Published on Thursday, 25 October 2012 21:38
Written by Corey Young
A Fight To The Stage: An Exclusive Interview with Masoom Butt
Bodybuilding, like all sports, is full of stories about guys who could’ve, would’ve, should’ve made it. All those stories have the same narrative. The story about the guy who had great potential, ran into a few bumps in the road, and eventually went off course to never be heard from again. Most of these tales become like ghost stories or urban legends that people know of, but don’t really know about. That might be the reason why everyone loves the great comeback story so much. We love story of someone overcoming the deck being stacked against them and coming out on top anyway. That is the story of Masoom Butt. His story is the story of a man who overcame poor odds, family tragedy, and quitting the sport not once, but twice. And, despite all of this, still managed to fight his way onto the IFBB stage and take 3rd place at the Sheru Classic. This is his story.
Q.) In general, what was the attitude towards bodybuilding growing up in Pakistan?
A.) Bodybuilding actually started replacing wrestling gyms in the late 1980s. Mud wrestling, at the time, was the most famous sport in the state of Punjab(Pakistan)both on the Indian and Pakistani side. Punjab is divided between India and Pakistan, but both have the same culture and values. When we started out people had lots of stereotypes and reservations about weight training like it will their stunt growth. They thought that once you stop doing it your body would turn into a very ugly shape. People thought that you would get a lot of muscle and joints problems in old age so on and so on. In that era the Russian war in Afghanistan was stopped and the Russian army was defeated. Pakistan was flooded with Afghan refugees and that brought lots of guns and drugs like cocaine and heroin in almost every city of Pakistan. Lahore, where I lived and grew up, was no exception. You saw young guys falling here and there almost every day due to wide spread use of these drugs. Bodybuilding provided cover against that wide spread use of drugs in youth and people got motivated to send their kids to bodybuilding gyms.
Q.) At what age did you begin training, and what was it the sparked your interest in the sport?
A.) I started weight training after high school in 1987.I belonged to the BUTT clan of Kashmir origin. In our culture when someone called you Butt a big fat guy picture came into your mind! They tought of a guy who can eat like a horse without getting tired....lol....I was the total opposite of that picture. I was very skinny, but also very athletic. My dad wanted me to join a gym and get healthy. I decided to join a karate gym, but due to lots of aerobics involved in karate, I got even skinnier. Whenever I would take my shirt off in karate class everyone would start looking at me and I realized that I had a lot of muscle on my body. They would ask me if I weight train or went to any gym, and at that time, of course the answer was no. I was genetically blessed with a lot of muscle. That’s why when I started weight training I start growing very fast and that increased my interest in bodybuilding.
Q.) Bodybuilding is a sport that requires many resources, as I’m sure you know. Did you ever find it difficult to obtain things you needed such as an adequate gym, proper food, supplements, etc?
A.) When I started out bodybuilding was a new sport so gyms were very poorly equipped with only some free weights and benches. Arnold’s god damn volume training was in fashion and the idea was to try to kill yourself in the gym and if you survived you would become a good bodybuilder. So, our workouts were usually twice a day. Each session typically was 2 hours of brutal super sets and drop sets. Supplements were too expensive to afford and were looked upon as some kind of artificial way to enhance performance. So, food was our only choice. My dad was well off so food was not a problem for me. I never used any supplements during that first phase of my bodybuilding career and I won Jr. Mr. Asia in 1992, Mr. Pakistan in 1993, Mr. Asia in 1993, and 4th place in the welter weight class at the IFBB Mr. Universe in 1993.
Q.) In 1993 you were able to win the title of Mr. Asia at the age of 21. Describe what it was like to win a title of that scale at such a young age.
A.) When I started realizing what bodybuilding was all about as a sport, I found out that winning Mr. Asia Gold was like the dream of every top bodybuilder in Pakistan. Most of the senior bodybuilders of the country were trying so hard for many years to win the gold in the Asian Bodybuilding Championship. For me being a junior it was something unachievable. Things changed when I first attended the Mr. Asia contest in Indonesia as a junior contestant. I was excited to see what bodybuilders looked like in those classes. When I saw the classes I realized that I could beat them. Honestly, I was sure that I could beat a few senior bodybuilders that were seated next to me. I told them that these guys in that class were totally beatable. They started laughing and said you can say it when you’re sitting in the audience, but once you stand next to them it will be a totally different ball game. After watching that contest I had a picture in my mind that if I looked like this I could beat them. For the next entire year I worked hard to complete that picture. I was ready to win, and once I did win I was not that excited because I knew I wanted more. This was just the beginning. 45 years in the history of Pakistani bodybuilding and no one before or after me could win that gold. I won all of my contests from Mr. Lahore to Mr. Asia on my first attempt. I never competed twice in any contest. I am still the youngest guy to win the Asian gold and also the youngest to win Mr. Pakistan. That’s my history, and no one can dare deny it.
Q.) In 1995 you walked away from the sport for nearly a decade. What was it that made you decide to walk away from bodybuilding?
A.) My dad died February 10, 1993. I won all my major titles after his death. He was the only one who supported me both morally and financially. But, because I was so busy in bodybuilding, I didn’t realize that he was losing his business because of his sickness. After his death, when I took control of his business, I realized we were left with no money. It was a big shock for me. I always thought we were rich! Luckily, by then, I had a job in the police department and I was getting paid being an instructor in the gym I trained at. But, it was not enough to feed a family of 10. Being the eldest son they were my responsibility. I tried to manage this expensive lifestyle until 1995, but I came to the conclusion that supporting family and living a bodybuilding lifestyle cannot go together. So, I threw the towel in from the end of 1995 until 2002. I never lifted weights again except for 2 month in Sydney in 1997.I lived in Sydney for a while.
Q.) What did it feel like to not be able to train at all while you were away from the stage?
A.) No, weight training at all. Whatever I do I do it with all my heart and passion or I don’t do it at all. That’s me. When I decided to walk away I knew it was over forever.
Q.) After being away for so long why did you decide to come back? Were you confident that you could be competitive again when you did come back?
A.) I became a typical Butt after I stopped weight training. I mean I ate everything you can get your hand on. I got fat! I mean very fat, around 117kg. I came back to Pakistan at the end of 2002 and started weight training again but not for bodybuilding. More so just to keep fit, but once I started it all came back within 6 months. I was surprised to see the progress. So, I decided it’s good for my health to compete once every 2 to 3 years. It’s not so hard on the economy and each time you get ready for the show you burn extra fat off and continue to stay healthy. So basically I was competing just to stay healthy and lean.
Q.) In 2007 you set a NABA record winning five titles in a single year. At what point did you think you were ready to step on an IFBB stage?
A.) I was working with Ian Chembers, my friend from Power House Gym Cumbria(UK) when I won those 5 NABBA shows within two month time. I did not want to be a pro. I thought I was too old for that and didn’t have the time I needed to create the physique which could be competitive for a top pro line up. That was until they created the 202lb class. I always thought I could have a shot, but with my textile business and police job in Pakistan I didn’t have much time for bodybuilding. So, I decided to quit again in 2008 and start paying more attention to my job and business. I still kept training twice a week. It was enough to keep me fit and that was all I wanted. Then, I moved to Ireland and started my own store in Athlone. Later, when I moved to Derry , at the end of 2011 that changed everything for me. I met Derek Lynch of Extreme Fitness there. He offered me whatever I wanted to do and he said he would fully support me. I spoke to my wife and asked her if I should try to give it a go, and if I do well in my first pro show there is chance to make a living out of it. Otherwise I would open some stores there in Derry. So, with Derek’s help I trained for 6 months to get ready for the Toronto show. I was not training at all for the 6 month before that so it was kind of hard. Luckly I got help from Chris Aceto and that made my life a lot easier! So, pretty much, Derek is the one who cut me my first break. I will never forget the kindness and support I got from him and his wife. Sometimes I feel they are my mum and dad , and I’m like their adopted son, lol!
Q.) This year we saw you take 2nd in the Toronto Pro and 3rd at the Sheru Classic. In India only David Henry and Jose Raymond placed ahead of you. How do you think you would have done in this year's Olympia had you decided to compete?
A.) I don’t believe in the coulda, shoulda, woulda. I know I’ll be ready for the 2013 Olympia, so I decided not to compete in 2012. I have a picture in my mind that I am trying to fill with Chris Aceto’s help .The way my progress is going I think that I will complete that picture before 2013 at the Olympia. Let’s see what happens then.
Q.) Can we expect to see you onstage at next year's Olympia?
A.) Yup, that’s the plan.
For some of us having to overcome one of the events that occurred in Masoom’s life would be enough to throw in the towel. But, for Masoom, quitting was never an option. The book on Masoom’s bodybuilding journey is being written on his terms. His journey has spanned three continents and nearly three decades, but it appears he still isn’t finished. If there was ever a person who realizes the importance of seizing this moment it’s Masoom. And, whenever he decides to write his final chapter we can be sure of one thing, it’ll be on his terms.