Pumping iron UAE: Middle Eastern bodybuilders head for Dubai Muscle Show

Emirati Essa Obaid, the first person from the Arabian Gulf to participate in the Mr Olympia bodybuilding competition, is in town

The world's strongest man, Eddie Hall. Courtesy Dubai Muscle Show
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A wealth of Middle Eastern bodybuilding talent is heading for the UAE this week as Dubai Muscle Show opens its doors.

Egyptian superstar Big Ramy, Egyptian-born Mo Ismail, aka Mo Muscles, and Kuwait’s Ahmad Ashkanani, who recently won the prestigious Arnold Classic in the United States, will be in town. They’ll be joined by Emirati Essa Obaid, who was the first person from the Arabian Gulf to participate in the Mr Olympia bodybuilding competition.

Dubai Muscle Show is now in its second year and about 20,000 people are expected to come through the doors on Friday and Saturday. During the show, about 600 athletes will compete in over 100 competitions. Some of the stand-out events include the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Gulf Classic, where athletes will compete for elite professional cards and the Emirates Strongest Man along with mixed martial arts, boxing and parkour. There will also be a Reebok Les Mills live fitness event.

“This year the show is five times bigger than last year,” said Mr Ismail, who moved from Egypt to the United States when he was a child.

“This is one of the biggest line-ups of athletes you’ll see in the region and Dubai is the best place to do it. As an expo and fitness event it’s massive. Also within a bodybuilding content, it’s even better because it’s IFBB sanctioned.”


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The show will also feature talks by Jay Cutler, a four-time Mr Olympia winner; the world’s strongest man Eddie Hall and Paige Hathaway, a fitness and social media personality. Kai Greene, three time Mr Olympia runner up who's also appeared Stranger Things, is also in town.

The growth of the sport is a testament to how bodybuilding has moved away from backstreet gyms into the mainstream. But it also feeds into the long history in the Middle East of bodybuilding. One of the most famous is Lebanon’s Samir Bannout. Known as the Lion of Lebanon, he was the first and only person from the region to win Mr Olympia. This legacy has continued and now Kuwait, and in particular its Oxygen Gym, has emerged as an international hub for bodybuilders. Ashkanani, for example is based there.

But a question that refuses to go away across the sport is the use of drugs. Steroid abuse in particular has afflicted bodybuilding. But those in the game say the numbers using them are only a small percentage. “A few people do use steroids and are looking for that crazy edge. But steroids are not making you a better athlete,” said Mr Ismail.

“Education is vital so people can make a wiser choice.

At the event over the weekend there will also be questions and answer sessions with the athletes, seminars, exhibitions and competitions

"The coolest thing is that a family can come and build awareness for children or themselves and learn about the health and fitness industry which is a multi-billion-dollar industry," said Mr Ismail. "There’s something in it for everyone. It’s not niche like it was before."

  • Dubai Muscle Show runs from December 8 to 9 at Dubai World Trade Centre. General admission tickets start at Dh75