by Christian Duque
This has to be one of the biggest what-if questions, mostly because the result is not speculative. Rhoden has been a fan favorite around the world since 2016 when he took a controversial second place at Phil “The Gift” Heath. There are some pressing reasons for this.
For starters, sports get boring when a team or a player wins everything. People love competition, they like excitement and it is this controversial climate that is causing some of the best debates on the message boards, between sets in the gym and of course in the audience of some of the biggest competitions. Fans like tight, tough battles where experts and handicappers can resolve any pose and speak to each competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. Whenever you have full dominance, however, it can get boring. Phil Heath was not the dominant force for whom he was marketed, but continued for seven years. There were years when Kai was so close that a strong case could have been made for him. In 2016 Rhoden pushed the champion hard. Then there were other years like 2017 when The Gift was the legitimate winner. All in all, however, fans grew tired of Phil’s blocking critics, who fought social media stars like Luimarco and made big exceptions to any competitor who openly questioned his reign.
The fans liked Shawn because he didn’t back away. They also liked Shawn because he wasn’t considered the guy who was the next champion. If we were to do marketing, it would have been Kai or Ramy, maybe even James “Flex” Lewis, who came from 212, but not Rhoden, never Rhoden. You need to be aware that I put a lot of abuse on the message boards because I was one of the few who constantly predicted that Shawn would go all the way. Everyone laughed at me and everyone said it was the long shot of the century. Flexatron was a real long shot – back then and interestingly enough today.
The fact is that 2017 was a tough year for Rhoden. He had to pause for a jaw injury that literally prevented him from eating. After 2016 there was such a structure and his then sponsor, Pro Supps, pushed hard for him. If you were active on the bodybuilding websites, you couldn’t help but notice the very strong push behind the 2016 Olympics runner-up. Rhoden took the Olympia for 2017 so seriously that he skipped the Arnold Classic. That could have been an easy payday for him, especially given that it was one of the weakest occupations in years. No disrespect to Cedric or Dallas, but Rhoden would have cleaned the house, fresh from 2nd place at the Olympics. Nevertheless, everything went into the rematch in 2017. When he did not win, did not finish second and took a tough but respectable place, he lost his main sponsor and again he was written off by the people.
Some people are people’s champions. Others are the workers of sport. Some people like Rhoden are the outsiders. They are overlooked by the press, largely overlooked by fans and sometimes lose a lot of money because even their own sponsors don’t see what they see. I’ll still say how colossally stupid a CEO of a supplement company would feel if the guy they dropped the year before won the biggest bodybuilding title the year after.
Some guys lose their biggest sponsor and fall to pieces, but the real fighters, the real champions, are out of phase. They know what to do and they do it. Shawn fought so hard in 2018 that I can still remember watching the videos that literally helped him walk. This is a bit of Rocky Balboa shit, tenth round that clings to the top rope and beckons Apollo Creed to come back one more time. Phil was definitely not Apollo, but Apollo would be the industry, the naysayers, the critics and of course the haters. When Shawn won in 2018, he closed everyone.
Now we have an understanding of what he is legally facing, and although I would never speak of guilt or innocence, I will say that I hope that the process will be carried out, that Shawn’s rights will be respected, and that his legal team will be able to is to ensure he receives a fair trial. With that said, there may or may not be a process. In the event that Shawn is acquitted or the case is dealt with, I believe he has the right to enter the competition and I believe that has always been the plan. When the charge is dropped or the case won, everyone on the planet longs for the day Shawn takes the stage. Whether he can beat Brandon Curry, Flex Lewis or another competitor or not is really not the point. The fans just want to see their 2018 champion up there again.
For those who argue that he should never have left the sport, that he would have won in 2019, I can only say that this is mere speculation. I am not one who speaks in hypotheses; I’m not the one who compares photos of competitors from different eras and reports on the results of a bodybuilding celebrity matchup. I leave this exciting content to the YouTube stars and wannabe influencers.
I personally don’t think we will see Shawn 2020 on stage – simply because I can’t imagine that his case will be completed at this point. Most of the courts are supported by Covid19, and while many use innovative features such as zoom for selected hearings and applications, I would think that given the seriousness of the charges, Rhoden’s legal team would choose to do things personally and do it all more gracefully Time. This is not the kind of exam that both sides want to speed up. At least that’s my opinion.
That being said, we all see Shawn training and building muscle like someone who plans to compete. There’s really no reason why a competitor would hit it so hard in the gym, eat so hard, and release so many updates just for hits. That has never been Rhoden’s style and I cannot imagine that it is now. This is something a new name on social media would do, someone who wants to get instafamous and / or make some noise for their youtube channel. The bottom line is, Rhoden wants it, he’s fighting in the trenches, and he won’t be going through his fans’ emotional roller coaster ride, just because of shit and giggles. He’s not that guy – in fact, I don’t know anyone who is.
Okay, sure, Kai Greene is known for teasing fans over the years. Maybe it implies something, laughs at a certain time, maybe it’s subtle and maybe not so subtle, but that could be a healthy bite or two. Rhoden looked and sounded like someone preparing for the biggest competition of his life. One thing is marketing and another is a competitor’s life. Perhaps Rhoden takes a page from the Kai Greene manual, or maybe life is life that comes closest to the feeling of an active competitor. Maybe that’s more than a love job, maybe that’s all that keeps Rhoden on the floor.
Again, I’m not going to speak of guilt or innocence, but what I’m going to say is this. Imagine that you are completely innocent but have serious accusations over your head. You are innocent until proven guilty of your personal freedom. However, you can no longer keep up, you can see that all of your sponsors are leaving you, and you even lose many fans in the process. You are basically a spectator. You can’t defend yourself, you can’t do anything, damn it, you can’t even say anything. Perhaps training for a show is all you can do, even if you know deep down that you are unlikely to be able to compete. Perhaps Shawn’s entire preparation relies on the dim light that can be seen at the end of the tunnel. Maybe his whole preparation is driven by hope?
Do you think Shawn will compete at the 2020 Olympics?