It was an auspicious debut for Jose Velazquez and quite a comeback for Katrina McLellan at the inaugural Iron Man Naturally Anaheim on the Anaheim Convention Center Stage on August 22.
Velazquez has been into fitness since he was 10, doing push-ups in his room prior to going out and playing with his friends. But he never thought about competing until he met NPC standout Jeff Behar at Gold’s Gym in Northridge, California, this past March.
“Jeff told me I had good genetics and that I should think about competing,” says 42-year-old Velazquez. “I decided that would be on my bucket list… on July 8, Jeff started me on a strict contest diet and a rigorous training regimen. The original plan was to compete in September, but with me being a lifetime natural competitor, we aimed for the Iron Man Naturally Anaheim for my first contest. Jeff suggested that I do Novice, Open, and Masters 40+ Bodybuilding just for practice because he had faith in me.”
A quick glance at the 5’9”, 174-pounder’s muscular, symmetrical physique made it easy to understand why. And the Granada Hills, California, resident, who works as a quality manager at a steel heat-treating company in Burbank provided plenty of heat himself with unanimous wins in all three divisions, including a victory over the fine-tuned heavyweight champion Cole Bishop for the overall crown in the Open class. Talk about an auspicious debut!
“Never in my mind did I think I could win an NPC competition,” Velazquez says. “Thanks to Coach Behar, I’m in the best shape of my life.”
Overall Bikini champion McLellan admits she’s experienced all sides of health and weight issues in the past, and between 2008 and 2009 fought severe depression and anorexia. The striking 23-year-old from Laguna Beach, California, overcame her battle with the disorders at the end of 2009 and began her competition career in 2012. But after doing five consecutive shows, McLellan’s body was depleted and tired. She took a long-needed time out.
McLellan returned to the stage at the West Coast Classic in 2014, just six months after giving birth to her daughter, Lila, and finished sixth—not bad for only a month prep to boot.
McLellan says she endured a roller-coaster prep for this event, with personal issues, a torn shoulder, a sick baby, and contracting strep throat a week before the contest. She could have fooled me, because it was the best package she’s ever displayed to date as she swept through her opponents in Class A, then did likewise in the overall balloting against standout class winners Jamie Kohl, Diana Baza, and Gaby Monterrey. Earlier, Baza picked up an overall title of her own in besting Kohl to win Novice Bikini.
The 5’2”, 110-pound McLellan, a single parent and a “tomboy with a girly edge growing up,” is the owner of Iconic Fitness, where she “is ready to help as many people as possible find the balance they crave and the confidence they need to succeed.” Additionally, McLellan recently started a fitness team that is open to Bikini, Figure, Women’s Physique, and Men’s Physique competitors.
In the Figure division, Lauren Smith, now living in North Hollywood after a move from Florida, won the overall title, besting Heidi Wakeman. Diane Nguyen, 49, another Team Behar member, won both the 35+ and the 45+ divisions, and added a second-place finish to the 27-year-old Smith in Class A to have a banner day onstage.
Craig Loper looked good in winning the Novice Men’s Physique overall, while Evgeny Isaev, who migrated to Los Angeles from Russia, was a unanimous pick of the magistrates in Open Men’s Physique. Tony Jackson won the 35+, with 57-year-old Franklin Ausler taking the 45+ category.
Bikini competitor Eriko Akutsu won the award—my unofficial honor, since we didn’t have one in this category—for the competitor who traveled the farthest. Akutsu, 38, came all the way from Osaka, Japan, to grace the IMN stage and left with an overall title in the Masters 35+ and a second-place finish behind only McLellan in the Open A category.
On the subject of unofficial honors, Cynthia Gonzales’ Sinful Dimes would have taken the Team Award if one existed. Gonzales had seven of her competitors in the show.
Once again, Brad and Elaine Craig flew down from Seattle, Washington, to oversee the drug-testing protocol the day of the show and to lend a hand—or two or three—in helping promoter John Balik and his staff wherever needed.
For those who haven’t followed the industry much, Brad is the zone chairman for the Northwest region, which includes Washington (where he is also district chairman), Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska.
The Craigs have promoted the prestigious Emerald Cup for three decades and also put on the Idaho Classic and the Washington Iron Man. Brad moonlights as a police officer; Elaine was a national-level bodybuilder in her day.
The Craigs are a dynamic duo, for sure. Thanks for all of your help.
Classic Physique Makes Its
Debut In 2016
Rumors were swirling around the latest version of the North American Championships in September, and two ended up being accurate. First, the numbers: 1,260 competitors at the Gary Udit-promoted blockbuster in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—and around 1,600 counting crossovers! Secondly, the NPC and IFBB will be adding another division—Classic Physique—to the schedule in 2016.
In an interview with Frank Sepe a couple of days after the three-day event concluded, NPC Prez Jim Manion announced the upcoming addition (see npcnewsonline.com for entire interview).
In a nutshell, Classic Physique will be a “tweener” division—a category between Bodybuilding and Men’s Physique. In other words, the division will be for competitors who want to present more muscularity than is currently acceptable for Men’s Physique, but not as extreme as what is seen on a Bodybuilding stage. Standard black spandex posing trunks will be the attire, and there will be five mandatory poses.
Each division will have both height and weight categories. For example, in Division A (up to and including 5’4”), the weight limit will be up to and including 155 pounds. For the taller gents in Division C (6’ and up), a competitor who stands over 6’3” can bring up to 240 pounds to the stage.
My initial thoughts? Well, one thing for sure, the Men’s Physique competitors have been looking more like bodybuilders in each of the division’s first three seasons, and Classic Physique will open up the doorway for the larger, more muscular bodies that have become common place in Men’s Physique these days, and at the same time, do likewise for the Men’s Physique competitors who lose shows, or placings, because they were outmuscled by opponents up to 20 to 30 pounds heavier.
I’m sure the list is a long one of those in Men’s Physique already working on their posing routines as they switch next season to the newest member of the family. In my interview with Jason Poston earlier this year, he said he wished he could hit a couple of shots onstage to display the quality of muscle he possesses. Do people like Jason, Anton Antipov, or Steve Cook make the move over to Classic Physique?
Will this year’s top five be hard pressed to succeed at the top shows with the retooled judging standards? Ask me next year.
North American Championships
Congrats to Michael Staats, who won both the Light Heavyweight class (with 45 competitors) and the overall at the event. Staats is a 29-year-old personal trainer and father of two from St. Louis, Missouri.
Looks like another legit contender has just been added to the 212 division, eh gang?
A Visit To Gold’s
On the final weekend of August, I made a rare appearance at Gold’s, Venice to check out the scene. I saw trainer Charles Glass, who told me Dexter Jackson had just finished up his workout and that Shawn Rhoden was making his way down to the Mecca for a session with Glass in the stretch run for the Olympia.
I ran into Pedro Barron for the first time since 2009, when I not only interviewed the 5’3” former Mexican champion on film (check it out on YouTube, it’s hilarious), but actually matched him thigh for thigh, calf for calf in an impromptu posedown. Barron, of course, is known for having some of the best wheels in the game. Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a bit about holding my own. I think he was holding me up, actually.
Another cat I haven’t seen in a long time named Kiviok Cormier was there with his father, former great Chris Cormier. I first met the kid way back when at the Iron Man Pro, when Kiviok was brought onstage to congratulate his pop on another IM victory (he won four). Actually, since Kiviok was only about a year old, he really didn’t know what the celebration was all about. Kiviok now stands about six foot or so and looks like a lean, mean athletic machine. He could be the Real Deal, Part 2.
I bumped into Kali Muscle, this year’s West Coast Classic Overall champion, in the parking lot as he was leaving. Although he previously told me he was going to enter three classes at the North American, Kali said he has too much going on with his projects to make that kind of commitment. Books, videos, commercials, guest appearances…yes, Kali has a lot on his plate these days, and concentrating on the business side of his career is the smart thing for the 40-year-old super freak to do.
It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over
For those who have been assuring me that Terminator Genisys would be the finale for the acclaimed Arnold Schwarzenegger series, you’ve obviously never heard of the late Yogi Berra. The New York Yankee’s Hall Of Fame catcher was known as much for his one-liners as he was for his 358 home runs en route to winning the American League’s MVP three times during an incredible 19-year Major League career.
One of his best “Yogi-isms” was “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” That quip certainly tells the story for Schwarzenegger’s return to the silver screen in his most famous role.
Okay, the domestic box office numbers, a tad under 90 million by mid-September, were far below what Skydance Productions and Paramount Studios were anticipating. But this puppy exploded internationally, bringing in $346 million by mid-September and pushing the worldwide gross to $435 million. As of September 6, the flick had grossed a total of $108.8 million in China alone!
Although a sequel hasn’t been green lighted yet, chances look good for the anticipated 2017 and 2018 releases for Terminator 6 and Terminator 7, respectively.
I mean, who can still question the man when he assures us, “I’ll be back?” IM