Mamdouh "Big Ramy" Elssbiay explodes into the IFBB Pro League. Who is he and where did he come from?
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, two bodybuilders earned their pro cards and became immediate threats for the Mr. Olympia title: Dorian Yates and Flex Wheeler. Yates, a six-time Mr. Olympia, turned pro at the 1988 British Championships and captured second place at his first Mr. Olympia in 1991. Wheeler turned pro at the NPC USA Championships in 1992. He placed second at his first Olympia in 1993.
Fast-forward to the present, when Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay won the 2012 IFBB Amateur Olympia in Kuwait and followed up this year with his first IFBB pro show, the New York Pro, defeating seasoned veteran Victor Martinez. The question that everyone is asking is, “Can Ramy do what no other bodybuilder has done before and win the Mr. Olympia his first time competing?” Elssbiay has soared to the top of the IFBB in a very short time and is a legitimate threat for the Mr. Olympia title this year, but not many people know his origins. FLEX sat down with long-time Weider athlete Dennis James and talked about his new protégé, Big Ramy.
FLEX: When did you first meet Ramy?
DENNIS JAMES: I first met Ramy at Oxygen Gym, when he was a coach. I’ve traveled to Kuwait several times over the years because I’m very good friends with the owner of Oxygen Gym, Bader Boodai. In the gyms in Kuwait, there are what are called coaches. They’re much like a personal trainer here in the States, but they’d spot people and provide any assistance needed in the gym. Each gym has about 15 or 20 coaches who basically patrol the gym and give assistance to the other members working out. Bader is the one who saw the potential in Ramy, and he was the one who contacted me about working with him. Bader has single-handedly done more for the sport of bodybuilding in Kuwait than most other people put together. Bader started sending me pictures of Ramy, and that’s when I came to the conclusion that I should help this guy to see how far he can go. The results were nothing short of amazing. Ramy and I started working together at the end of 2011, but he was around 200 pounds and growing at an amazing pace. It was unbelievable—he was growing out of his clothes. He did a few contests, he did the Oxygen Gym Show, he did the Golden Cup and won the overall, but then we decided to do a big show the Amateur Olympia in Kuwait in November 2012. It was an easy win for him. There was no one that came close to being anywhere near his league. I was competing at the Masters Olympia the same weekend that he was competing at the Amateur Olympia. It was motivating for both of us to know we were both dieting at the same time. His main focus was to get his pro card and get an invite to this year’s Olympia.
FLEX: Give us a little bit about his background.
DENNIS JAMES: Basically, all six of his brothers are fishermen, and they all came to Kuwait to become full-time fishermen. He was helping out his brothers with the business, and on the side he wanted to work at Oxygen Gym. Ramy always loved working out and he had heard that Bader was bringing all the top bodybuilding pros to the Oxygen Gyms in Kuwait, so he was trying to get a job at Oxygen Gym to follow his dreams of becoming a bodybuilder some day. The club manager at one of the Oxygen Gyms, which Bader rarely went to, gave him a job. That’s how he got into bodybuilding. He told his family that he was going to stop the fishing business to get into bodybuilding. That was in 2010. Ramy had been working for Bader for about six months, but they’d never met and then Bader visited the gym and he was impressed with how much size he had for someone that was into bodybuilding as only a hobby. That’s when it all started and Bader started mentoring him. Believe it or not, Ramy has a room upstairs and actually sleeps at Oxygen Gym. The system is very different in Egypt - it’s not uncommon for people to sleep at their workplaces. A typical day for Ramy is that he wakes up, goes downstairs and does cardio, showers, and then he works the pro shop for about 10 hours a day, trains that night, and then goes to sleep. At the Amateur Olympia, and I admit he wasn’t at his best - he turned pro after training for 2½ years and qualified for the Mr. Olympia the same day.
FLEX: How did you guys communicate about the diet and training plan for the Amateur Olympia? Was it by Skype or just e-mails?
DENNIS JAMES: I couldn’t communicate with him because I didn’t speak the language…lol. Bader was the one communicating with him. I’d send Bader the e-mails and plan and talk to him, and he’d then explain this to Ramy. I was doing his dieting and basically giving Bader everything to pass along because I wasn’t there. He was overseeing everything and it was unbelievable how well Ramy responded to the diet and the plan.
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