‘Craig Titus was wanting to jump me after the IRONMAN Pro, and right before I did my posing routine at the night show, Melvin Anthony snuck up behind me and grabbed me from behind and.’
There was a time in the late ’80s and early ’90s when bodybuilders would jump right from the national ranks into the pros and do some damage. Kevin Levrone, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates and Flex Wheeler come to mind. For the past few years, though, it seems that despite the fact that many new pros have competed in the major contests, none of them has caused excitement, threatened anyone for an important title or even made an impact’until now. Meet the controversial new pro Shari ‘King’ Kamali.
Should I do the typical journalist’s trick of whetting your appetite by saying that King caused a near riot in his pro debut or that he’s the breath of fresh air many critics have been waiting for? Or should I let you decide? With his big claims and smack talking, is King exactly what the sport needs, or is he the kiss of death? Let’s let him provide the answers.
The Sandwich: When and where were you born?
King Kamali: I was born in Tehran, Iran, on September 11, 1971.
TS: Tell us about your childhood.
KK: I come from a very strong military family. My mother was the secretary of agriculture of our country, and my father was an officer in the military under the shah’s regime. When the Hezbollah took over, the ayatollah and those people, we were kicked out of our country. We were spread all across the world. Some went to South America, Australia, Switzerland and England, and some came here, as we did.
TS: What was your life like growing up in a new country?
KK: It was rough when we first got here because, basically, I was the Iranian kid who took our hostages! That was who [people thought] I was when I got here. When introduced to my class’I was two months into the third grade when we came’they said I was Shari Kamali from Iran. So I got beat up every day and all that stuff, but I learned very quickly in this country that everything revolves around popularity when you’re in school. That summer I learned every sport I could possibly learn. I became Mr. All Star and came back for my fourth-grade year and said, ‘Hey, look at me! I can hit a ball, I can shoot a basket, and I can run fast.’ I became popular.
TS: Were you still involved in athletics during your teen years?
KK: I was still Mr. All Star, but I liked to party. I had to worry about grades, just going through what everybody else was going through. What I didn’t know then was that I had the ability to build muscle real fast. I never took advantage of that until my sophomore year in high school, which was when I first picked up the weights.
TS: What got you involved in bodybuilding?
KK: My 100 percent fascination with the muscular look. The first time I saw a bodybuilding magazine, I was amazed at how anyone could look like that.
TS: Which bodybuilders did you look up to at the time?
KK: Mike Christian, Lee Haney, Lee Labrada, Rich Gaspari.
TS: What did you want to be when you were a midget Kamali?
KK: [Chuckles] I wanted to be a doctor because my mom kept forcing that into my head. Then I wanted to be an airline pilot. I went through all the little phases, but I knew in my sophomore year what I really wanted to do. I wanted to be a bodybuilder. I did get a degree in exercise physiology from George Mason University, though. It’s good to have a backup plan, and I enjoyed it, so why not?
TS: How did your folks take to your becoming a bodybuilder?
KK: They thought it was a joke and a hobby, and it wouldn’t last. Every year I got bigger and better. When I did my first show, the most stunning thing for my father was the first time I shaved my legs. He absolutely lost his mind. Once he got over that, he went off on the amino acids I was taking. ‘What the hell is this, drugs?’ he asked. They didn’t get it. I learned very quickly that to keep them off my back, all I had to do was bring home good grades. Then they’d let me do the bodybuilding thing. So I did. I was a good kid, all As and Bs.
TS: What were your hobbies?
KK: I liked to dance, and break dancing came easy. I got into the BMX thing for a while, got into the skateboard thing for a while. Then I got into diving and swimming. I did it all’until I started lifting weights, and then that became an obsession.
TS: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
KK: I have a sister. She’s two years younger and is a recruiter for a systems analyst company in San Diego. TS: What type of relationship do you have with your folks now?
KK: It’s the closest we’ve ever been’ever! Because they finally realized what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished and what my future holds. The first show they ever attended was the ’99 Nationals, when I turned pro. I wouldn’t let them come to any other shows. I knew what the repercussions would be: ‘See? I told you!’ I didn’t want to hear it because they didn’t understand the politics and pay-your-dues stuff.
TS: Did you face adversity as a teenager?
KK: Tons. It was a constant barrage of being reminded every day that I would not make it in bodybuilding. Every day of my life someone said, ‘You’re not gonna make it.’
TS: How did you struggle through all of that negativity and adversity?
KK: I surrounded myself with positive people who believed in me. I surrounded myself with training partners who were strong, who would teach me that the reason people were saying those things is because they couldn’t do it themselves. My father pulled me aside one night and saw that I was very, very angry and upset and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I was like, ‘There’s these guys talking crap. I can’t believe it. I’ve never said anything bad to them! I’ve always been good to these people. Why are they doing this?’ He kind of laughed and said, ‘You still don’t get it, do you?’ I said, ‘No, please explain it to me.’ He said, ‘Think of it this way: If you didn’t matter, if you weren’t a problem, if you weren’t an issue to them, then they wouldn’t be talking about you. It’s obvious that there’s something about you that threatens them, that makes them think about you. So it’s a compliment. You should be happy that they’re talking about you.’ I never thought of it that way, but once he explained it to me like that, it was kind of okay. Let them talk their smack.
TS: In other words, nobody boos a nobody?
KK: You can say that, but then again, if you have such a big heart like I do, it would get you into trouble. Sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it will. When I helped [Bob] Cicherillo win the USA [last year], I did it out of the kindness of my heart because I liked the guy. Look at us now. We’re like buddies. We call each other the Mama Lukes everywhere we go. We’re best of friends now. [Chuckles] In ’99, a funny little incident took place backstage after I won the class and he came in second. I turned around and looked at him, and we still hadn’t spoken a word to each other. I said, ‘Can I get your autograph after the show?’ He said, ‘What?!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been a fan of yours since 1986.’ He was dumbfounded. I said, ‘It would be an honor if you would come to dinner with us, Mr. Cicherillo.’ That’s when he started cracking up: ‘If you ever call me Mr. Cicherillo again, I’ll kill you!’ From that point on we became friends.
TS: When did you come up with name ‘King?’
KK: Actually, Jim Manion came up with it because I didn’t want to be called Sherry. A lot of announcers and promoters kept saying Sherry Kamali. My full name is Shahriar, which is a little hard to pronounce. So I said to Jim, ‘I want a stage name like Flex Wheeler and the Blond Myth. What can I call myself?’ Quadzilla was big at the time, and I think Craig was calling himself Titanic Titus or something. Jim said, ‘What’s your real name?’ I told him, and he said, ‘What does it mean?’ I said, ‘It means the king of kings.’ He said, ‘You can’t call yourself King of Kings Kamali. People will hate you! Why don’t you call yourself King Kamali? It’s a good little stage name.’ That sounded good, so there you go. Blame it on Jim [chuckles]!
TS: When you were trying to turn pro, we kept hearing about the Aaron Maddron factor. What did that mean?
KK: In my mind it meant that no matter how good I looked, Aaron was going to win the Nationals. It was predetermined.
TS: Why do they do that?
KK: You tell me. I don’t know. It’s a feeling. Haven’t you had a feeling before, like something’s gonna go wrong no matter what you do? That’s the feeling I had and why I went through the hell that I did to get down to the Heavyweight class. I was three weeks from the Nationals and weighing 244 pounds. I had to come down to 225 pounds. So I went on a liquid diet’no solid food for three weeks! I challenge any human being to do that, deplete and get ready for a show and train three times a day. It was hell on earth! My mother cried for me every night, my girlfriend was crying, my pop was angry. ‘Why are you doing this to yourself?’ he said. I said, ‘You’ll understand when the time comes.’ At the same time [nutrition consultant] Chad Nicholls said, ‘Just get your pro card and get it over with; you’ll take care of them later.’ That’s the Aaron Maddron factor.
TS: Let’s talk about this year’s controversial season opener, the IRONMAN Pro Invitational. For those who don’t know what was going down on the Internet, how did the controversy get started?
KK: I called Peter McGough from Flex and asked how I could get some coverage to push me into the IRONMAN. He said, ‘Controversy always lands in Flex. I’ll put you in the Hard Times column.’ I said okay and tested it out with [IRONMAN’s] Lonnie Teper. I saw him at the Night of the Champions, and he said, ‘Do you have anything to say, King?’ I said, ‘Yeah! I guarantee Cicherillo will win the USA!’ And, he said, ‘You guarantee it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I guarantee it or I’ll change my name to Sherry and wear a dress at the night show.’ He said, ‘Can I print that?’ I said, ‘Yes, you can print it.’ Cicherillo pulled me aside and started yelling and screaming, ‘What the hell are you doing? What are you talking about? You guarantee!?’ I said, ‘Look, man. Let me put it to you this way. I’m putting an unbelievable amount of pressure on you now. It’s gonna make you a better person and a better bodybuilder.’ It worked. [Chuckles] And he won!
TS: I thought Tevita Aholelei should have kicked his ass!
KK: No! Are you kidding me? Please. It wasn’t even close!
TS: What happened next?
KK: I ran backstage and gave Chic a hug, and we got all emotional. Lonnie said, ‘Wow, you really made me look like an ass. Your prediction came true.’ I said, ‘Here’s another one. I’ll win the IRONMAN.’ He said, ‘What!?’ I said, ‘I will win the IRONMAN. You heard it from me first.’ I did the same thing for the same reasons. I wanted to put pressure on myself. But I underestimated the fact that these West Coast guys are psychotic. They’ll take it literally and will start going crazy! That’s exactly what happened. When that little thing came out, McGough said the same thing, ‘Can I print that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, go ahead. I’m gonna win the IRONMAN.’ So Lonnie did it in his own cute way. Lonnie always does it in a controversial way but always makes it funny. McGough didn’t make it funny. He made it serious. He added a couple of big names in there, saying Chris Cormier and Flex Wheeler. I didn’t say I was going to beat Chris and Flex. I said I’m gonna give ’em a run for their money. When he asked me why, I said, ‘Because if I come in at my best, I will be hard to beat.’ I was just being honest, and I was telling him what I felt at the time. I went back and had a meeting with my training partners and said, ‘Guys, you have to push me harder than you have ever pushed before. I want you to show no mercy. I want you to kill me every time I walk into the gym.’ They said, ‘Done!’ I called Chad and told him what I did. He said, ‘Well, you’re gonna have to live up to it.’ So we started this whole master plan, and it was my idea to start doing the weekly updates on my Web site, www.kingkamali.com. So 16 weeks out, as soon as I started my diet, I took pictures to show everybody the transformation. I wanted to show everyone what I meant by the Aaron Maddron factor because everyone was like, ‘Yeah, right. He’s just bullshitting that he lost all that weight the last few weeks.’ No, I wasn’t. I wanted to show people that if I don’t have to make weight and if I can just do what I had to do and stick to my program, real nice and easy and slow, I will come in at around 245 to 250 pounds, sliced and diced, and I will look just as big and freaky as everybody else. Once the transformation started, I began to get e-mail from people saying, ‘Who the hell do you think you are? You’re still a little bitch! You’re a rookie! You don’t have a chance!’ I started to ignore them, but it got to a point where they saw I was ignoring it, so they got nastier and nastier. I started to forward the e-mails to my Webmaster. He said, ‘Look, I wouldn’t take this crap from these guys anymore. Why don’t you respond to them?’ So I said, ‘Fine.’ That’s when it all started. I responded with a letter to these guys, saying, ‘Look, you insecure little fuckers! I didn’t think that you guys were so weak. I’m gonna come out there, and I’m gonna bust your asses at the IRONMAN.’ I was responding to people who were responding in a certain way, and the only way you can talk to people like that is to respond in their own language.ALL
TS: Not that I’m kissing your big ass, but you did show them, though many, including myself, thought you’d do terribly.
KK: Yeah. You know what? It was hard. It was really hard. Many nights I sat down thinking to myself, why are they doing this? What’s going on here? The next thing I knew, the fans got into it. Fans were e-mailing Dennis James and whoever, saying, ‘King is gonna kick your ass!’ It just escalated and escalated until it got to a point where I found out who were the real nut jobs in this sport, and Titus is the king of them!
TS: Whoa, back up a little bit. Who was e-mailing you and what were they saying?
KK: Melvin e-mailed me, did his whole Melvin thing, saying he was gonna kick my ass and I better shut my mouth, West rules and all that stuff. TS: Physically kick your ass?
KK: [Pauses] No. Dennis James got mad. Dennis didn’t personally e-mail me, but his Webmaster did, saying that Dennis is great, he’s proven himself, I haven’t proven shit, I’m just another loudmouth rookie, gonna get my ass kicked and get a rude awakening!
I got an e-mail from Shawn Ray saying that he’s the greatest and I’ll never amount to anything, and I’m pathetic and blah, blah, blah! I got a few anonymous ones too. Then Craig e-mailed me and bet me $500 that he was gonna beat me and $500 that I would never win the IRONMAN. I e-mailed him back, saying, ‘Look, I don’t have $1,000 right now, and I wouldn’t bet you anyway, but good luck and tell Kelly I wish her the best at the Fitness International.’ It was a really classy e-mail. He e-mailed me back, saying, ‘I was just kidding. We’re bros. I’m just giving you a hard time because you’re a rookie.’ We left it at that.
Then I read the comment that Aaron said about me in IRONMAN about how I have to pay my rookie dues just like the rest of them. I read it, got mad and said, ‘Look, guys. I’m backing up my words. Where are your pictures? I’m putting it out in front of the world. I’m telling everybody that I’m 260 pounds and I’m hard and here’s the proof. I’m telling everybody that I’m six weeks out and I got lines in my ass and here’s the proof. Here are the pictures right in front of your face. Where are your pictures? Prove it!’ And they got upset, and more upset, and more upset, and so it just exploded at the IRONMAN.
TS: [Laughs] Before we get to what happened at the IRONMAN, I understand you had an experience with Shawn Ray from your younger days.
KK: Yeah. He gave a seminar here [in Virginia] a while back, right when I first started to get into the sport. I was 16 years old. I was asking him questions, asking him, ‘How do you get big? What do I need to do to get that big?’ I was just curious. I was infatuated. He was the first pro I’d ever seen. To the best of my memory, this is what he told me: ‘If I put a table full of drugs in front of you, you will never be Shawn Ray. You don’t have what it takes. Why don’t you just give it up and get a regular job at McDonald’s?’ That came from the first pro I ever met.
TS: How did you feel about that?
KK: I felt disgusted! I went home and didn’t want to lift a weight ever again! I couldn’t understand why he would say something like that to me. [Editor’s note: We’ll publish Shawn Ray’s response next month.]
TS: What did the people in the audience think?
KK: It was a seminar in a gym, where you just sit around on the weights. People were like, ‘Wow!’ There was a bunch of people in the gym. I was a teenager, and they didn’t like the fact that a teenager was getting into bodybuilding. They said I was too young. They were like, ‘I told you so. See, kid? Now get out of here.’
I saw him a couple times after that and tried to not think about it and be nice. But Shawn was a dick then too.
Then my family, who really don’t know shit about bodybuilding and came to root me on at the IRONMAN, said that he was talking smack the whole time. I got an e-mail from a guy who said, ‘Hey, man. You don’t know who I am, but I’m a friend of Shawn Ray’s. I just wanted to let you know that this guy is obsessed with you. We went to the Firehouse after the prejudging, and all he did for about an hour and a half is rip you to pieces. At the end I was like, ‘Shawn, what’s your problem with this kid? He looked great today.’ He goes, ‘No, he didn’t. He’s got no competition.’ At the Arnold Classic three of my cousins were sitting right behind him, and they said he was talking shit the whole time. They don’t even know who he is. So I said, ‘Please point out to me who was talking shit.’ And they looked and looked, and finally my cousin said, ‘There he is right there!’ He pointed right to Shawn. Now, that to me is an asshole.
TS: Did he say anything very offensive in his e-mails?
KK: Shawn tries to beat you mentally. That’s his whole thing, his whole shtick all these years. He’s smarter than everybody else. He’s Shawn Ray! Well, he can’t match me. I e-mailed him back, saying, ‘Nice try, Shawn, but I’m a Jedi master. You’re only a Jedi knight. You can’t use your little mind games on me. I’m not that guy down the street who only knows how to eat chicken and lift weights. I have an education, and I understand what you’re trying to do. Your little mind games don’t work!’
He got even more upset when he read that. You want to know what I think his problem is? I think he has the short-man syndrome! I think Shawn Ray is one of the greatest bodybuilders who ever lived, but at the same time he’ll never win the Olympia because he’s too short. He just doesn’t have the frame to win it. He knows it, and it kills him. It kills him!
TS: Do you also think he may have met his match when it comes to someone who can talk the talk and walk the walk?
KK: I was giving him the benefit of the doubt when it came to that, but you might be right. Titus doesn’t have the genetics that Shawn does, so he couldn’t get away with it. That’s why Titus became the bad boy of bodybuilding. Shawn’s not the bad boy. Shawn’s the outspoken, controversial guy because he’s got a point. Half the things he says are right. A lot of the things he complains about I agree with. But what I don’t agree with is him putting down the judges. I think the judges are doing a fine job. And I proved it at the Arnold. Yes, there’s politics involved. Yes, the judges look for names. But at the same time, if you come in shape, if you have a total package, if you can back your words up, they’ll put you next to those guys and say, ‘Okay, prove it.’ And I proved it.
TS: What happened with Craig and the e-mails ? He seems a bit unstable.
KK: What do you mean unstable? He’s psychotic! He’s got mental problems. There’s no other way to describe Titus. I turned down four important photo shoots and interviews with Flex because of Titus’because he would be there. He’s a Weider guy now. I said, ‘No, thanks. I won’t be there.’ Peter McGough respects me so much more now because of that. He said, ‘You stick to your word.’ I said I never want to have anything to do with that guy again. If it comes down to business, it’s a business decision and I’m getting paid, like this weekend, where I’m meeting with Joe [Weider] and I might get a contract out of this, that’s different. I will put that aside. But I’ll never ever, ever associate with that man again outside of business. TS: For those who may not be privy to what happened, how did it all go down?
KK: Because I said, ‘I’m gonna kick those synthol-filled West Coast asses, and I’m gonna show them what it’s all about,’ he made it into this East Coast’West Coast thing. I don’t know where he got that from. Suddenly, I’m the bad boy.
Excuse me, Craig, how did you get your reputation in this sport? Weren’t you the one who used to talk smack about Edgar Fletcher and who walked offstage [at the ’95 USA] and threw your number down at Phil Hernon? Now somebody else comes along and starts talking shit, and I become the bad guy? He talked so much shit about me backstage at the IRONMAN that Yohnnie Shambourger said, ‘Craig, what the fuck is your problem? Are you obsessed with King?’ Because all he did was talk about jumping me after the show. [Starts talking in mock-macho Craig Titus voice] ‘Hey, Cormier! Let’s go over there and kick his ass right now for talking all that shit!’
With that and all the crap he said, it was dawning on me that there’s only one reason why somebody would lose their mind like that, and it’s because I’m in shape and he can’t take it. He can’t handle the fact that I came and I looked good, and the judges put me in the first callout. He couldn’t take it. You saw how he was acting onstage. If you look at the pictures, he looks angry in every picture. He looks like he’s pissed off at the world. When my routine was going on, he was yelling at the music man to shut my music off. [Begin’s Titus’ fake macho voice again] ‘Turn his music off! It’s past three minutes!’ I mean, are you kidding me? Is this a pro show I’m at? After all that shit he did to me, when I was wiping my oil off after I received third place, which I was very happy with, I could see his reflection in the mirror behind me. He walks around the corner and goes, ‘Yo, I’m very proud of you. You did really good.’ And he walks away. What the fuck is that?
TS: He sounds like he’s out of his mind.
KK: Yeah, exactly. A nut job. If you’re gonna hate me, hate me. Don’t come back and say, you did good, I’m proud of you. Then he pulled it again at the Arnold! I heard rumors for a week that his music routine was going to be a copy of mine and he was gonna stop and say, ‘Ah, who wants to hear the Terminator shit? Let’s get to the real good stuff!’ Chad told me, ‘I hope he does it because he’ll look like the biggest ass ever!’
Then he was yelling and complaining. He and Melvin almost got into a fistfight at the meeting we had before the show.
TS: A fistfight? What happened?
KK: I don’t even know what happened. One second Dexter [Jackson] turned around and said, ‘King, good job last week at the IRONMAN. You did real good. I’m proud of you.’ I said, ‘Thanks!’ Then one second later I see Craig and Melvin having a stare-down. Craig said, ‘Your ass is fat!’ Melvin said, ‘Fuck you! I’m in shape.’ And they almost got into a fistfight.
TS: Speaking of fistfighting, do you think Craig would have really jumped you after the IRONMAN?
KK: No, of course not. Again, it goes back to the same thing. I’ve heard and seen this so many times before, but the only difference is, I walked the walk. I got an e-mail from a friend of Shawn Ray’s stating that the problem here is that talking smack is not new, but backing it up is. That’s the best way to say it. He said, ‘What you did, you made all these guys angry by backing it up.’ Talking smack is one thing. Everybody talks smack. Paul Dillett says, ‘I’m gonna repeat: I’m the greatest.’ Marcus Ruhl says, ‘I should’ve done this.’ Everybody talks. But you gotta back it up, too, buddy. TS: What would have happened if he had attacked you?
KK: I would have pressed charges, and that would have been the end of him. You shouldn’t mess with my family. I’ll tell you that right now. [Chuckles] You don’t mess with the Kamali family. My father will bury you. That’s why I was the most hated kid in high school when it came to administrators and principals. Because what’s the first thing they do to scare you when you mess up? ‘We’re gonna call your parents,’ right? What would I say when they said that to me? I would laugh in their face and dial the number for them, give the phone to them, and say, ‘Go ahead! Here’s my pops right here!’
They would sit there and say, ‘Your son, your son, your son!’ My pops’ answer would be, ‘What does his report card say?’ The principle would say, ‘Well, that doesn’t matter, sir.’ Pops would say, ‘I just want to know what his grades are.’ The principal would say, ‘He’s got straight As.’ Then Pops would say, ‘Okay, don’t ever fuckin’ call my office and bother me again!’ And he’d hang up the phone. My pops was behind me 100 percent.
TS: There was a lot of other tension at the IRONMAN, right?
KK: Not really. It was just Craig [laughs]. Craig losing his mind. To be honest with you, everyone said onstage that me and Melvin looked like we were having fun. You know what? Right before I did my posing routine at the night show, Melvin snuck up behind me and grabbed me from behind and smiled and said, ‘Go out there and give ’em hell, man. Rock the house.’ I said, ‘Thanks, man. I’ll catch up with you later.’ We talked afterward in the parking lot, shook hands and said, ‘Hey, it was fun. Let’s do it again in two weeks at the Arnold.’ He said, ‘Cool.’
TS: Being West Coast, how did Chris Cormier respond to all the hype? Did he want to kick your ass too?
KK: Nah, nah. Chris knew it was all for fun. Onstage he grabbed me right when I was announced third, and I shook Melvin’s hand and I shook Chris’ hand and I said, ‘Chris, congratulations. It was an honor to compete against you.’ He goes, ‘You know you should have been second.’ And I walked offstage. Then at the Arnold it was the same way. Chris is unbelievable. He’s one of the best, if not second-best in the world right now. I think he’s a really cool guy. If Cormier ever stops partying so much and living the L.A. lifestyle, he’ll be Mr. Olympia.
TS: What do you think of Flex Wheeler?
KK: I think Flex is the most genetically gifted bodybuilder of all time. But there’s one thing that God didn’t give him, and that was heart. I don’t know, when it comes down to heart, it always come down to having faith in yourself. He takes advice from too many people. He should just listen to himself. It doesn’t matter how big Ronnie Coleman is. If Flex Wheeler came in shredded at 225 pounds, he would push Ronnie to the limit! It would really be a toss-up.
Next month Kamali answers more questions about the IRONMAN and the Arnold Classic and discusses what he’ll say to Shawn Ray at the Olympia.
Editor’s note: To contact King Kamali for appearances, merchandise or to just say, ‘Hey, wassup, mofo?’ take that ass to www.kingkamali.com.
For an uncensored CD of this exclusive interview, fatten up with some ice cream sandwiches and waddle over to www.sumopublishing.com. To contact The Sandwich, send e-mail to [email protected]. IM