Shaun Clarida – The Big Picture!

by Christian Duque

I was able to interview 212 Mr. Olympia Shaun “The Giant Killer” Clarida at @StrengthAdddicts IG LIVE on Thursday April 14th, getting some excellent insights about one of the most-talked about and most-respected bodybuilders on the pro circuit. Everyone has been speculating what Clarida could do since he shocked the world in 2020 and defeated The Lion of Libya, Kamal El Gargny. In fact, I was the only person who predicted Shaun to win. Unlike in 2018 when I predicted Rhoden to win the Olymipa, where there was a small handful of people who could contemplate it, there was no one talking about Shaun winning the biggest title in The 212. Even after he accomplished that milestone achievement, many thought he’d be a one hit wonder.

Although he didn’t retain his title in 2021, he narrowly lost to Derek Lunsford. The “defeat,” if you can even call it that, was razor-thin. I, personally, had Clarida winning the contest, but more importantly, a huge segment of the bodybuilding world did, too. I’m talking fans, media pundits, and rank-in-file pro bodybuilders. It was that close! On top of that, Shaun did the unthinkable when he returned to the Reno Sports Festival to compete in Open Bodybuilding. He’d already won that contest’s 212 Division, but now he was getting on stage with “the big boys.” What’s crazy is, he wasn’t near 100% and he beat guys like Sergio Oliva Jr., who outweighed by 100lbs. Initially, the idea of him competing open was funny, to many. That said, a lot of the big guys experienced an evolution of moods. They went from laughing, to grinning, to sighing, to realizing that Clarida was going to win it all! And now, as he’s on the verge of making history, as the first ever competitor who’s qualified for 212 and Open Bodybuilding at the O, what will happen next, remains a mystery.

In a very real way my good buddy Dan Solomon has the power to either allow Shaun to do both contests – or – make him choose. Jake Wood and Pittsburgh undoubtedly have a major say as well, but I think if Dan was on board, that’s all it would take. The fact is, it would make all the sense in the world, from a marketing perspective to have, both, James “Flex” Lewis and Shaun “GK” Clarida do the 2022 Mr. Olympia.

Shaun and I are also in strong agreement that requiring Lewis to qualify is an insult. He deserves the Special Invite for being the greatest 212 bodybuilder who’s ever lived. I suppose Dan could give Clarida a special invite as well. This wouldn’t change the fact that double qualified bodybuilders need to choose an Olympia division, but it would give the fans what we want. We want to see Shaun do both divisions and while many of “the big guys” are petrified that if Clarida gets his way that that may signal in a 212 exodus, it won’t. To date, Shaun is the only 212 pro who has ever accomplished this feat. That’s not to say others can’t, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see it happen continuously in the future. That said, a special invite would guarantee not changing the status quo, which is a major concern.

Marketing for the Olympia is absolutely fundamental. Now that the event is back in Vegas, debuting at The Zappos Theater, it would be a media bonanza to see the biggest bodybuilder ever standing next to the lightest guy in the 212. That would be real a David and Goliath showdown, but it would be more than that.

As I said on my @StrengthAddicts interview with Shaun, what impressed me most about the judging in Reno, is that the panel scrutinized what mattered. Bodybuilding isn’t a height and/or weight competition. It’s about what matters – and what matters is shape, symmetry, balance and flow. Posing is a huge, as well!

The judges in Reno could’ve dwelled on the fact that Shaun was 100lbs lighter than Sergio, but instead, they broke down every pose, they studied every athlete, and they made the right choice. Although Ramy would dwarf Clarida, how could anyone ignore Clarida’s conditioning superiority, his muscle density, and his vascularity? Once you get past the weight difference, you’d be left with a comparison between a guy who’s hard as nails and a refrigerator. I honestly believe that Clarida could take up from where guys like Lee Labrada and Lee Priest left off. If he was able to break into the Top 6, that would be liquid gold.

It’s also not that unrealistic for Shaun to blow peoples’ minds with a successful Open Olympia debut. Let’s not forget that other former 212’ers like William Bonac, Jose Raymond, and Hidetada Yamaguishi, have all seen success at the Olympia. One very notable former 212 champion, Hadi Choopan, nearly beat Ramy the year he won the the title. Further to that, Hadi won the People’s Champion title and is considered by many fans as being an uncrowned Mr. Olympia.

That said, all the guys I’ve mentioned, with the exception of Hide, are far heavier than Clarida. Again, he’s one of the lightest 212 competitors to compete so all the more reason his 212 O and Reno wins create as much media fanfare as they do. If I had any say in the Olympia production, I’d be rallying for Shaun to do both. Again, making the fans happy, will only grow the sport. And happy fans translate to more ticket sales, more hotel reservations, more PPV streams, more VIP packages sold and more companies wanting booths. I mean, how many people have gotten special invites? What’s one more? Plus, it’s a perfect was to keep the status quo in place. All it would do, is make a special exception for Clarida. I’d be fine with that.

Afterall, The Olympia is the superbowl of bodybuilding – anything can happen!

Another topic we discussed was Shaun’s big-picture mentality. Back when he was dropped from RAW Nurition, I thought for sure he’d break ties his longtime coach, Matt Jansen. Matt is a co-owner of RAW and at the time, I thought he should have fought harder for him. That said, Matt’s role as co-owner of Clarida’s former sponsor and Matt’s role as Shaun’s coach, are totally distinct from one another. I really like how the Giant Killer explained his thought process and why leaving his coach was never option. They’ve done some amazing things together and I’m very proud of Shaun for not letting emotions get the best of him. He not only has the physique of a champion, but he’s got the mind of one, too.

Clarida is going all in. Although he absolutely loves competing, he won’t do any shows besides the O. From here till December, every rep, every meal, is done with the purpose of looking his best at the 2022 Olympia. He’s also keeping his hopes up and being optimistic. Right now, the word on the net is that he’ll have to choose divisions, but up and until he gets his contract(s), he won’t know for sure.

We also know that Dan met with Flex Lewis, but we don’t know what came out of that meeting. I do know that Dan believes in putting the fans on a pedestal, that’s why so much thought has gone into the production since he took over. While Robin Chang did a fine job, Dan has taken it to the next level. There’s simply no arguing that point. Therefore, while he may be towing the line now, and even in private conversations, if anyone has the courage to throw the ball on 4th down, it’s Dan. Hell, Dan might even run it himself!

Sadly, towards the end of the interview, we discussed some of the losses we’ve experienced in the sport. Guys like John Meadows, who played a key role in Shaun’s career, George Da Bull, Shaun Rhoden and now, Cedric. 2021 was a very tough year for bodybuilding and 2022 seems to be the same. That said, the champ took the opportunity to push the need for bodybuilders to get their blood work checked, to get with their doctors, but most importantly, to be honest with them!

What’s the point of getting physicals and blood work done, if you’re keeping your healthcare team in the dark? Tell them what you’re taking, tell them real dosages, and make your health the #1 priority. This, too, is why I admire The Giant Killer so much. Not only does he have the physique and the big picture mentality, but he cares about his fellow competitors. For as much bodybuilding promotes health, many of its best-built competitors put their own well-being on the backburner. That simply cannot be the case anymore!

All in all, this interview let me know exactly what Shaun is up to and what he hopes to achieve. He’s still very much the same humble guy I met years ago. He hasn’t let his Olympia win or his Open Bodybuilding title get to his head. He still very much remembers when he was counted out, overlooked, and massively underestimated. Unlike most, who would be resentful over that, he uses it as fuel and motivation. He’s not looking to make a fool out of anyone, but he’s all about defying stereotypes and far exceeding expectations.

A short, light guy can beat a towering mass monster because bodybuilding is about shape and symmetry, it’s about creating the perfect physique. For a lot of fans, this part of the sport is lost upon them. They think the bigger the number on the scale, the better the physique is. That’s not only wrong – it’s patently absurd. And the people whose opinion matters most – the judges – they know what matters. This is why, if Shaun hits the Open stage at 100%, and he’s put next to Ramy, the laughs will turns to grins and those to sighs and at some point the 300lb+ Egyptian Phenom will get hit with the reality that the lightest guy in The 212 actually could beat him in the Open. You can say it’s impossible, but to you I say, this is bodybuilding. Just imagine how Lee Labrada made Lee Haney feel. It was all funny, until Haney nearly got beat.

One thing’s FOR SURE, the Open guys don’t want Clarida or any Top 212’er bringing their level of hardness, separation, and competitiveness to their division. That’s why so many fear an exodus. I mean, how many 212’ers do you know of who compete soft, with bubble guts, or holding ridiculous amounts of water? That’s simply unheard of there. Who knows what will happen. I, for one, remain optimistic that history will be allowed to be made. I hope you get a chance to check out the interview and hope you enjoyed this article. Stay tuned for more!