Muscular Development|March 2021
His Long Road to Becoming Mr. Olympia

I was in the front row for Big Ramy’s first pro show, the New York Pro in May of 2013. He was the biggest, freakiest thing any of us had seen since Ronnie, and his potential seemed limitless. Over the next few years, he became a mainstay in the Mr. Olympia contest, rising all the way to runner-up in 2017. Still, we all wanted to see finer details and deeper muscle separation, commonly referred to as “muscle maturity,” and there simply didn’t seem to be any noticeable improvement as time went by. That all changed in December of 2020 as we finally witnessed the version of Big Ramy we’d all been waiting for. This is the story of his long and circuitous path to becoming the 16th man in history to be crowned Mr. Olympia.


Mamdouh Mohammed Hassan Elssbiay was born on September 16, 1984 in the resort town of Baltim in the Kafr El Sheikh Governorate of Egypt, on the Nile River delta. His father was a fisherman, and this was the trade that “Ramy,” as he was nicknamed, and all six of his brothers took up as well. Seeking greater opportunities and better wages, they all left their native land for Kuwait, about the same distance as New York City to Orlando. Ramy had bigger dreams than his brothers. He had always been fascinated with bodybuilding and wanted to become a champion bodybuilder himself one day.

The Oxygen Gym chain already had a reputation for being the place to train, as owner Bader Boodai had started bringing top pros like Dennis James, Dennis Wolf, and Melvin Anthony over to spend weeks lifting in his new Mecca of Muscle. After long days of fishing, Ramy would shower off the stink of saltwater and fish, get a meal in, and head to Oxygen Gym to lift. Right away he knew this was the environment for him, and he asked the club manager for a job as a trainer. In Kuwait, all Oxygen Gyms have anywhere from 10 to 15 “trainers” who patrol the workout floor and offer a spot or any assistance the members might need. This was in 2010, and it was not the main Jabriya location, but one of the smaller gyms. Though Bader Boodai owns them all, he rarely visited this one. Ramy had been working there for six months when Bader finally got his first glimpse of the growing Egyptian immigrant. At this point, Ramy was only 200 pounds, but Bader has an eye for potential and saw what Ramy could become.

Bader gave him a new gig working the pro shop at the famous Jabriya location, as well as a room upstairs to sleep in every night. Near the end of 2011, Bader sent photos of the growing young man to Dennis James, who immediately took a special interest in him. With Bader acting as translator, James began coaching and mentoring Ramy. By now, he truly had become Big Ramy. After doing two local shows in 2012, he entered the Amateur Olympia being held that November in Kuwait. At 285 pounds, he easily swept the super heavyweight class and nabbed the overall title, earning IFBB Pro status. It would only be six months before his pro debut, where the bodybuilding fans and media would get their first look at him.


I had heard about Big Ramy leading up to the 2013 New York Pro, but I didn’t give him much consideration. I’d seen my share of giants hailed as the next big thing simply by virtue of their elephantine bodyweight, such as Canada’s Greg Kovacs and Italy’s Daniele Seccarecci, both deceased. Neither one had the shape and proportions to go along with the size, so I was reserving any excitement over the new mass monster from the Middle East. Besides which, this contest was supposed to be a battle between three native New Yorkers of Dominican descent: Victor Martinez, Juan Morel, and Jonathan De La Rosa.

Suffice to say that when Big Ramy stomped out on stage at 285 pounds in shape and made them all look small in comparison, all of us in attendance instantly knew this new guy was the real deal. He wasn’t just enormous. Ramy also had pleasing shape and structure, with the shoulder width of two average bodybuilders standing side by side, along with a surprisingly small waist and tight midsection. Being in the press pit and looking up at the man who was easily dominating the contest, I was especially struck by the sheer circumference of his quads. Thirty-inch thighs have long been the benchmark measurement to define truly exceptional leg mass. Ramy’s were later measured on video to end the speculation as to just how large they were: a shocking 35.5 inches!

Immediately following his pro debut and decisive win, hype began to surround Ramy as the heir apparent to Phil Heath, who would be attempting to win his third Mr. Olympia title. Ramy certainly blew The Gift away on width and mass, and anticipation at seeing them directly compared escalated as the season moved on toward Las Vegas. But that first Mr. Olympia was not meant for Mr. Elssbiay to make a real impact. This was right in the middle of the Phil/Kai battle years, and the lineup was stacked. A best-ever Dennis Wolf placed third. Shawn Rhoden was fourth, with Dexter in fifth. It would be the final contest ever for four-time Mr. Olympia champ Jay Cutler, and Roelly Winklaar placed seventh in his second Olympia appearance. Big Ramy had to settle for eighth place. Nothing to be ashamed of to be sure, but he was still far from making Phil Heath nervous.


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