‘The Persian Missile’ reflects on his time in bodybuilding and voices his opinion on the sport today in a way that only he can…..
“At one my biggest points in my career I was 275lbs before I started getting burnt out with the whole bodybuilding thing...
I had been at it for over 20 years. The sport had slowly been changing and not for the better. Audience attendance for us bodybuilders was dwindling. We were being put on last at shows and by that time with all the extremely hard work we did to get to our conditioning and routine there was practically no one to pose to. My desire to continue pounding my body was also lessening each year. I was in transition and was battling myself if I should continue or not. Others who had competed with me while coming up in the sport I noticed were having issues health wise and also dealing with reality of REAL life. Meaning, what were they gonna do now that they didn’t have bodybuilding in their life and "The Dream" of living the life didn’t turn out as expected. I had known at 30 that at around 40-42 yrs old I would be done and would have to change my way of life and choose a different path.
I know many now who are experiencing this and are asking me how I dealt with it. I know many of you can relate. And if not now you all will soon enough. I wish everyone the best on their journey. But even the strongest have to come to reality at some time.”
Abbas Khatami IFBB Pro
Abbas…the Facebook post I have paraphrased a little above led me to want to talk to you about your feelings regarding the bodybuilding world past and present AND how athletes make the transition from competing being the primary focus to re integrating back into what I will call the ‘real world’ for now. So, that in mind, let’s take a journey through your time in the sport. First of all, what inspired you to get involved in competitive bodybuilding?
“First off, thank you for wanting to take the time to Interview me and to think that what I had posted on FB was relevant enough to go into more depth. Going back to when it all started for me… it was when I was in high school wrestling and working out in between seasons. I tried to work out during wrestling seasons but 3 hour practices, school and homework were pretty much all I could handle. So once the season was over I couldn’t wait to hit the gym and train and gain back some of the weight I had lost during the wrestling season. Each wrestling season that came along I was bigger and stronger than everyone else because not one of them really trained like I did. I told my friends in high school that I would be a PRO BODYBUILDER one day!
“I was lucky as well, being from Persian decent we always ate good wholesome meals prepared by my Mom, Grandmother or even my Dad. I mean the food they cooked was so rich it was anabolic in itself for a kid!”
So what about your first show then?
“ Well at 19, while working at a car dealership, a friend of mine said he was going to do a ‘Teen Virginia’ show so it sparked my interest and I thought to myself ‘why don’t I do one?’ I didn’t know shit about dieting lol. All I had to go on were John Parrillo books, Bob Kennedy books and a few others that were in the library at the time. I had some help from an older friend of mine who had done a local show and that was about it. Some of the books actually had the various stages of being cut and how you were supposed to be looking and feeling at different stages while dieting down. There was no internet, no ‘GURU'S’, none of that bullshit back in the day. It was just all hard work and kind of a guessing game of trial and error. So the first show I did was the East Coast Tournament of Champions put on by Yohnnie Shambourger. It was my first show. so during the pre judging we were asked individually to go out on stage and do our 60 sec. I was like, “What? What is that?” To the backstage help. No one told me about this. My friend just told me about compulsories, being compared and our quarter turn. SHIT I was fucking nervous and had not prepped for that nor did I know I was gonna go out there on my own for 60 seconds lol. Anyway prejudging was done and over with and I felt pretty good about the overall outcome, I knew I was either first or second to this guy out of Maryland, Shawn Rhoden.”
Ah, Shawn Rhoden…small world! So who were your role models at the time?
“While I was coming up some of the guys I looked up to and were inspirational to me were Nasser El Sonbaty - who at one time was a good friend - Kevin Levrone, who I saw guest pose while I was 19, after he had just won the Nationals. He came out on stage and I was blown away at how fucking huge he was! There were a few others like Gary Strydom, Aaron Baker, Shawn Ray, and Lee Priest. These guys were all a class acts and never acted like jack asses or were arrogant. Almost all of them I have met or even spent time eating or just talking with at shows. None of them acting like this trash talking big mouthed, entitled generation of ‘over- night successes’. Stupid kids who have never done a show and are giving out info and hurting others. Back then they had ‘American Muscle’ on TV - bodybuilding was aired on TV and was more widely accepted. The venues were packed back then - just for bodybuilding!”
You mentioned that at your biggest you hit 275lbs. Would you say that you got caught up in what some call ‘biggerexia’ - the quest for size above all else?
“I was 272lbs at 24 years old while living near Venice California when I first moved out after leaving Arizona. So, in a way, thinking about…maybe back then I was caught up in getting as big as possible.
In those days (1997) I would walk into Gold’s Gym and would see all the guys who were on the scene at that time like Tom Price, Curtis Leffler, Flex Wheeler, Chris Cormier, Jeep "tank" Swenson from the Batman movies. Fuck I was in the Mecca! I was only 225 lbs and soft at the time. I thought to myself, shit I need to get my ass in gear. These Fuckers are huge! Tom Prince was the first to talk to me while I was eating there at Gold’s. He had been to Iran and lived there for some time and knew some Farsi (modern Persian language) and he opened up to me and we started talking. I was shocked how nice he was. To this day we are friends.
So back to Biggerexia, the first time I hit 272lbs I was young and was able to handle that weight, but it came on fast. I didn't care how I looked I just wanted to see that number on the scale go up each day, and yes it did each day like at least a pound if not more for about three months. Yes I made my statement at Gold’s lol. I hadn't seen Melvin Anthony since I had moved out there and like 6 months later I specifically remember him doing a second take while I was walking past him. It was so motivating to go and train there. Even Kent Kuehn who had worked out in the Arnold era and trained at the original Gold’s was checking everyone in at the counter at that time. He was the first to introduce me to many people and welcome me to Gold’s Gym. During my fat ass bulking stage Kent actually got on the microphone and announced that my order from ‘Dominos’ was there. It was a joke but that was how fast I was putting on size! So eventually year after year of dieting down for shows and then bulking back up I would usually just go back to around 270-275lbs but each year there was less and less fat and more muscle maturity. “
What about the health issues many run into when they hit those numbers on the scale?
“When I first made that huge jump in weight at 24, I had started to get anxiety and I think a little high blood pressure due to the fact that it was put on so fast my body couldn't handle it. Back then I didn't have a doctor nor was I knowledgeable on how I could have easily remedied that. So each time I hit 270-275 I would automatically go back to that time in my mind and think that something would happen. So I think I self sabotaged myself. However, in thinking back there really was no reason to be any bigger. I see guys now who go to 300lbs and just look like shit and drop 50-60lbs so there was no relevant reason for me at 5'8 to get any bigger. So eventually things in life happened and I did not continue to push that envelope and looking back I'm glad I didn't. I see now many who have pushed that size envelope and who are having all sorts of problems especially ones who didn't eat clean and more so ones who didn't add in the cardio in the off season. I was one of those who didn't do cardio all year long till the day I had to start dieting. Looking back now if I had, I would have probably been more comfortable at that weight. Any injuries I have sustained are due solely to the time I did a stint of like 8 months of trying to get into the WWE. That was my downfall. It had slowly ruined my disc and nerves in my neck which led directly to losing muscle in my upper chest and triceps. Then it led to a compressed disc in my lower back. All of which have been fixed now but the pain does still linger. Only thing I can think of that has caused any problems was years of heavy squatting which led to a little patella tear in my right knee.”
I believe you also had a health scare….
“Yes, I had a scare about 4 years ago ‘cause I was pushing the weight limit. One day I woke up and I was tense as fuck and in a cold sweat. I couldn't calm down and was scared as fuck. I ran myself to the hospital and they took me in right away. Ran all sorts of tests on me and diagnosed blood clots in my lungs. I was like fuck this all these years of doing this to my body for what? I didn't deserve this. And just a few weeks prior a good friend of mine, who had pushed me at each training session all off-season and pre-contest for the 2009 North American and Nationals, just dropped dead of a heart attack due to cutting his water and adding diuretics on top of that. You can imagine what was going through my head. At that point I just stopped everything, due to a stupid doctor who really didn't know how to deal with athletes and usage of supplements. I felt like shit and scared out of my mind.
Needless to say I still worked and trained my people but was in a deep depression. It was hard each day to find a reason to keep going. Luckily by the grace of god I had befriended a doctor, not knowing he was head of cardiology and was a surgeon and heart and lung specialist. Back in 2011 while helping some friends in Pennsylvania I had contacted him and explained my situation. He was nice enough to guide me on what to do and how to go about getting rechecked and got me through that difficult time. So it turned out that for these 4-5 months I was wrongly diagnosed with blood clots in my lungs! I found out the fucking CT scan machine they used on me was an older version and it could not properly read through the muscle and tissue. So the GREAT FUCKING HOSPITAL I went to misdiagnosed me. What in fact it turned out to be was a severe panic attack in the beginning due to some stress I was going through in my life at that time. So yeah I don't trust too many doctors these days due to that. I had gotten rechecked while I was in Pennsylvania visiting some friends again with the newest version of the CT scan machines -they are designed to properly scan and be set at the right settings for different body masses. I never had a blood clot the whole time. But due to that scare, I started keeping cardio in and added fish oil and an aspirin a day just for health purposes recommended by my cardiologist friend.”
Moving on, I personally feel that many athletes today place WAY too much importance on the Pro Card imagining that their life will instantly change once that card is in their hands…care to comment?
“Let’s just say it’s great to have a goal but when it consumes your life and you get nothing out of it and you lose everything from family, to friends, to your health cause your are trying to PROVE something to people or yourself. Trust me when I say it’s not worth it! Especially these days, I mean just select few make money let alone a living out it!”
Also these days I feel pro cards are way too easy to come by. I mean if you time it right or go in a lesser populated category you almost get one for showing up!
“Exactly, they hand out pro cards like its fucking candy on Halloween! No one and I mean NO one respects anyone who got their pro card after they started giving the cards to people in second place in the same weight divisions. NO ONE gives a shit if you have a Pro Card or not. It’s just not valuable or respected like it used to be. Before you had to be just a crazy freak who came out of the wood work and blew everyone away or you placed top 5 and worked your way up cause there were others in line before you who were making their mark in the judges’ heads. It was back then that they gave ONE pro card out amongst all the weight classes for each division. Now you did that you earned that fucker and people knew about it. Now there are so many being handed out people could care less and can’t even keep up with all the people turning pro.”
Abbas Khatami 26-years-old and 270lbs.
And that ‘miracle’ they all think will transform their lives?
“NOTHING will miraculously happen after turning pro. What will happen is you are just put down to the bottom and you have to work your sorry ass back up to the top with your own money. It’s very hard these days to get a contract which will enable you to live a life of being able to subsidize your habit- which in turn if you don't have a level head will ruin your life. People are fucking delusional. I see and hear all these women and men who haven't even done a damn local show say ‘I’m gonna turn pro’ I just shake my head and laugh inside.. These poor idiots don't have a clue what they are getting into.”
And that is where we cut off from part one of this two part interview. Stay tuned for part two where we talk about the new divisions in the sport, the social media epidemic and what happens when you decide to leave competing behind you.