2009 Awards Ceremony: The Envelope, Please

/ Posted 12.26.2009

Pro Bodybuilder of the Year: Jay Cutler, who else? The Ultimate Beef became the first guy in the industry to ever come back and win the Mr. Olympia crown after losing the title to Dexter Jackson the year before. Cutler was at his all-time best in ’09, coming in at a hard and deeply etched 255 pounds on his 5’9” frame. And, at 36 years old, Jay’s got plenty left in him to win a couple more.

Biggest Surprise/Most Consistent: Branch Warren, who else? The 5’6 ½”, 245-pounder out of Texas followed up his strong third place finish at the Arnold Classic (one slot ahead of Jackson) with a shocking second place landing only behind Cutler at the ‘Olympia. Talk about déjà vu; 16 years earlier these two stood side by side at the Teen Nationals, where Warren got the nod for the Overall. Like Jackson, Warren always steps on stage in prime time condition. Can he win the Arnold and the ‘Olympia in 2010? After last season, should anyone count Branch Warren out of any show he enters?

Most Improved: Hidetada Yamagishi, in a close call over Ronny Rockel. The reason I’m going with Japan’s first-ever pro in this division is that I’ve felt Rockel has been overlooked for a few years now, that he has always possessed the physique that should have landed him in second at last year’s IRON MAN Pro (he was third) and that eventually took him to a seventh place landing at the ‘Olympia (should have been sixth). Hide continues to get better with each outing and is one of the most conditioned dudes in the line-up every time he competes. No longer an outsider looking in, Yamagishi became a major player in ’09 with his ninth place finish at the ‘0.

Most Entertaining Poser: Kai Greene, for his mind-boggling performance en route to his win at the ASC in 2009. Now, after Melvin Anthony reads this, am sure he’ll come up with something Marvelous at the up coming ASC to prove he’s still the King when it comes to getting down on stage.

Rookie of the Year: Eduardo Correa. Fast Eddie won the 202 and Under in Pittsburgh, and was an impressive third at the ‘Olympia 202 and Under Showdown behind Kevin English and David Henry. Correa looked so good, in fact, that no less than an authority like Shawn Ray had him winning the title.

Biggest Disappointment: Dennis Wolf, going from fourth in the ‘Olympia the year before to not making the top 15 in ’09. What in the hell happened to Dennis, considered a legit contender for the title by many going into the show? Not sure, but Wolf now has the inside track for “Most Improved” next season if he brings back the package in 2010 that he displayed at the ‘0 in previous years.

NPC Bodybuilder of the Year: Cedric McMillan, edging Mark Alvisi. Both guys looked great, Big Mac at the Nationals and Alvisi at the USA. However, Mark was the strong favorite going in (for those with short memories, the Swami ONCE AGAIN tabbed this one months before the show); most people didn’t even know who McMillan was—unless you saw him win the Junior USA in 2008. How good can these guys be at the next level? Very good.

Video of the Year: My interview with Tyler Manion at the “Meet the Olympians” festivities. Tyler, 15-year-old son of JM, and Jim’s grandkid, displayed no surprise at all when I broke the news to him that his old man sports a (undetectable, I must admit) weave job.

Commentators of the Year: The Experts—Isaac “Hardbody” Hinds, Ron “Yogi” Avidan and yours truly. Why? With the usual dreadful predictions by Hinds and Avidan, sandwiched in between the usual precise picks by me, each contest wrap-up has provided more comedy relief than a SNL skit.

Until next year… over, under and OUT!


Reunion with Brignole

/ Posted 05.01.2009

Met Doug Brignole for lunch today at the Cheesecake Factory in Old Town Pasadena. A block away from the former home of Brignole Fitness, which he opened in 1984 and closed a decade later.

We hooked up because Doug, seven months shy of his 50th birthday, impressed John Balik and Michael Neveux enough with recent photos to earn another shoot with New Wave. Had his first seventeen years ago, as a matter of fact. After seeing how the pictures came out, Balik gave me the assignment of interviewing the 1986 AAU Mr. Universe on how he keeps his body in such great shape after all these years.

Doug and I used to be close, but when he left town I rarely saw him, although we communicated via email now and then. I did go out to Santa Monica for a 40th birthday celebration nearly 10 years ago.

img_0479_2Originally, I knew of Doug via his bodybuilding accomplishments but met him for the first time on New Year’s Eve, 1984. He was a waiter at Emily’s Restaurant on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena, and I remember this 24-year-old kid eagerly handing me a booklet regarding a gym he was going to open in Old Town. He was looking for investors; I was focused, as always, on the menu. Especially the dessert section.

Shortly after, he gave me a tour of the place. That part of town was depressed in those days, and I asked him, “Why would you want to open up a gym in this part of Pasadena?” He replied that a major renovation was taking place, and that Old Town was going to be one of the hottest spots in not only Pasadena, but Southern California as well. And, of course, he was on the mark. Ironically, it was that rapid expansion that that eventually put the gym out of business.

Although I never became the limited partner he was hoping for, he did raise the cash necessary to complete the facility several months down the road. And, I became a member-albeit five years later. To this day, I feel it was the best overall gym I’ve ever trained at. About 10,000 square feet, with red brick walls, ceiling fans, classic photos, etc. The first of its kind; a gym boutique, if you will. Shawn Ray filmed part of his very first video, “Lifestyles of the Fit and Famous”, at Doug’s annual party in January 1990.

As we walked down Colorado Boulevard from the parking structure towards the eatery, Brignole shook his head at all the changes in the town where he was born and spent the first 35 years of his life. When we got to our table, and reminisced about our first meeting at Emily’s, he shook his head and said “That was 25 years ago…where did all of those years go?” Amen.

img_0480The interview went well. Doug, who was the toast of the town at one time, admitted to being suicidal after the sudden closing of the gym. For the first time, he gave his side of the story of why the facility was here today, gone tomorrow. He talked about his two years in Nicaragua from 2005-2007 as he explored the lumber industry. Brignole, who says he’s still suffers from depression resulting from the demise of his business 14 years ago, says things are looking up for him.

A new book is on the horizon, and he had to rush from lunch back to Hollywood, where he was turning in a video resume with hopes of landing a host job as a cable television fitness expert.

It’s quite a story, actually. Talk about the ups and downs of life. And, you’ll get the inside scoop….IF you keep tabs on IRON MAN as the article will appear in a future issue.

Great seeing you again, Doug. Hopefully, it won’t take nearly as long for us to get together this time around.