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LT on the (Crystal) Ball

Steve Kuclo

LT and Stephen Frazier

Lee Banks

Fred Smalls

Darron Glenn

As Pam Betz emailed, I’d better bring my throat spray to Ft. Lauderdale next week when I emcee the Nationals. ‘Cause there are over 500 competitors set to hit the stage in Florida, breaking the all-time NPC record of 467, established at this season’s USA. The breakdown? Well, the last I heard it was 330 women, 180 men.

So, I imagine it will be the toughest show to announce in my 17-year run. Yes, my initial venture at the podium for the Steve Karel produced event was 1993. For bragging rights, who won that contest?

Waited too long; it was Ohio’s Michael Francois, coming off a narrow lost to Chris Cormier at the USA. Dennis (He Ain’t Human) Newman, in his greatest shape ever, finished second. Dennis then went on to take the USA in 1994, only a month before being diagnosed with leukemia that curtailed his career at that point. Newman did forge a brief comeback a few years later before hanging up the posing trunks for good.

Anyway, let’s get back to 2009. If you’ve read my News and Views column, or watched the video I co-hosted with Alex Azarian, you know I tabbed Steve (Kid) Kuclo to win it all. And, you also know I haven’t seen the majority of the competitors, so my picks are based on everyone coming in at their all-time best. Which, of course, doesn’t happen.

Kuclo really impressed me last year with a powerful third place finish in the super-heavyweight class. At only 23 years of age, Kuclo carried 254 pounds of crisp, dense muscle on his 6-foot frame. So, logically, why wouldn’t the Texas based firefighter burn up the field this time around? Then again, when does logic prevail?

Other “logical” choices to win the SHW class? Local fave Jason Huh, Trey Brewer (one slot behind Kuclo in 09), Robert Burneika and Abbas Khatami. (09 North American class winner) come to mind. And, will Malcolm Marshall redeem himself after dropping so far off at the USA? Is Stephen (Down Goes) Frazier still a factor?

In the Heavyweight division, I see it a terrific battle between Lee (Take it to the) Banks and Fred (Biggie) Smalls. Oh, and let’s not forget Anthoneil Champagne, the Brooklyn Bomber. And how about Shaun (Ain’t No Chump) Crump?

The Light-Heavyweight class could be the most competitive of the weekend. I say the favorite is either Darron Glenn, this year’s Junior USA champ, or Seth Feroce, who took the Pittsburgh title in May.

Tamer El-Guindy and Branden Ray, who finished one-two, respectively, at the USA, are also competing. Either guy have a shot at winning the division? Say, any Al Auguste fans in the house? You bet. He’s from Florida, which makes him one of the most popular dudes in the contest—and the fact he was second last year also comes into play, I’d quickly say.

I like Kam Gallman in the middles, but Jeff Cook and Ronald Torres could surprise. Malachi Walker is a good one, too.

Moving down to the welterweights, my money is on Shavis Higa, a three-time USA winner in the bantamweight, lightweight and welterweight classes who is going back to what has worked best after placing third in the middleweight division in Las Vegas this past July. Azarian is looking really sharp, at this point; I think Alex can really push for a top five slot if he shows up on stage as conditioned as he is to this point.

I’m going with Leonard Pacheco in the lightweights, but also expect Travis Rogers to push Pacheco to the limit; Kelly Bautista and Ray Douglas could cause some problems for the favorites here.

The bantams? Well, I went with Bleu Taylor, an excellent bodybuilder from Oregon who was runner-up last year, in my column, so gonna stick with it.

There you have it. Who are your picks? I put mine on the line, it’s your time.

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