by Christian Duque
Some things just never change. We often hope that we will outgrow petty rivalries and eventually go to bed old feuds; but sometimes the bad blood is such that no time can fix the mistakes of the past. The sport of bodybuilding is no different. There are guys out there who haven’t spoken to each other in decades and it’s unlikely they ever will. I will say that when it comes to bodyweight sports, the source of most gaiters, can be reduced to success. As in any other scene, there are those who deserve titles and accolades and others who just haven’t. There are many have-nots, and the vast majority blame others for their shortcomings. It’s the coach’s fault, the sponsors didn’t support them enough, or the real common culprit – it’s politics.
For every person who has failed, there are a million stories about why they got close but just couldn’t make it. That being said, the feuds that we actually know and talk about are generally not necessarily between winners and losers. You have to assume that both rivals would have achieved some degree of success or the feud would not be newsworthy even years later. In relation to the feud in question, it focuses on two well-known bodybuilders who have both achieved varying degrees of success on and off the stage. While they both shared some stages together, they reached their climax in different places. Well, it’s pretty much a matter of recording where I stand when it comes to this particular rivalry, but I want to dig deeper. Maybe I’m too tough on a guy – or – maybe I just know what I’m talking about. I’m also not totally into celebrity boxing matches, especially when it comes to resolving a feud.
Let’s start with Lee Priest. I’ve always been a fan of his body. I still remember opening a magazine and being amazed when he defeated Chris Cormier. Back then, the internet was a shell of what it is today, and the magazines showed the bodybuilders from all angles. The pictures were true works of art and that, coupled with a bit of the reader’s imagination, could help recreate what the jury must have seen. Although the coverage back then was pale compared to now, it was kind of cool because you could almost imagine the absolute madness of this giant killer at work. It was Lee then; he acted out the roles of Shawn, Lee Labrada, Rich Gaspari and Danny Padilla. There were shots he hit that were all his own. And while Priest trained hard and ate a lot, he was also something of a genetic phenomenon.
I still remember watching a ProLab training video in which Lee led a group of men through a workout. One of the guys wanted to know what the Australian great did to build his world class forearms. The answer stunned him completely – I mean, he was utterly stunned. Lee told him in no uncertain terms that he didn’t even train her. His forearms were loved when he was exercising his arms, but he didn’t work on them specifically. Imagine!! Having one of the best body parts in the business and not really having to do a lot to get it. This is huge !! What was also huge was Lee’s honesty. He could totally have told a little white lie like so many others back then, especially in a video for his sponsor, but he was 100% open. That was a big league of his. There were other things I liked about Priest’s approach.
Lee seemed like a nice guy. He loved KFC, got up in the air, and loved hitting the iron. His DVDs were pretty stupid and he always gave good interviews. In many ways, he was also something of a press favorite. You couldn’t get enough of him, but contrary to what many of you might think, his body was his calling card, not his mouth. I’ll never understand why guys with so much to offer ruin everything because they want to be “uncensored” and rebels – even for no reason. To this day I don’t know who or what the priest rebelled against. He didn’t care to improve the conditions for many of his competitors because if he had, he would have stayed with them.
When Bob and Shawn tried to get a union going and talked about prize money, benefits and trying to sell collective bargaining, the loudmouth from Down Under was nowhere to be seen. And it wasn’t that he had to be, but he was so adamant about promoting this person who just wasn’t who he was. He was the kind of guy who got big jobs, got a lot of buzz, and the judges were very fair with. Do you seriously believe that if politics had really played the role so many critics claim, Lee Priest would have made it into the Olympic Top 6? Come on … It’s like a punk rocker singing about his impoverished life as he earns gold and platinum plaques hand-handed on stage by the record company. It’s just a little much, don’t you think? Since when has Lee been so bad? Nevertheless, he went on a collision course with the IFBB.
We all make bad choices in life, but some choices outweigh others. For all his rhetoric and division, if Priest had stayed on track, Priest would have improved the few weak spots he had and strategically selected his competitions, possibly winning the Ironman, maybe the NOC, and / or maybe even snapping a top 3 spot at the Arnold Classic. Had he achieved the former, his career would have taken him to places he could only dream of. And the truth is, it might very well have been that way. Instead, one of his biggest mistakes was switching ship to PDI. His next mistake wasn’t coming back. And when Bob Cicherillo, a type of priest, blew up every opportunity, tried to regain his pro status, Priest screwed that up too.
From then on, his only other competitions were NABBA competitions, he was going to blow sponsorships, and one of his favorite evasions suggested a possible comeback. Well, guess what, it’s been fifteen years and we still haven’t seen him on an IFBB stage. There’s no doubt that if he just talked on the phone and showed genuine interest, he could jump through a couple of hoops and get his card back. I mean 15+ years later, who really cares? Nonetheless, fleeting hopes of a comeback and / or the occasional fantasy match on the boards are the only connections the aging Aussie has with the current pros and the scene it once dominated.
I don’t know much about his finances, his future plans, or if he ever wants to compete again, but I suspect he isn’t really able to come to terms with his mistake. There is no way he can agree to ruining a career and not getting as far as he could have done. Whether he’s shooting videos in the back of a warehouse, messing around on a forklift, or zooming feeds on RxMuscle, I’m sure he didn’t think his promising bodybuilding career would take him there. No wonder he despises guys like Shawn Ray. So much is true, so it has to be. It’s sour grapes in the worst case and for me there is no question that Dave [Palumbo] sees it and wants to take advantage of it. I mean, if one thing is certain, it is that drama brings hits, and the more hits you get, the more you can bill your advertisers for space. It’s not rocket science folks.
“Sugar” Shawn Ray, on the other hand, is right at the top of the world. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny reality. Shawn is an Arnold Classic Champion, Mr. Olympia Runner-up, and an inducted member of the IFBB Hall of Fame. He runs Digital Muscle (Dan Solomon’s hub sold to Jake Wood), he’s an Olympic host and a successful competition organizer. Before that, he was a driving force at Generation Iron and before that, a key player in Muscular Development. Before that there were great successes, such as the most photographed bodybuilder in the history of FLEX magazine.
Here’s a guy who rose to the top with Weider, then MD, and then outlets that came out of nowhere, like GI. At what level does Shawn Ray even think of Lee Priest? I mean, seriously, what would be the rationale? Even Palumbo, who traditionally loves to slam Ray, has waited patiently in line to have him on RXMuscle.
Shawn Ray is a star – love him or hate him – it would be delusional to say otherwise. Plus, the guy is bullied wherever he goes. When was the last time Lee was bullied? The last time I saw him was at Columbus Airport. He paced up and down waiting for his flight and no one spoke to him. He looked like a sad little man pulling his bag on wheels. It broke my heart. And to be honest, attending the Black Skull booth wasn’t much better either. There really weren’t many people who wanted to see him. I just hope the company got some kind of ROI on the plane ticket, hotel and meals, but then again, who knows who cares? I know I don’t, and I bet money, and neither does Shawn.
The first time I got wind of this larger-than-life celebrity boxing match, I asked Shawn about it. He hadn’t the faintest idea what I was talking about. He had to take time in his busy day to look for it. It’s pretty sad, but in Lee’s mind it might still be 2006. I really don’t know, but I can tell you that a celebrity boxing match doesn’t work. It’s not going to bed a 20 year old feud, it’s not going to cause much fuss, and the only entity I could see would be RXM. Shocker, right? Well it is what it is. Nonetheless, one would think that Lee vs Shawn is creating buzz from the marketing push Axl Rose vs Vince Neil alone. Don’t believe everything you read – especially not in this branch !!
What are your thoughts? Do you think Shawn would be interested in fighting Lee? And who do you think would have won this epic battle?