As the Olympia approaches, much attention is being paid to Big Ramy, Hunter LaBrada and Nick Walker. And it should. The competition among these three—and probably a couple more—is going to be like it was back in the day.
These three bodybuilders appear to be the guys social media is making the most noise about their potential in this year’s Olympia. That’s not to say no one else is being talked about. It’s just that these three appear to be getting more attention than the other guys in the line up. I think this is normal for the season. Leading up to the Olympia, everyone comes up with their own imaginary podium.
Regardless of the order in which you image them, one thing is pretty clear: Big Ramy, Hunter LaBrada and Nick Walker come up more than the 30 other guys qualified. For a lot of enthusiasts, these three names just jump off the page.
I’m sure there are arguments raging up and down about Brandon Curry being the 2019 Mr. Olympia; or William Bonac, whom I’ve said on numerous podcasts, is lethal at 100%; or Hassan Mostafa, who at age 51, took an extremely controversial second-place finish at the this year’s Tampa Pro, and has every tool in the box needed to bag a Sandow. Same goes for the guy who beat him, Akim Williams.
And, let us not forget one of the most vastly improved bodybuilders, Derek Lunsford. However, as good as these guys are, at their best they can slide in only if Nick or Hunter come in slightly off. But they’re not the headliners. If these guys don’t even end up cracking the top 10, it’s too late. If their names aren’t announced in the first callout, the arena is going to erupt. And not in a good way.
But, the Olympia gods have something up their sleeves, and this year is no different, because all of these men have their flaws. Which, is nothing new. But for some reason, this year some people are focusing, what I think is undo attention, on the oddities each of these men bring with them, particularly Big Ramy.
Are we picking nits here, or are we talking about issues that could potentially cost points? Certainly, there are other competitors who could win the show who may have fewer issues/ imperfections, but, as stated earlier, these three guys seem to be causing the greatest stir, with the talk seemingly less about who might win, but rather why someone might not.
Let’s start with the obvious: Big Ramy
The reigning Mr. O isn’t causing a commotion for who he is, but for his particular circumstances. It appears that Big Ramy has a golfball-size divot in the distal aspect of each of his outer quad sweeps, his right looking more severe than his left. Now, this is not new. He had them last year and the year before. They do, however, seem slightly more pronounced today than in the past. It could be for no other reason than he’s leaner now. Or perhaps it is something else?
It’s the “something else” that has has drawn so much attention, that those little dimples have been the subject of not only a staggering number of IG posts, but also entire podcasts! Whatever those things are, is testament to what makes social media so wicked.
Because all you need is your typical anti-steroid crusader to lure his inexplicably high following into believing drugs must be the cause, which unleashes a tidal wave of false negativity that is so profoundly stupid, it’s painful to read. Entire peanut galleries of self-aggrandized experts ranting, barely coherently, about how “drugs are ruining the sport.” This is in spite of the fact that they’re not only still watching, but we’ve also given them Physique and Classic Physique to try and appease their yearning for a time when bodybuilders did fewer drugs—not no drugs mind you, just fewer, supposedly.
The sequence is as wicked as it is miraculous. With not even a glint of firsthand knowledge, witness or evidence, suddenly the public discourse shifts its impression, and a meaningless blemish becomes empirical proof that drugs are ruining the sport (again).
According to the “experts,” Ramy’s quad divots are either scar tissue or a sign of nerve damage from constantly injecting his quads. With the emphasis being that his drug use is excessive, not because they actually know him and know firsthand what he takes, but because there are divots in his quads!
Now, I’m not sure what’s more alarming here: the sheer idiocy of such a thing, or the number of people who consumed it like an energy drink, and wound themselves into enough of a frenzy over it, that they would assign blame to Mr. Olympia for ruining the sport, right along with his quads—ugh. This is what happens when you don’t limit your children’s online sessions at an early age.
According to Big Ramy’s trainer, Dennis James, who was in Dubai with Big Ramy when he had an MRI of his quads, the results showed that there was no scar tissue, no necrosis. There was absolutely nothing to indicate injections had anything to do with it. There was also no evidence of a tear or a rupture. What Dennis explained sounded like a small area of the muscle belly, where a group of muscle fibers have stuck together caused an “adhesion,” which could restrict blood supply to the area, resulting in a divot.
On another podcast, Chad Nichols, Big Ramy’s diet coach, further emphasized the fact that Ramy’s quads have always been an issue. The very first thing he employed when he started working with him, was extensive deep tissue and scraping work to to break up the adhesions and increase blood flow. So, Big Ramy’s trainer, and his diet coach, both agree, based on hard evidence and firsthand knowledge, that drugs and injections had nothing to do with this; there’s no tear or other damage, and that the issue is noted as being addressed.
Now, for the big question, does it matter? In order to answer that, I have to bring up the other two gentlemen in the title. Do the remnants of Hunter LaBrada’s pec tear matter? How about the squiggly veins in Nick Walker’s calves? Do either of these gentlemen stand to have their placings affected? No. That’s like saying my motorcycle’s value is affected because of the one square millimeter stone chip on the front fender. Would we prefer no stone chips? Of course, but everyone has a stone chip. So, the idea of perfection is ridiculous. Penalizing someone for an imperfection is worse.
With that argument forever squashed, I think I’m seeing a reason why social media is so consumed with these three guys. Beyond the normal love and hate thing that rages along with any interesting and passionate rivalry, this year is almost like a time capsule opening before our eyes.
There once was a time when this almost exact amalgam of champions clashed on the Olympia stage. In 1987, the top three bodybuilders in the world were Lee Haney, Rich Gaspari and Lee LaBrada. Haney, an incredibly imposing, unbeatable, mountain of a man, was just slightly more into his eight-year Olympia reign than Big Ramy is today.
At the time, Gaspari was a relative newcomer and the youngest Olympia competitor in history. He was a dense solid block of striated muscle that belied his youth and literally shocked the world when he came out of nowhere two years prior and bagged a third place finish on his first Olympia attempt, and then second behind Haney the next. Looking at Gaspari next to Haney in 86, 87 and 88, and Walker next to Ramy today, and the evolution is unmistakable. Walker is the Gaspari of our time, and he poses just as much of a threat to Big Ramy, as Gaspari did to Haney. Perhaps even more. Walker brings not only Gaspari-esque conditioning, but he is also simply MASSIVE.
This leaves us with the Originator and the emulator—Lee LaBrada and his son, Hunter. This is the ultimate rarity in our world; it’s like the comet that flies by every 12,000 years. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the top story of the entire weekend. Beyond his insane mass and condition, it’s a big reason why people are talking about Hunter. Out of almost eight billion people on the planet, history has allowed only one man, a former Olympian, to watch his son compete in the Olympia. The only other father/ son Olympia lineage belongs to the junior and senior Sergio Oliva. Unfortunately, Senior never saw Junior compete. Lee is the only human being on earth, thus far, for whom the stars are so aligned. And proud he must be. His son is as much a threat to the Sandow now, as he was back in the day.
I was not in Gothenburg, Sweden for the 87 Olympia. I did not see Haney, Gaspari and LaBrada on stage in person. But, from all I’ve seen of that lineup over the years, If this year gives us a podium of Big Ramy, Nick Walker and Hunter Labrada, it will be like seeing a ghost of 87. Could either LaBrada or Walker interrupt Big Ramy’s reign? I don’t think it’s probable, but it’s certainly not impossible. If it does happen, or if LaBrada beats Walker or vice versa, it won’t be because of an imperfection.
Am I predicting that when the curtain falls on Dec. 18, these three men will occupy the podium? I don’t have to. As the hours tick closer and closer to show time, social media will keep raising the temperature. I hope the discourse lends itself to more positive items than three year-old quad divots. Unfortunately, social media and human nature being what they are, I don’t hold out much hope. The show will have to do the talking.