By now, many in the bodybuilding community understand the annual Pittsburgh Pro to be more than a major qualifying event on the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Pro League calendar. In recent years, some of the most popular Mr. Olympia contenders in the Men’s Open division have appeared at the annual May contest to guest pose and offer a preview of their training progress in anticipation of the flagship Olympia later that fall. The 2023 iteration was no different.
On May 12-13, 2023, while champions like Michael Daboul (Classic Physique) were crowned during the official Pittsburgh Pro, Derek Lunsford, Nick Walker, Samson Dauda, Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay, Hunter Labrada, and Shaun Clarida all guest-posed during the contest. The only notable absence, especially in the current Men’s Open pantheon, was defending Mr. Olympia champion Hadi Choopan. With nothing officially on the line for the slate of elite competitors, these six men still appeared on stage to tease how their sterling physiques are coming along for the 2023 Mr. Olympia in Orlando, FL, this early November.
Amongst the guest posers at the 2023 Pittsburgh Pro, Lunsford might be the presumed biggest contender to Choopan’s title. Lunsford is in the midst of training to improve upon a runner-up result in his first-ever appearance in the Men’s Open division at the 2022 Mr. Olympia. One of Lunsford’s main rivals, Nick Walker, believes the former 212 champion (2021) should be favored to win the 2023 Mr. Olympia. Bodybuilding legend Ronnie Coleman has also expressed his faith in Lunsford, anointing him as one of the next big things in the sport after a recent collaborative training session.
Walker’s faith in Lunsford is notable, given his status as one of bodybuilding’s top modern stars. Walker finished in third place at the 2022 Mr. Olympia and followed that up with a runner-up result at the 2023 Arnold Classic (AC). If anyone finally seems poised to break through from this field, it might be Walker.
Meanwhile, the 2023 AC victor, Samson Dauda, has started to receive hype as a legitimate Olympia titan. Icons like Jay Cutler have expressed that Dauda could be one of bodybuilding’s next big stars. It’s a label of high expectations that Dauda has not taken lightly. There’s also Elssbiay, who is coming off a disappointing sixth-place result at the 2022 Mr. Olympia after vying for a historic three-peat. The former two-time defending Olympia champion (2021, 2022) had previously skipped guest-posing at the 2022 Pittsburgh Pro and now appeared to be trying to build momentum toward another Olympia victory this November.
Labrada is in a similar position to Elssbiay, though he doesn’t have the resume of past Olympia victories to lean on. The athlete has expressed profound disappointment in his 2022 Olympia performance and vowed to have a more streamlined physique in 2023 in hopes of a huge rebound.
To round out this guest-posing group, Clarida, a two-time 212 champion (2020, 2022), will not be competing in the Men’s Open division at the 2023 Olympia. The athlete wishes to eventually break James “Flex” Lewis’s record of seven 212 Olympia titles (2012-2018) and will exclusively focus his efforts on that mission moving forward.
Discerning the precise favorites for the 2023 Mr. Olympia would likely be impossible off one guest-posing appearance. Nonetheless, some of the top contenders for the tentpole contest made it a point to appear in Pittsburgh and show off what they might bring to the table in November.
With that, one of the unofficial first significant steps en route to this year’s Olympia is now in the rearview mirror.
Featured image: dereklunsford_ on Instagram
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