“New York was his show last year,” says Dennis James, explaining Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay’s decision to return to the Big Apple this May for another shot at the New York Pro. “He wants to defend his title. After the Olympia he needed some time off. There wasn’t enough time to get ready for the Arnold. So the plan became, let’s go to New York and do the same thing we did last year, then bring it to the Olympia.”
Only one other man has won the NY Pro more than once: Kai Greene, who went from the ignominy of placing 14th in 2005 and tying for 18th (“did not place”) in 2006, before leapfrogging to sixth in 2007 and then finally winning the contest in ’08. Greene returned to take the title in dominant fashion a second time three years later. Others have tried, with less success: Darrem Charles, 2005’s winner, gave it two shots (2nd in ’06, 7th in ’09); 2009’s champ, Roelly Winklaar, placed ninth in 2011; and 2012’s winner, Cedric McMillan, placed 12th last year.
Will the 2014 contest be the cakewalk for Big Ramy that it was for Kai in 2011? That’s not guaranteed. Juan Morel has had a year to grow, and if the heft he covers up under his sweats at Bev Francis’ Powerhouse Gym is any indication, he has. Mass monsters Akim Williams and Max Charles will be making their pro debuts. Texan Steve Kuclo will be returning to Manhattan to better his third-place finish from two years ago. As of this writing, it’s still too early to tell what other kinds of beasts will blow into the city that never sleeps the weekend of May 17. But this is New York and the NY Pro: The freaks will come.
The 288-pound package Ramy revealed last year shut everyone up for a while and lef them blinking. However, in bodybuilding, no competitor is immune to criticism, not Mr. Olympia Phil Heath, and certainly not an unheard-of newcomer who owns his pro debut. When jaws finally came up off the floor last spring, there were two criticisms of Ramy: (1) He hasn’t nailed that grainy conditioning we like to see in a bodybuilding champion yet; and (2) his upper chest could use a little more size. Now, this might sound like nitpicking, and it is: Ramy was good enough to beat Victor Martinez and Juan Morel in New York, and to go on to place eighth in his first Olympia. But Elssbiay has been listening to what people have said, and as his friend and trainer Dennis James makes clear, he’s concentrating on bringing up his chest.