by Christian Duque
There has been a lot of interest lately in bringing the Masters Olympia back, mostly because fans want to see Kevin Levrone make another comeback. Many also want to see “Sugar” Shawn Ray and Bob Cicherillo on stage again. The fans always talk about something on the message boards and the various social media platforms. As a fitness author, I constantly watch YouTube, Reddit and all types of social media platforms and try to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry. I mean, I’m so committed, I should be committed (understood?). I go to sites that most people no longer believe exist. For example, when was the last time you logged into Myspace? Did you even know that it is still alive and somehow good? I also go there from time to time.
However, one topic that comes up again and again is that of Masters O. Most people associate this title with Vince Taylor, mainly because it has won it for many years in a row. Ultimately, Taylor’s reign came to a standstill when a bodybuilder named Don Youngblood stunned the world, overthrew Taylor, and won the title. Not too long after that, the world of bodybuilding would lose Don. Other notable champions were Robby Robinson, also known as The Black Prince. When Robby came back, he was accompanied by a giant Lou Ferrigno. Ferrigno had always climbed high, but when he made a comeback in the 90s, he filled it out in freaky proportions. To tell you that he dwarfed Dorian, you should give a hint. Yates looked like his child next to Lou. However, the Masters O was a serious competition, and no matter how big Lou was, it wasn’t up to Robby’s aesthetics and detail. The right man won the title. More recently, Dexter Jackson, the most successful professional bodybuilder of all time, has also won this title. Even though he won it, it’s not an award that he brags a lot about.
Some guys took part in hybrid events, such as the Masters Pro World 2006. This event was one of the best known and best known of the 2000s. In my humble opinion, it was mostly an event for Bob Cicherillo. The promo was about Bob, who was doing something called The Fit Show on Bodybuilding.com at the time. The competition ran on its own, but the media machine overseen by Bob recorded all of his preparation, including meals, training, and commentary. Similar to the 1974 Pumping Iron Olympics, Masters Pro World was catapulted to fame due to social media. I don’t know if Cicherillo expected the fierce opposition from Masters like Mr. Olympia Claude Groulx, Johnny Stewart (who actually took 2nd place) or a very impressive Mr. Hungary in Pavol Jablonicky. Cich brought in the big guns, was conditioned, and stretched out his heart. It was this great posing ability that almost made him win the NOC 2003 against the German beast Markus Ruhl. He may not have had enough in the NOC, but he definitely did it for the Masters Pro World. Was there a Masters Pro World in 2007? A 2008? No, this competition was big as long as Bob was involved. At least that’s what I always thought.
Masters bodybuilding is very marketable at the NPC level. However, when it comes to Master Pro events, a very talented, very innovative promoter is required to be successful. It is one thing to have a competition in a given year, but to create a really permanent event that requires a lot of commitment and control. In addition to an event with the right organizer, it is very important for the competition to create deep lists. Years ago, pro master events didn’t really attract much talent, at least nothing that could withstand the public. In order for a pro master event to flourish today, make really big headlines, and grab the house, it takes some pretty big names. One way to get there is to offer a lot of prize money in addition to great advertising, but that may not be enough.
Take a man like IFBB Hall of Famer “Sugar” Shawn Ray. Here’s a guy who placed the Top 5 at the Olympics more than ten times, won by Arnold Classic, and took second place at the Open Olympia. He fought in the days of people like Lee Haney, Dorian Yates and The Big Nasty Ronnie Coleman. Ray has been retired for quite some time, doing moves with great outfits like Muscular Development, Generation Iron, and is now editor-in-chief of Digital Muscle. Although fans would love to see Shawn come back, why should he? And how could a competition raise enough interest and prize money to get Ray to look at him twice? Even if he won the competition, where would that be compared to the many successes of his career? The Masters Olympic title was simply not big enough to interest the Top 5 Olympics. Granted, Vince Taylor, Robby Robinson, and Lou Ferrigno pulled out of retirement, but they were the exceptions. When Dexter started, he was very active in the open cycle. If anything, it was something to do, but I hardly think it is in any way comparable to his 2008 Olympic victory or his nine Arnold Classic titles. The fact that the Masters O was never a coveted title even in its prime makes me wonder if it will ever be.
Professionals want to compete outdoors, they want to do their best and fight against everyone. Even when Don Youngblood won the Masters O, he couldn’t get outside quickly enough. It was annihilated and it really showed that the Masters O was at a much less competitive level than the Open, but Don wanted to see how it built up. Most people are the same today. Even if they won at Masters level, they want to see how they would do outdoors. This also applies to 212. At some point, guys like their 7x 212 Olympic Showdown champion James “Flex” Lewis want more from their best side. After seven wins in a row in the 212, Flex was definitely bored and wanted to see how he would hold his own against the big boys. The Open is where it is. All the more I don’t see that the Masters Olympia really takes a lot of steam. Could it come back? For sure. But do I see the industry that demands it? Not as much.
Ultimately, the Masters Olympia satisfies a nostalgia kick for many fans. This applies to bodybuilding, golf, tennis etc. The participants who normally take part in these types of events are either half-boarded or long-boarded. It’s a good stage for a comeback, it’s fun for fans, but there’s not much else to say. I doubt we would ever see stars like Ray, Levrone, Cutler or Yates doing such a show. I would not say that it is among them, although it is likely. On the other hand, that’s just my two cents.
How do you see the Masters Olympia? Do you think it’s a competition that should come back? Would you buy a ticket?