Dexter Jackson was a major disappointment at the IRONMAN'the IRONMAN press conference, that is. Jackson was the only contestant not to show up on Friday, February 20, for the afternoon affair, which included the first official weigh-in since the '88 Mr. Olympia in Los Angeles. He later claimed he had to do a photo shoot for MuscleTech, the company that signs his checks every month. The fans who showed up at the Pasadena Center's Little Theater were disappointed; many of Jackson's opponents were plain pissed, with some calling for his removal from the lineup (see News & Views).
Jackson was on time, though, for the 10 a.m. judging at the magnificent Pasadena Civic Auditorium the following morning, and, although some of the contestants were still a bit miffed, the fans certainly were delighted when the 34-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida, hit the stage.
Jackson undeniably lived up to his moniker, 'The Blade,' bestowed on him a couple of years back in honor of his razor-sharp conditioning. It took only seconds to see that Jackson was in midseason form for the 15th annual IRONMAN Pro, which was, as always, the season opener. Despite Jackson's claims that he now competes in the 225-to-228 neighborhood, I would have bet a double double that the scale would have read 212 to 215 if he'd dared to step on it.
Not that it matters. Weight is irrelevant; it's how you look that counts. If only bodybuilders would realize that. Jackson was superb from all angles'quite simply, a marvelous, symmetrical, detailed body that continues to change for the better.
It was Jackson's first show since he beat Jay Cutler at the GNC Show of Strength last November. Other reporters called it an upset, but I don't go along with that. Jackson and Cutler had battled for the second-place slot at the '03 Olympia two weeks earlier, and I wasn't alone in thinking it could have gone either way.
Jay was eventually awarded the runner-up slot behind Ronnie Coleman, but Jackson proved he could definitely hang with the big boys, and his victory at the Show of Strength was not a surprise'at least not to me.
Lee Priest proved that his 15th-place finish at last season's Olympia was more fluke than fact. He weighed in, clothes and all, at 199 pounds, the same amount he carried when he won his first pro contest at the San Francisco Grand Prix two years ago. The 5'4 1/2' Australian looked 215 onstage; his freaky arms were massive beyond what even his most loyal followers have been accustomed to. I'll say it loud and clear: Lee Priest has the greatest overall arm development in the history of bodybuilding, guns that would fit nicely on a 5'10', 250-pound man. His abdominals looked to be etched in stone. He had deep striations all through his upper body. Priest is through? Only with one thing'having to prove that his demise from the sport was greatly exaggerated.
Once again, Priest's nemesis proved to be his quads, glutes and hams, which have never matched the superior conditioning of the rest of his body. Keep in mind, however, that he certainly doesn't stand alone in that regard: Flex Wheeler, Melvin Anthony and Troy Alves have all received similar reviews regarding their backsides and surrounding areas. Jackson, recognizing the flaw, was more than happy to remind the judges and the fans of Lee's softer backside by pointing to it during the judging.
I say the problem is genetic, not faulty training or diet. Priest is as focused and regimented as they come, but the problem continues to plague him. I think he can drop down in weight even more'say, to 190 or so'and still look huge. That might do the trick for more leg, ham and glute separation. Still, Gunzilla was a tremendous addition to the lineup and lost to a guy many consider the second- or third-best bodybuilder in the world.
The Jackson-Priest battle for first was no surprise; the emergence of Gustavo Badell was. Until the IRONMAN, Badell was known as a nice guy with a nice physique'never a drawback in any pro lineup he's appeared in since he earned his card in 1997 with a victory at the Caribbean Championships, but also never, ever a title threat. Until February 21, 2004, that is. The Carolina, Puerto Rico, resident opened a lot of eyes with his sharpness at the weigh-in and continued to impress less than 24 hours later at the judging.
The 31-year-old Badell, who hit the scale at 234 pounds (at 5'8'), got lost in round 1, finishing seventh, 18 points behind Craig Titus, who was in third (after Jackson and Priest) and 16 behind Ahmad Haidar, who was in fourth. Badell bounced back in a big way, though, for the rest of the event. Showing off a tight, muscular physique that seemed to get better as the contest went on, he moved all the way up to third in round 2'muscularity'to cut into the margins that Titus and Haidar held. ALL With two more third-place finishes in rounds 3 (posing) and 4 (posedown) at the finals, Badell nudged past Titus and Haidar toward that oh-so-valuable third-place position, which would qualify him to stand on the '04 Olympia stage in October.
Titus looked worthy when the judging got under way, with his large thighs, outstanding triceps and vastly improved delts giving him a good shot at holding on to the third-place slot he nailed in round 1. As the competition moved on, however, the 5'9', 240-pounder from Las Vegas faded, and both Haidar and Badell were able to creep past Craig in the final tally.
In a close battle, Badell edged Haidar by four points for the coveted bronze-medal position; Ahmad finished three points ahead of Titus to nab fourth. Haidar, at 223, was perhaps five to seven pounds off his best but still wowed the audience with his crisp, overall delivery, which, natch, was set off by his mind-boggling midsection. I imagine both Haidar and Titus were planning to be sharper at the Arnold Classic two week later.
David Henry, the '02 NPC National Middleweight champion, was impressive en route to a sixth-place finish in his pro debut. The 5'5', 187-pounder from Tucson, Arizona, is the only professional bodybuilder on active duty in the military, and he made his fellow servicemen proud as he bested such veteran performers as Johnnie Jackson (7th), Bob Cicherillo (8th), Idrise Ward-El (9th) and Ronny Rockel (10th). If the 28-year-old Henry can pack on 10 more pounds of muscle, he can be a top-five contender in most events on the pro level.
Jackson, at 5'7' and 231 pounds, was about 15 pounds too heavy, and he paid the price by not having a shot at the top five. Like Titus and Haidar, Jackson would have the opportunity to get much sharper before getting onstage at the Arnold Classic.
Ditto for Cicherillo, who was inordinately off this time around. The six-footer weighed in at 252; based on his conditioning, I'd say a weight of no more than 240 might be in the 38-year-old's best interest to show off his nicely balanced physique, which needs a lot more detail in order to get that Olympia qualification he's hoping to nail before the year is out.
Ward-El was better at the IRONMAN than he was in his pro debut last year at the Night of Champions but still is not detailed enough to move into the upper echelon of the sport. Still, he made the top 10 for the first time on the pro level, so that's a plus.
Germany's Ronny Rockel has a nice, symmetrical physique at 5'5' and 223 pounds. Making his initial showing at the IRONMAN, Rockel could easily have traded places with Cicherillo in the final standings, although he, too, needs to get sharper.
Landing in the next five positions in the 20-man field were Jason Arntz (11th), Lee Powell (12th), Paul Baker (13th), Mohammed Amouti, the largest man in the lineup at 279 pounds (14th), and Rod Ketchens (15th). George Turman (16th), Ntuk Ntuk (no, that ain't a misprint!) (17th), Dragan Paunovic (18th), Ken Jones (19th) and Clifton Torres (20th) rounded out the field.
Tom Prince, who was the second heaviest competitor at the weigh-in at 276 pounds (at 5'8'), had to pull out of the contest just prior to prejudging because of illness. The 35-year-old Prince, who's suffered some major health problems of late and who'd undergone kidney dialysis just a few months earlier, announced his official retirement from bodybuilding the following day, according to several sources. One of the night's many highlights came when Coleman, onstage to help present Jackson with his $10,000 first-place prize money, walked off with the check, saying he needed the cash to pay for his new suit. Right, Ronnie.
Two of the industry's most recognized luminaries, Ben Weider and Chris Lund, were honored by IRONMAN publisher and contest promoter John Balik for their vast contributions to the sport.
Weider, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee who, along with his brother Joe, started the IFBB when he was 22 years old and has since watched it become the world's sixth-largest amateur-sport federation, received the Peary and Mabel Rader Lifetime Achievement Award.
Lund, rated among the finest photographers in the history of bodybuilding, received the Art Zeller Award for photographic excellence. A resident of England who's been working for the Weider organization since 1985, Lund has lost count of the number of covers he's shot for Flex, but it's safe to assume that the figure hovers around 200.
In the NPC IRONMAN Figure competition, Abby Duncan bounced back from her second-place finish to Hannah Park in the short class in 2003 to not only win her division but also best medium-class winner Marcy Porter and tall-class champ Michelle Troll for the overall crown. Duncan, 25, a hair and makeup artist from La Verne, California, is a 5' 2 1/2\", 115-pounder who hopes to follow Park's footsteps to the pro ranks.(Park won the Junior USA last year to earn her IFBB card and eventually competed in the first ever Figure Olympia.)
Porter also won the master division. Other trophy winners in the figure contest included second- and third-placers Tracey Macdonald and Moorea Wolfe (short class), Nancy Hirsch and Lorrie Henry (medium class) and Kathleen Johansson and Alexis Ellis (tall class). As always, the Michael Neveux'designed set was radiant, with the best lighting in the business. Hats off to Neveux, IRONMAN art director Terry Bratcher and the rest of the hardworking IRONMAN crew that produced a setting to match the beautiful structure that housed the event.
Great lineup, great stage production, great location and venue, with about 2,000 fans in the seats. Sounds like we should do it again next year. And we will. See ya there.
'04 IRON MAN Pro
1) Dexter Jackson*
2) Lee Priest*
3) Gustavo Badell*
4) Ahmad Haidar
5) Craig Titus
6) David Henry
7) Johnnie Jackson
8) Robert Cicherillo
9) Idrise Ward-El
10) Ronny Rockel
*Qualifies for the Mr.Olympia.
2004 NPC IRON MAN FIGURE
1) Abby Duncan*
2) Tracey MacDonald
3) Moorea Wolfe
4) Brandy Nerney
5) Patty Cottrell
6) Elizabeth Madoyan
7) Angie Fernwault
8) Elizabeth Barron
9) Lisa Johnson
10) Elaine Seth
11) Adrianne Pelt
1) Marcy Porter
2) Lorrie Henry
3) Karla Ray
4) Sunshine Fritzges
5) Nancy Hirsch
6) Lina Eklund
7) Tanya Peale
8) Denise Cadenas
9) Tanisha Harrison
10) Tina Graeff
11) Venus Ramos
1) Michelle Troll
2) Kathleen Johansson
3) Alexis Ellis
4) Vanessa Cordova
5) Kerstin Taylor
6) Michelle Wauro
7) Mary Jo Cooke
8) Erica White
9) Jessica Hatch
1) Karla Ray
2) Michelle Wauro
3) Erica White
4) Tina Graeff
5) Lisa Johnson
6) Patsy Marshall