Persian Wolf On the Prowl!
Hadi Choopan Is on the Hunt for a Mr. Olympia Win
By Ron Harris
Few bodybuilders in recent years have generated as much excitement and anticipation as Iran’s Hadi Choopan, aka The Persian Wolf. He took on an almost mythic status from 2016 to 2018, a new pro taking runner-up spots to lauded veterans such as Flex Lewis, Cedric McMillan and Roelly Winklaar, yet unable to gain entry into the USA to compete. The myth grew in 2019 when he overcame tremendous political and bureaucratic obstacles to enter the Mr. Olympia and storm to third place along with being awarded The People’s Champion. 2020 proved to be another year of trials and tribulations, but in the end we were given yet another glimpse into just what this soft-spoken family man from Iran is capable of.
Hadi – the 212 Pro Who Proved Deadly in Open
Long before Hadi Choopan made his Mr. Olympia debut in 2019, he was already a superstar in the Middle East and much of the world. He can also lay claim to being the only man so far who has been able to compete successfully in both the 212 and Open class, jumping back and forth for three years before fully committing to the Open ranks. By the fall of 2019, he’d done three open shows, taking second to Roelly Winklaar and Cedric McMillian and winning the Vancouver Pro. Still, many doubted he would make any impact at his first Mr. Olympia, yet he placed third and beat out established veterans like Dexter Jackson, Roelly and Steve Kuclo. The Persian Wolf was built like a tank: his 5-foot-5 frame packed with 220 pounds of dense, gnarly, dried-out muscle with some of the best quads and delts ever seen. Traveling to the USA had been attempted in 2018, but it wasn’t until a year later that a presidential waiver allowed him to bypass the travel ban Donald Trump had imposed on Iran. The stage was set for Hadi to return to the 2020 Mr. Olympia with a vengeance – but we all know 2020 was a cursed year for not only our sport and industry, but the entire world.
Get Him to Orlando!
If you follow politics and history, you already know that there have been no diplomatic relations between the USA and Iran since 1980. As if that didn’t make it problematic enough for an Iranian citizen to travel there, in 2017 former President Trump enacted Executive Order 13769, placing stringent restrictions on travel to the United States for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. And then came COVID-19. Iran was one of the earliest countries to see massive infection and death rates, but citizens could still travel to the USA with a visa if they quarantined in an approved nation for 14 days first. The catch there was securing a visa. Hadi’s coach and sponsor, Hany Rambod, talked about how much tougher it was to get Choopan to the USA in 2020 than it had been the previous year.
“Hadi left Iran for Turkey almost a month before the Olympia,” he begins. In 2019 he had been able to travel to Dubai, but recently Dubai’s relations with Iran have degraded, and direct travel from Iran to Dubai is prohibited. The pandemic had U.S. embassies all over the world either closed until further notice or operating with limited hours. Complicating matters, Hadi speaks only Farsi and is also severely hearing impaired. He can read lips, but everyone in 2020 had to wear masks! To make a long story short, through the tireless efforts of Hany and the brothers Hadi and Mahdi Parsafar from the UAE, Choopan finally got a visa to Dubai, and another to the USA at literally the 11th hour. He arrived in New York on Tuesday night, and got to Orlando just in time to check in at the athlete’s meeting the next day.
“Can you imagine the stress this poor guy was going through?” asks Rambod. “Even at a week out from the Mr. Olympia, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to get there. How do you train your hardest, stay on your diet and cardio, when there’s a strong chance you might not even get to the contest to compete in it? I tried to stay positive, but I was thinking it would be a miracle if we pulled this off.”
Water Woes – and a Transformation
Somehow Hadi had managed to stay on his prep in spite of all the obstacles he’d faced since leaving his native land nearly a month before. But the combination of stress and a total of over 20 hours in the air in flight had caused his body to retain a full 25 pounds of water. Hany was confident they could get rid of it – but would there be enough time? When Choopan took the stage Friday night for judging, 20 of those pounds of fluid had been shed. To my eyes, he looked good but not nearly as sharp and dry as he had the year before. Scoresheets had him in fourth place behind Big Ramy, Phil Heath and Brandon Curry. By the time Hadi returned for the finals the following night, the last few pounds of water had been expelled, and now we saw the truly deadly version of The Persian Wolf we’d been expecting. With his insanely clear cuts and striations along with a bit more mass than we’d ever seen, the judges placed him in second behind only Ramy. Of course, the scores from both nights were tallied together, and he finished in fourth place. That leads us to wonder, what if Hadi had arrived in the USA even one day sooner?
“At the end of the day, we will never know,” says Hany. “But I think it’s clear from how much better he looked Saturday night that getting him here sooner would have made a significant difference.” Keep in mind that in 2019, he had arrived in the USA a full three weeks before the show. What about the possibility of Hadi moving to the USA, so travel would never again be an issue?
“Of course that would make things so much easier,” Rambod agrees. “But Hadi has a wife and several children, one of which was just born a couple of weeks after the Olympia, he owns a gym, and he is a very popular and respected figure in Iran.” That’s an understatement – his town erected an 8-foot statue of him in his honor after he placed third in the 2019 Mr. Olympia! Videos of his return from that event show him received at the airport as a homecoming hero, hoisted on the shoulders of his adoring fans. “Phil Heath won seven consecutive Mr. Olympia titles, and he never got that type of appreciation in Colorado,” Hany quips. So it’s safe to say Hadi Choopan isn’t leaving home.
This Wolf Trains Like a Beast
One look at the thick, rugged physique of Hadi and you instantly know it wasn’t built with light weights. He is an incredibly strong man. Just the week before writing this, I saw a couple of Instagram clips of a leg workout in which he squatted seven plates a side for a few reps before doing walking lunges with 405 on his back. Every other lift of his is equally impressive. There is no doubt the man trains very hard and very heavy. But would his training be even more efficient and productive if Hany were able to train him in person, as he often did with Phil Heath?
“In just the few times we’ve been able to work together, I’ve been able to help him make slight but critical adjustments to his technique and improve his mind-muscle connection,” Rambod informs us. Does he approve of the insanely heavy lifting he sees Choopan posting clips of on social media? “I do watch some of those and cringe because I worry he’s going to get hurt,” Hany concedes. “I would rather see him take a couple of plates off those squats, for example, and do more reps. Hadi is so intense and so strong. He loves going heavy and has a lot of that Ronnie Coleman mentality in the gym. But I would prefer to see him slow down the reps, get more time under tension, and really focus on that eccentric component of the rep more. I do have him doing more FST-7 sets and reps up in the 15 range with about 20 to 25 percent less weight. The goal is to use that additional volume to grow within the pump, get him rounder and fuller, that 3-D look we’re always after.”
Why not have Hadi follow workouts to make sure he stays on track with the proper volume, and ensure that he doesn’t do anything risky in the gym? Rambod was one step ahead of me there. “I did write up a full training program for him after the recent Olympia,” Hany says. “But it wasn’t long before I saw him on his IG lifting super heavy again, at least for some of his sets. With clients at this level, it’s always a negotiation.”
What Does Hadi Choopan Need to Be Mr. Olympia?
With all due respect for Mr. Olympia Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay, he is beatable. Hadi Choopan already has some attributes such as clear separation between muscle groups and abundant detail that Ramy lacks. What does Choopan need to possibly edge him out this year? Rambod tells us that the goals now are more fullness to the chest to bring it more into balance with his tremendously round shoulders, and more size, detail and separation in his back – the latter two qualities being chinks in Ramy’s armor.
“Think about what made Phil Heath’s rear double biceps pose so dominant,” Hany says. “There were knots and ridges from his traps, even in his outer lats, all the way to his spinal erectors – that’s what I would love to achieve with Hadi’s back.” Can this freaky back detail be acquired, or is it all a matter of genetics? “I’ve worked with enough athletes to know that it can definitely be improved,” he replies. “It comes down to slowing down the reps and focusing on the contractions, getting that elite level of mind-muscle connection.”
I was confident that Choopan didn’t need any additional mass, but here Rambod had a differing opinion on his athlete. “He would look better with just a little more size, enough to accentuate his condition and separation for that 3-D look. This sport is called bodybuilding, so we train for mass. That being said, we have to be careful because with his stature, it’s easy to get a blocky look to the midsection if you’re just after as much mass as possible.”
Currently Hadi is settled in again back home in Shiraz, Iran, in full-bore off-season mode training like a man possessed and taking in an abundance of clean food. None of us can say what the situation with either the pandemic or politics will be when Olympia time rolls around again later this year. But Hadi Choopan is working hard every day toward his dream of becoming Mr. Olympia. The fact that on Saturday night he was second in the scores to the champion and was ahead of two Mr. Olympia winners is a testament to how realistic that dream is. Ramy is no slouch, but if Hadi Choopan is able to secure a visa and get to the USA a couple of weeks ahead of time, he’s going to be a serious threat to every man on that Olympia stage – and could very well be the last man standing at the end of the night!
Instagram @hadi_choopan (2.1 million followers)
Hadi Choopan is an Evogen Elite athlete
Was the 2019 Vancouver Pro Hadi’s Best Ever?
Many pros have had that one show where they peaked so perfectly that fans and critics alike forever refer to that as their best look. Recall Victor Martinez at the 2007 Mr. Olympia, Branch at the 2009 Olympia, or Jay Cutler in 2001. With Hadi Choopan, the contest that is brought up every time is his first and to date, only Open win, the 2019 Vancouver Pro. Did he really look that much better there, or were there mitigating factors that the average fan might not be aware of? Hany Rambod points to two areas that made Choopan look so inhuman that fateful day in Canada: the lighting and his tan.
“First of all, the lighting at that show was excellent, just traditional theater lighting with a black background,” he says. “In contrast, the Olympia stage uses banks of moving LED lights, with giant screens behind the athletes. It adds to the overall showmanship and excitement of the event, using that type of elaborate concert lighting, but it does wash out the fine details in physiques and change the color of skin tones.”
Hadi’s tan was also on point in Vancouver. “His stage color was perfect, and that served to accentuate his separation. We were also able to strike that perfect balance of fullness and dryness there, so overall it was a fantastic look for him. But if you saw photos taken at both that show and the Olympia that year, or even from Saturday night at the 2020 Olympia all in similar lighting, you would see that he looked pretty much just as good in all three shows in terms of condition.”
Birth Date: May 8th, 1986
Hometown: Shiraz, Iran
Current Residence: Shiraz, Iran
Weight: 212-220 pounds
2012 WBPF World Championships
Second, Light Middleweight
2013 IFBB Asian Amateur Championships
Classic Bodybuilding Winner
Middleweight and Overall
2014 IFBB World Amateur Championships
2015 IFBB World Amateur Championships
Light Heavyweight Winner
2016 IFBB Amateur Olympia Russia
Light Heavyweight and Overall
2016 Diamond Cup Dubai
Light Heavyweight and Overall
2016 Sheru Classic Dubai
Second Place (to Roelly Winklaar)
2017 Korean Grand Prix
2017 San Marino Pro
2018 Portugal Pro
2019 Vancouver Pro
2019 Mr. Olympia
2020 Mr. Olympia
Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 5,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989. He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area. Facebook Instagram
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