REDONDO BEACH, California—Shari 'King' Kamali had some things to say about several of his opponents as he prepared to make his pose-for-pay debut at the IRONMAN Pro Invitational on February 17 at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. And they weren't laudatory. 'There are some dickheads on the West Coast whose egos are bigger than their syntholed bodies could ever be,' snapped the Vienna, Virginia, resident in the March '01 installment of News & Views. 'It's time to chop some heads in the IFBB. So, to all my fellow meatheads preparing for the bash at the beach, remember these words: I'm young. I'm pretty, freaky and hungry'prepare yourself for war.'
Melvin Anthony and Craig Titus, two of those West Coast contenders, paid close attention to Kamali's directions. They remembered to remember, and they reminded the brash rookie continually throughout the prejudging, amid some onstage jostling. The battle became as much a territorial conflict as it was a contest for cash, trophies and Olympia qualifications.
West Coast in the house,' Marvelous Melvin said before telling Kamali to 'keep running your mouth.' Titus, no stranger to controversy'or cutting quips'asked Kamali if he needed an oxygen tank as King bent over to catch his breath after being involved in a series of callouts.
On the subject of callouts, it was immediately obvious to the judges who the top three would be: two-time defending champ and precontest favorite Chris Cormier, Anthony and, yes, the King himself were the first to be placed center stage in both round 1 (symmetry) and round 2 (muscularity). While Kamali was making his initial pro appearance, Cormier was making a comeback of sorts. The Real Deal had to pull out of last season's Mr. Olympia after falling ill during a series of guest posings in Mexico City. Not surprisingly, he looked very good, albeit not his best. I've seen Cormier pull through too many times to doubt him any longer.
Then again, Cormier was planning to hit his peak in another two weeks, in an attempt to derail the Big Nasty, Ronnie Coleman, at the Arnold Classic. Chris said he weighed 260; I'd say he was closer to 250. (I'm talking about a morning weigh-in sans two layers of clothes and the obligatory six meals. Most guys fib about their weight as much as some of them do about their age, educational achievements, gear ingested and cash earned.) No matter. Cormier was by far the best bodybuilder onstage. How superior was he? Well, his requirements at the judging were the bare minimum'one callout in both rounds. His combination of outstanding symmetry, muscularity and separation produced a near-unanimous victory for the 33-year-old Evander Holyfield look-alike'he missed out on a perfect score by one point in the posing round'marking the third consecutive year Chris has left the arena with a $10,000 check firmly in hand.
Anthony has beautiful shape, matching that of Flex Wheeler, who sat out the early-season contests due to a non-bodybuilding-related surgery, and that symmetry carried him to a solid second-place finish. Marvelous said he weighed 240; I'd say a little less. Melvin looked good, as always, but his flaws of the past were still in evidence: soft glutes and hams, with a layer of water preventing him from fulfilling his potential on the pro level.
For all his big talk, Kamali backed up his words, showing up in perhaps the best condition of any of the 25 competitors and displaying the vast improvements he'd made since his amateur days. He also showed up to a loud chorus of boos from the local fans, who didn't take to his precontest remarks about their homeboys. Thanks to those comments, though, everyone who came to the show had something extra to look forward to.
Kamali's structure doesn't match those of Cormier and Anthony, so King will need to retain that shredded look to rank among the top pros. And, although he and Anthony are among the most entertaining performers on the circuit, Kamali should add more muscle shots in place of some of the dance moves that dominated his posing routine. Still, he joined the above-mentioned duo in the top three and earned an Olympia qualification in his very first pro outing.
J.D. Dawodu, the former British champ, is one huge dude, which has earned him the moniker 'the Freak.' The 5'6', 240-pounder (here we go again) has a crazy upper body set off by gigantic arms that lead the way in a nasty most-muscular shot, and he was in excellent condition. J.D.'s lower body, however, doesn't match the strength of his torso, and he'll have to add size in that department to move up in the standings. He did move up to the Arnold Classic, though, as Schwarzenegger's co-promoter, Jim Lorimer, was impressed enough with Dawodu to add him to the lineup.
Titus joined Kamali as the most improved bodybuilders onstage. The Teflon Man won the USA in 1996 but didn't compete as a pro until last season's IRONMAN. Titus had a good, if not outstanding, first year, placing in the top 10 in three of the four contests he entered. He said he weighed 249, which means 240, but it was the best physique he's displayed yet. His legs were improved, his back was more detailed than in past years, and his condition was very good. Good enough, in fact, that if Titus had moved up a slot or two, there wouldn't have been too many complaints in the house. Garrett Downing, the '99 USA Heavyweight champ, was making his Pro IRONAMAN debut and looked good, as always. Downing still needs to add some size to his aesthetic frame, however, if he wants to battle the bigger boys for a top-five slot at this level. I'd like to see that happen; Garrett is a true gentleman and a positive addition to the pro roster.
To those who didn't know the circumstances leading up to Lee Priest's appearance at the show, it seemed the Blond Myth was way off his usual form. In reality, it was beyond remarkable that Priest even made it to the stage. The 28-year-old Aussie was in spectacular shape a month out from the battle; three weeks out he was rushed to the Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center suffering from tightness in his chest, shortness of breath and a dangerously high temperature. A heart medication was prescribed, and Lee was told to pass on any activity'let alone a pro bodybuilding contest'for at least a month. Not wanting to let down his fans, Priest left the hospital and got back into the gym. Considering all he went through, the guy actually looked tremendous. Since the judges can't take those circumstances into account, however, he was relegated to a seventh-place finish. Not bad for a guy who was listed as dead on one Web site in the latter part of January.
Jason Arntz, one of the East Coast's premier physique artists, wasn't quite in the shape he achieved during the '00 season and moved from sixth place last year to eighth. Arntz needs more back detail and larger lower lats, but he always gives a good performance onstage. A lack of size (I'd list him at 5'6' and 205 pounds) hasn't prevented Jason from competing well at the pro level.
The ninth-place finisher, John Sherman, was the only athlete equal to Kamali in the conditioning department. The '92 National Overall champ just lacks the size of the guys placing ahead of him and needs to bring up those calves quite a bit to get noticed.
New York's Rodney St. Cloud, who accomplished the improbable feat of winning the Light Heavyweight crowns at both the USA and Nationals in 1999, rounded out the top 10. Once St. Cloud adds the thickness that comes with time to his physique, he'll be a top-five threat.
Veteran Ali 'Baba' Malla, the oldest athlete in the lineup at 48, competed in the contest for the first time since its inception in 1990. He looked tight as a drum, although he didn't place in the top 10. Good show, Ali. Ditto for another old-timer, 44-year-old Hans Hopstaken, who placed fourth in the Masters Olympia last year. Look for Ali and Hans to battle in that event come July.
Once again, the magnificent lighting, designed by Michael Neveux and crew, set the stage, literally, for a brilliant production. If you want to see these athletes in their best light, make sure you hit this contest.
IRONMAN publisher John Balik made two presentations: The Art Zeller Award for Artistic Achievement, and the Peary and Mabel Rader Lifetime Achievement Award. The former, in honor of the late, great photographer, was given to Gene Moz'e, an IRONMAN photojournalist who studied his craft under legendary lensman Russ Warner. Armand Tanny, who's been involved in the sport in one capacity or another for 70 years, followed a couple of special Joes'Weider and Gold'as the deserving recipient of the Lifetime Achievement citation.
A special surprise took place during the awards presentation, as Jay Cutler, the '00 Night of Champions winner and eighth-place finisher in the Olympia, was cajoled into taking off his shirt and flexing for the near-sold-out crowd. Cutler said he weighed 303 pounds. Hey, 290 ain't too shabby, is it, folks? Editor's note: For extensive photo coverage of the '01 IRONMAN Pro Invitational, visit www.ironmanmagazine.com. IM