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 Big Ramy Bodybuilding Mecca



Big Ramy Before His 2020 Olympia Win – the Early Years


As Muscular Development celebrates Big Ramy’s 2020 Mr. Olympia win, we look back at the events that helped shape his path to victory, with highlights from the MD archives. Today, Big Ramy, a New Bodybuilding Mecca, and the Man Who Is Building It originally published in June 2015.



Big Ramy, a New Bodybuilding Mecca, and the Man Who Is Building It


By Dan Solomon


With more than 6,000 languages spoken throughout the world, it has been said that only a smile is understood in every language. It can also be said that the language of muscle is similarly adaptable, universally spoken. Strength training, from its early beginnings, enjoys roots that go back to the 11th century, a time when something resembling a dumbbell was made of stone. Physical appearance was of little concern, as goals revolved mostly around the nobility of strength. Several hundred years would pass before the term bodybuilding was spoken, but the seeds were planted – seeds that grew to become the global centerpiece of our physical culture, impacting all civilization and landing on the Arabian Peninsula, at the tip of the Persian Gulf – eventually making its way to the Western Asian country of Kuwait.


Welcome to the Muscle Factory!


The pulse of the worldwide muscle obsession resides within the gyms where we train. With more than 150,000 gyms around the world, providing training facilities to more than 130 million members, the gym business has become fiercely competitive. Most gyms are similar, featuring the standard assortment of equipment, but in the Kuwaiti city of Jabriya, there’s a gym so remarkable that some have called it the world’s best place to train. Oxygen Gyms, five of them in total, are located throughout Kuwait. They serve as a bold reminder that some of our industry’s greatest achievements are located far beyond the shores of the United States. The newest of the Oxygen Gyms, a $17 million achievement, has become the envy of gym owners everywhere.


The three-story facility is among the most visually stunning gyms in the world. Bader Bodai, the man responsible for the Oxygen Gym empire, spared no expense in bringing over an impressive collection of American-made equipment, surrounded by an upscale, state-of-the-art design concept, cafeteria, eucalyptus sauna, swimming pools and all the luxury and technology that a dedicated bodybuilder could dream of. Bodai explains, “When opening the gym, I started with high expectations for the quality and type of equipment. It was difficult to acquire these things, as there were no distributors for many of the familiar name brands. Also, I had envisioned a club with a high-end atmosphere. Bringing the necessary materials together took a lot of work and resources.”


Bodai adds, “The gym was a big financial risk, but it was important to me and I took it a step further by also promoting the sport of bodybuilding in the region. This was a new endeavor in the Middle East, but my love for the industry was the most valuable thing I could contribute.”


Given the limitations of the written word, we have included a series of photos to convey the splendor of this remarkable gym, referred to by many of the locals as The Muscle Factory.


The Culture Is Different, but the Passion Is the Same!


It was once believed that Middle East cultures didn’t share the same passion for building muscle as Americans, but according to Bodai, that couldn’t be further from the truth. “Bodybuilding and physique sports are extremely popular in the Middle East. Its popularity is next to soccer. Contrary to the West’s popular image of the Middle East culture, bodybuilding/physique is becoming more acceptable as a sport as the younger generations are becoming more interested in health and fitness.”


Many have credited Bodai’s gyms for the rapid growth of bodybuilding in the region. “The population in Kuwait is smaller than the United States; however, a larger percentage of them compete or participate in the sport, so I would say there is actually a greater interest here.”


If You Build It, They Will Come


From the very beginning, Bodai understood that the key to building a global reputation was to invite the world’s top bodybuilders to Kuwait to experience the culture, visit his gyms and perhaps more importantly, to inspire the people of Kuwait. Bodai explains, “I pulled in top professional bodybuilders from around the globe. We hosted seminars, training sessions and other events to educate and spread awareness.”


The strategy was extremely effective. As the celebrity bodybuilders visited, the word spread quickly throughout the United States and Europe. Bodai is extremely passionate about his work, and his goals go far beyond that of a gym owner. “I want the perception of how I am involved in the sport to change. Instead of being thought of as someone with a high financial investment, I’d like to be recognized as someone with a passionate interest in the sport of physique/bodybuilding. This is important to me, as you can’t be fully immersed in this industry for any other purpose but the love of its lifestyle and culture.”


A Big Discovery


As the Kuwaiti bodybuilding scene continued to gain momentum, Bodai was in search of a bodybuilder with the potential to one day stand on the Olympia stage. A homegrown bodybuilding star would bring a new level of credibility to the region, and a new level of excitement for the growing community of Kuwaiti bodybuilding fans. While several Middle East countries enjoy long histories in bodybuilding, Kuwait is still a relative newcomer. Samir Bannout, a Lebanese-born champion, was crowned Mr. Olympia in 1983, but the region is known more for symmetry than size. That perception was about to change, thanks to a discovery that would send shockwaves throughout the industry.


“An employee at my gym saw a young bodybuilder named Big Ramy (Mamdouh Elssbiay) working out at another gym and told me about him,” Bodai explains. “At the time, he was looking for a job as a trainer. He had a great physique then. Before I met him, I was joking with my employee about the likelihood of this unknown individual competing in the Olympia. Without meeting him, I gave my employee the OK to hire him as a trainer. When I finally laid my eyes on him, I knew he was that unknown talent waiting to be discovered. Within that same year he competed in the Oxygen Gym Championship, where he easily took first place. Next, he won the Golden Qatar Cup Championship and moved on to the Amateur Olympia, all within the same year.”


Big Ramy’s victory at the 2012 Amateur Olympia earned him IFBB professional status, allowing him to make his pro debut less than a year later at the 2013 New York Pro, an event that included established professionals like Victor Martinez, Juan Morel and Jon De La Rosa, among others. Big Ramy’s startling combination of size and overall structure proved too much for anyone in the lineup. His first visit to the United States was victorious and suddenly, Kuwait’s newest superstar was qualified to compete later that year in Las Vegas … at the Mr. Olympia.


Still a Lot of Work to Do


Bader Bodai’s vision was becoming a reality. His Oxygen Gyms had already achieved worldwide acclaim, and now the region had produced its own Olympia-contending, superstar athlete to inspire a new generation of athletes and fans. When asked about more superstars emerging from Kuwait, Bodai responded, “I’m fairly confident there will be more to follow. Also, I hope specifically Kuwait produces more athletes close to the caliber of Big Ramy. My dream is to bring more competitors from Kuwait and surrounding regions. I would like to see these individuals continue into the professional shows. Ultimately, I want to bring the Sandow trophy along with the honorable title of Mr. Olympia here to Kuwait.”


What’s Next?


With five successful gyms already completed, Bodai is currently building a sixth location in Kuwait City – a five-story, 100,000-square-foot facility that may prove to be his crowning achievement. He has also announced that the amateur Physique Olympia Championship will be held in Kuwait. “I am also working directly with [IFBB Pro League President] Jim Manion to bring a professional bodybuilding show to Kuwait in October of this Year.”


While some Kuwaitis view him as their modern-day Joe Weider, Bodai remains focused, humbly demonstrating the power of dedication and hard work. As his gyms continue to set a new standard, the improved quality of the Kuwaiti physique has become the talk of an entire industry, proving once again that the language of muscle knows no boundaries.