Dominic Nicholls’ Silliness at the Arnold Expo

by Christian Duque

Dominic Christian Nicholls, the son of NPC official and coach Chad Nicholls, confronted 50yr old IFBB Pro and IFBB Hall of Fame Bodybuilder “Sugar” Shawn Ray at the Mutant Nutrition booth, where he was working, at the 2023 Arnold Classic Expo.

Instead of approaching Ray like a man, Dominic tapped the former Arnold Classic champion on the back as he walked to the booth to meet fans and sign autographs. Without any sort of lead-up, knowing he was being filmed, he got in Ray’s face and began to launch threats at him. He got behind the booth with Shawn and attempted to use his height and close proximity to intimidate the living legend.

Ray simply looked at him, he didn’t even bother to stand completely up. The Hall of Famer rested on the booth and looked up at this kid, both sizing him up but also giving his attention. In fact, Shawn took it as a joke and said “not again,” referring to the fact that Dominic and his father had had a run-in with him just a couple days prior but no one was around to record it.

How lame is that?

In any event, Shawn never took a backward step, his voice didn’t crackle, he didn’t yell and he didn’t lose his cool. He listened to a young guy, who met all the elements of roid rage, with long hair and tight clothes no less. If ever there were a living, breathing version of the Planet Fitness lunkhead caricature, it’d be Dominic Nicholls. And after all his barking and all his threats of what would happen in the future, Dominic Nichols didn’t do shit, and Shawn never flinched. That said, this stunt could’ve been a lot worse.

The Washington Post was in the house investigating the NPC. Chad Nichols is an official running three states for that organization and of course will not be getting any sort of a reprimand, but could have brought them a lot of bad publicity. What kind of a chairman rushes a journalist and then more or less blesses his son’s actions the next day? This is after all the second biggest bodybuilding show in the world. And let’s not forget who Shawn Ray is.

Shawn Ray runs Digital Muscle, which is owned by Jake Wood, who also owns the Olympia. He’s on stage giving out awards and he’s a sponsored athlete working the Arnold expo. He’s an Arnold Classic champion, a contest promoter, and an accomplished writer and content creator. He’s also a member of the Hall of Fame and twice Dominic’s age. And no one thinks what Dominick did was wrong? No one sees how much this could hurt the sport?

The fact is, I think a lot more people are outraged than many media outlets care to let on. The fact is, many outlets that applauded Nicholls, hate Shawn Ray, but at the end of the day, they don’t truly believe that journalists should be silenced or threatened with violence if they don’t “tone it down.”

Every journalist aspires to give the most unfiltered truth possible. Anything short of that starts to counteract every writer’s sense of journalistic integrity. No one wants to feel like they’re held back or unable to relay what that they see, hear, and know to their readers. If we as writers have to candy-coat our critiques and walk on eggshells so as to not ruffle anyone’s feathers, then we might as well all become infomercial writers and publish only fluff pieces. That’s not the kind of journalist that I am and that is certainly not the kind of journalist Shawn Ray is.

When you stop to think about it, Ray could have easily had Dominic arrested. He would have had an arrest on his record, he would have been publicly humiliated, and he would have had his day in court. When you threaten someone with physical violence and you have the ability to carry out that violence, and that person has an apprehension of both – that’s assault. The fact it was videotaped – by the aggressor – shows clear and undeniable intent by Dominic to make Shawn believe that a battery was likely, if not imminent.

This could have ruined the youngster’s life and to have his father pat him on the back afterwards shows us that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If Dominic continues carrying on like this, he will likely wind up in prison and quite possibly getting himself hurt. While he was able to get away with these theatrics with Shawn Ray, if he did this to the wrong person, he could find himself in a world of trouble.

We live in a day and age where you just don’t know who you’re dealing with. I would have preferred Chad to have been a better father and chastised his son – even if only publicly – for his actions, but that didn’t happen. Like I said, this could have ended badly and thankfully it didn’t. That said, I don’t think Dominic learned anything and I think he’ll likely do this again.

Another reason I’m happy this didn’t end worse is for the contest. The Arnold Classic, as an event, has been through a lot as well. Not only did they have to raise their prize money at the 11th hour, but they were looking at the very real possibility that their contest was going to be a flop. Could you imagine what the contest would have looked like with just 6 guys? It would have been a good reason to cancel it in the future. The fact that they were able to pick up top talent like Big Ramy and Nick Walker, to add to their already top notch roster, really helped ensure that they’d have a world class production for the ticket and PPV buying public. And finally, after two years of Covid, their expo was back to full force.

Could you imagine the mainstream media frenzy that could have easily derailed all of that? Did we forget the havoc of the LA Fit Expo when Mac Trucc and Rich Piana got into it? That’s what Dominic was going for in my humble opinion. Thankfully, the mainstream media couldn’t have cared any less than they did. Could you imagine Arnold being asked to comment on this? Thankfully a crisis was averted, but not thanks in any way to Dominic or Chad. All the thanks goes to Shawn Ray. Shawn Ray diffused the situation by not throwing gasoline on the fire. His sponsor, Mutant Nutrition, should be patting him on the back. I hope that’s the case.

In an ideal world both of these characters would publicly apologize to Shawn Ray, the NPC would reprimand Nicholls, and we could say that as a sport this type of behavior won’t be tolerated. Sadly, I don’t believe we can believe, let alone say, any of this with a straight face. It’s sad and it’s pathetic, but it’s the reality we have to accept – for now. It’s bullshit like this that keeps bodybuilding from ever gaining mainstream recognition. It just is what it is.