Mamdouh "Big Ramy" Elssbiay explodes into the IFBB Pro League. Who is he and where did he come from?


In the late ’80s and early ’90s, two bodybuilders earned their pro cards and became immediate threats for the Mr. Olympia title: Dorian Yates and Flex Wheeler. Yates, a six-time Mr. Olympia, turned pro at the 1988 British Championships and captured second place at his first Mr. Olympia in 1991. Wheeler turned pro at the NPC USA Championships in 1992. He placed second at his first Olympia in 1993.

Fast-forward to the present, when Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay won the 2012 IFBB Amateur Olympia in Kuwait and followed up this year with his first IFBB pro show, the New York Pro, defeating seasoned veteran Victor Martinez. The question that everyone is asking is, “Can Ramy do what no other bodybuilder has done before and win the Mr. Olympia his first time competing?” Elssbiay has soared to the top of the IFBB in a very short time and is a legitimate threat for the Mr. Olympia title this year, but not many people know his origins. FLEX sat down with long-time Weider athlete Dennis James and talked about his new protégé, Big Ramy.

FLEX: When did you first meet Ramy?

DENNIS JAMES: I first met Ramy at Oxygen Gym, when he was a coach. I’ve traveled to Kuwait several times over the years because I’m very good friends with the owner of Oxygen Gym, Bader Boodai. In the gyms in Kuwait, there are what are called coaches.  They’re much like a personal trainer here in the States, but they’d spot people and provide any assistance needed in the gym. Each gym has about 15 or 20 coaches who basically patrol the gym and give assistance to the other members working out. Bader is the one who saw the potential in Ramy, and he was the one who contacted me about working with him. Bader has single-handedly done more for the sport of bodybuilding in Kuwait than most other people put together. Bader started sending me pictures of Ramy, and that’s when I came to the conclusion that I should help this guy to see how far he can go. The results were nothing short of amazing. Ramy and I started working together at the end of 2011, but he was around 200 pounds and growing at an amazing pace. It was unbelievable—he was growing out of his clothes. He did a few contests, he did the Oxygen Gym Show, he did the Golden Cup and won the overall, but then we decided to do a big show the Amateur Olympia in Kuwait in November 2012. It was an easy win for him. There was no one that came close to being anywhere near his league. I was competing at the Masters Olympia the same weekend that he was competing at the Amateur Olympia. It was motivating for both of us to know we were both dieting at the same time. His main focus was to get his pro card and get an invite to this year’s Olympia.

FLEX: Give us a little bit about his background.

DENNIS JAMES: Basically, all six of his brothers are fishermen, and they all came to Kuwait to become full-time fishermen. He was helping out his brothers with the business, and on the side he wanted to work at Oxygen Gym. Ramy always loved working out and he had heard that Bader was bringing all the top bodybuilding pros to the Oxygen Gyms in Kuwait, so he was trying to get a job at Oxygen Gym to follow his dreams of becoming a bodybuilder some day. The club manager at one of the Oxygen Gyms, which Bader rarely went to, gave him a job. That’s how he got into bodybuilding. He told his family that he was going to stop the fishing business to get into bodybuilding. That was in 2010. Ramy had been working for Bader for about six months, but they’d never met and then Bader visited the gym and he was impressed with how much size he had for someone that was into bodybuilding as only a hobby. That’s when it all started and Bader started mentoring him. Believe it or not, Ramy has a room upstairs and actually sleeps at Oxygen Gym. The system is very different in Egypt – it’s not uncommon for people to sleep at their workplaces. A typical day for Ramy is that he wakes up, goes downstairs and does cardio, showers, and then he works the pro shop for about 10 hours a day, trains that night, and then goes to sleep. At the Amateur Olympia, and I admit he wasn’t at his best – he turned pro after training for 2½ years and qualified for the Mr. Olympia the same day.

FLEX: How did you guys communicate about the diet and training plan for the Amateur Olympia? Was it by Skype or just e-mails?

DENNIS JAMES: I couldn’t communicate with him because I didn’t speak the language…lol. Bader was the one communicating with him. I’d send Bader the e-mails and plan and talk to him, and he’d then explain this to Ramy. I was doing his dieting and basically giving Bader everything to pass along because I wasn’t there. He was overseeing everything and it was unbelievable how well Ramy responded to the diet and the plan.



FLEX: What adjustments after your first assessments did you make for the Amateur Olympia?

DENNIS JAMES: I really didn’t have to tweak much. He responds so well to whatever he eats. I’ve never seen anything like it. He had all the size he ever needed, he just needed to come in ripped, so I put him on a low-carb diet. Here is the amazing part: Where other people would lose muscle on low-carb diets, he would still gain weight and or maintain it. He was on 75 grams of carbs for a while and almost lost nothing. It’s very hard for him to lose weight. Two cardio sessions a day, two training sessions a day and he’s about 320 pounds and loses, like, one pound a month. His conditioning just keeps improving, too. People would come up to me at the New York Pro and say, “What did you do to get him so big and round?” I would say, “His body is just different. I can’t even explain it, it’s honestly incredible. This is probably one out of a billion people who can grow the way he can grow.” I really think Ramy is like one of those myostatin-deficient kids, where no matter what you do, because of his genetics, he just keeps gaining. I’ve never worked with such a genetically gifted person. Look at the gains he made between the Amateur Olympia and the New York Pro it was only six months and he kept gaining muscle. Most bodybuilders, when they do a show and they have to compete again in six months, take some time of to recover and try to maintain or put on a little size between shows. But Ramy recuperated from the Amateur Olympia faster than any bodybuilder I’ve ever worked with. I can only imagine what he’s going to look like in a year or two once he has more muscle maturity. Ramy is going to shock the world, mark my words on this!

FLEX: What are some of the adjustments that you made for the New York Pro?

DENNIS JAMES: When he arrived here, he was still 300-plus pounds at six days out from the show, but I knew he needed to come down. He looked good standing by himself, but condition-wise he needed to be harder. Training for a little less than three years you can’t expect him to have the same muscle development as these guys who have been training for 10, 15, 20 years. His muscles are still young and fresh because he’s only 28. I knew that we had to bring him down and dry him out. I had him on zero carbs four days before he left Kuwait. With most bodybuilders, flying long distances can result in their holding water, so I didn’t want him to get of the plane holding 10 pounds of water. During the four days before he left Kuwait, he had nothing but protein and water. By four days out from the New York Pro, he was 298 and coming down but still on zero carbs. So he was on zero carbs for 11 days before the show, and he lost very little weight. Three days before the New York Pro he was 296, and we started carb loading. There was a major difference between other guy’s carb loading and his carb loading for him. We gave him only 350 grams of carbs. Most bodybuilders will carb load with 1,000 to 1,500 grams of carbs, but to Ramy, his body is so anabolic that he would’ve blown back up to 320 pounds, so I really cut back on the amount of carbs during the carbloading process. I had to go with very low carbs, but he was still functioning well. Most guys, you put them on low carbs and they get fatigued and they don’t function well, but Ramy was still smiling, which goes to show that his body is very resistant to losing muscle mass when he diets.

FLEX: What are your expectations for Ramy at the 2013 Olympia?

DENNIS JAMES: Right now he’s somewhere around 310 pounds and still in good shape. If I let him eat whatever he wanted, he’d easily blow up to 330 pounds, but I’m making him watch his diet and keep his weight in check. I’m not letting him get too much bigger because I’m looking for him to come into the Olympia somewhere around 270–280, with better separation and drier. He needs to be lower in weight, earlier. My plan is to have him around the 280 mark two weeks out. Right now he’s in contest mode, hitting his cardio and training. I’ll go over there next month to see how he’s doing and start tweaking his workouts. We want to get a little more separation in his quads and his chest. The good thing about Ramy is he doesn’t have to worry about gaining any more muscle in his life, ever. He has all the size he needs to be Mr. Olympia, he just needs to refine his definition. You’ll never see me have him do squats ever again, maybe some hack squats for separation. If his quads get any bigger, it will throw his balance off. All the IFBB pro judges told me that he has all the size he’ll ever need, he just needs to be in better condition. How many pros out there can say that they don’t need to put on any more size? The thing about Ramy is that pictures do not do him justice until you stand next to him. Look at the New York Pro, when he stood next to seasoned veteran Victor Martinez and the rest of the lineup he dwarfed them all! He’s in the perfect spot right now, just worrying about conditioning, not putting on size. Let the other guys chase him; he isn’t chasing anyone in size. I want to know, how many guys getting ready for the Olympia this year have Ramy on their minds? He’s not thinking about anyone but himself! This has never happened before, a guy who’s never been on the Olympia stage and everyone is worried about him. He hasn’t reached his true potential in terms of muscle maturity; he, like Phil Heath, improved yearly, and can you imagine what Ramy will look like in five years? – FLEX

IFBB Olympia Weekend 2013

IFBB Olympia Weekend 2013