all signs indicate it may be beyond that mark—then he’s really going to pose a problem (for the judges) of what to do with him.
Vision 4: Big will always be big. However…
I believe that if this ideology is not properly corralled, and soon, irreparable damage is going to be done to the sport. We cannot forgive condition in favor of size. Yet, lately, that has been the case. I even heard negative commentary recently regarding the expectation of straitened glutes as a fair and reasonable measure of condition! Unfortunately, the judges have to start at the top, even if the best physique on the stage may not be worthy of finishing eighth.
So what are we going to do to fix this? You have to reward the shredded guys. It’s the only way the big guys are going to pay attention. Nick Walker is by far the best conditioned—consistently—of the really huge guys competing today. However, his condition is no match for the condition of Clarida or Kamal. And it should be. And I believe he will be.
Vision 5: Some of the big guys have been listening to the critics
The chatter online sustained weeks of debate after the Olympia. Podcasts abounded decrying the condition the competitors brought to the stage. And there was no shortage of subsequent commentary. Why were so many guys out of shape, not hard, not striated, soft? These were the questions everyone was either asking, or trying to answer. All to no avail. What the heck is going on? Why can’t these guys show up looking like their IG pics from two weeks out?
This, however, is not the first time this issue has been brought to the forefront. It’s been harped on and hammered upon for years now. I do think that the message has finally gotten through, and this year we’re going to see guys—big guys—such as Samson, Justin Rodriguez, Andrew Jacked and Akim Williams take it to Nick Walker in the conditioning department—in which they’re all going to have to fend off Clarida and Kamal.
The battle this year is going to be over condition. Which, while I hope I’m wrong, will be the end of Big Ramy. And that brings us to…
Vision 6: Big Ramy’s attempt at vindication at the Arnold will prove to be a gamble his body can’t cash
It pains me to say this, it truly does, but Big Ramy made a colossal blunder in deciding that his appearance at the Arnold will be a means for the two-time Mr. Olympia to redeem his disappointing fifth-place finish. The first fly in the ointment is the fact that the Arnold is not vindication ground for the Olympia—only the Olympia is.
A two-time Mr Olympia, who subsequently takes fifth at the Olympia does not enter the Arnold to redeem his Olympia placing. Does a Formula 1 driver lose the world championships and then seek to redeem himself at Mugello? No! The only way to redeem your loss of a world championship is to win the world championship.
If Big Ramy wins the Arnold, history still shows he took 5th at the Olympia. Now, if he comes back and wins the Olympia, well, then you can say he’s been vindicated. But, what happens if he doesn’t win the Arnold? What if Ramy takes 5th at the Arnold? It’s certainly a possibility giving the thickness of the lineup. Then what?
He goes to the Olympia to redeem himself from losing the Arnold, where he was supposed to be redeeming himself for the Olympia? Yeah, in that case, he’s done. Ramy should be spending the year dealing with his injuries, his stem cell treatments, his digestion, whatever, and getting himself ready to redeem himself at the only venue where redemption is to be found – the Olympia.
Would I like to see Big Ramy win the Arnold? Yes, more than you could imagine. It would be a tremendous comeback in the sport’s history. Do I think he will? To me, competing in this show was a mistake. There is a far greater chance that the outcome will foil his chance at real redemption—the Olympia.
Unless he shows up sucked out, dry as bone, busting out of his skin, with all the holes filled in and his triceps back in the game, he’s going to lose. History has proven such a quick comeback is ill-fated. He’s got to not only deal with that, but also whatever pressure either he himself, his people, his country, or a combination have put on him, and the fact that the hyenas are circling the lion. Not to mention the fact that he’s fighting the wrong battle.