This year's IFBB IRONMAN Pro Invitational was held February 15th at the El Camino Community College in Torrance, California. The IRONMAN Pro is always the first professional bodybuilding event of the year and it was eagerly anticipated this year because of the return of Jay Cutler. This would be Cutler's first competition since he won the Arnold Classic with a perfect score last year.
Iron Jay decided to skip the Mr. Olympia last year in order to give his body a rest and make the improvements he deemed necessary to become the best bodybuilder on the planet. I was one of many who criticized Jay for skipping the Olympia as I felt he was missing out on a great opportunity to beat the defending champ, Ronnie Coleman, after his near upset victory at the 2001 Mr. Olympia. After witnessing Jay's unanimous decision at the Pro IRONMAN this year, I stand corrected. Jay Cutler definitely made the right move by waiting for this year.
The contest was won by Cutler the moment he stepped onstage along with the other 16 competitors. At 5'9" and an astounding 267 pounds, Cutler looked incredible! Full, thick and striated, Iron Jay looked more like a Marvel Comics superhero than a professional bodybuilder. Cutler even used that look to his advantage in his posing routine at night by referring to himself in a voice over as "Cut-Man" in the tradition of Spider-Man and BatMan. Although the line-up included some great bodybuilders, Cutler was in a class all by himself at this show. If there was any doubt about Cutler's chances of winning the Sandow trophy after Gunter Schlierkamp stole the show at the Olympia last year, those doubts were vanquished as soon as Iron Jay took center stage.
Jay looked to be even thicker than he was last year at the Arnold Classic but he was definitely much harder. His always freaky legs were even freakier this year with cross striated quads, cable hard hamstrings and striated glutes. His upper body was thicker than ever and his famous abs were still rock hard without the characteristic bloat that is so present in today's bigger professionals. Jay was compared only once by the judges in each of the pre-judging rounds and then spent the rest of the afternoon standing in the back onstage. He was truly in a class by himself at this event.
In second place was Marvelous Melvin Anthony who looked to be back in the top condition he displayed at the 2001 Pro IRONMAN. Melvin is blessed with great symmetry and shape and he brought these qualities to the stage along with his tiny waist and full muscle bellies. He also had a great attitude onstage and seemed ready to fight his way back to the top. One of the sport's best posers, Melvin put on the best routine at the evening show and brought the house down.
Flex Wheeler continued his comeback by taking third place. Flex holds the record for wins at the Pro IRONMAN with five victories but he was not able to win another one this year. He was bigger and fuller than the look he displayed at last year's Olympia but he has still not regained the freaky hardness he needs to win another professional title. One of bodybuilding's most symmetrical and flowing physiques, Flex was second to Cutler in the first round but trailed behind Melvin Anthony for the rest of the contest.
The surprise of this year's Pro IRONMAN was Troy Alves who placed fourth. Winning his pro card at last year's NPC USA Championships, Troy was making his professional debut at the IRONMAN. He did not disappoint as he showed up dry and hard and was included in the first callout along with Jay Cutler and Flex Wheeler. Troy has a nice symmetrical physique with big arms and good legs. He looked a little flat next to Cutler so I can easily see Troy adding another 20 pounds to his frame without destroying his beautiful lines.
Darrem Charles looked great in fifth place. Darrem is always in top shape and he was rock hard for this event. He looked like he was even fuller at night and he performed one of the evening's best routines using his trademark break dance and moonwalking moves. Hopefully, Darrem will continue onto the Arnold Classic this year and grab one of the qualifying spots for this year's Olympia. He deserves it.
Mass monster Quincy Taylor was out of the money in sixth place. Quincy is the biggest bodybuilder competing today at 6'4" and 304 pounds but he could still add some more quality beef to his physique. With incredible thighs and huge arms, Quincy looked flat in the pre-judging and his abs had a glazed over look. He also seemed a little too laid back and he could have used more of Melvin Anthony's fire to project a winning attitude to the judges and audience.
In seventh place was the overlooked Ahmad Haidar. Ahmad was hard as a rock and displayed the best abs in bodybuilding but he still did not make the top five. He was thick all over and had some of the best calves onstage. Perhaps he lacked some of that finished look that he showed off last year but I still felt like he could have placed higher. The audience also seemed to disagree with his placing.
In eighth place was Aaron Baker who was making a comeback to the sport after several years away. Aaron was hard as a rock but he was noticeably much smaller in the chest and lats compared to how he looked the last time he was onstage. He seemed like he was really happy to be back and was thoroughly enjoying himself during his routine. At 42 years old, Aaron may be planning on entering the Masters Olympia this year.
Ninth place went to the 2001 NPC Nationals winner, Johnnie Jackson. Johnnie is impressively thick with especially notable pecs and quads. His powerlifting background is readily apparent in his dense muscularity and I could have seen him placing a fewer notches higher. Johnnie is not as wide as some of the other competitors so that may have hurt his overall placing. He also added one of the nicer touches of the evening as he delivered a bouquet of roses to his wife in the audience at the beginning of his posing routine.
The last of the top ten places went to another mass monster, JD Dawodu. JD's pecs were even thicker than Johnnie Jackson's and he has some of the most dense muscle tissue on the pro scene today. Last year, JD changed the whole look of his physique by streamlining his waist and coming in much leaner. This year, JD went back to the bigger look and his placing dropped because of it. I think if JD wants to move up the ladder at the competitions he enters, he needs to go back to the leaner, more symmetrical look.
In addition to the pro bodybuilding contest, the Pro IRONMAN Invitational also Included a Figure competition. Held in three height categories, each class winner received the opportunity of a lifetime by having the chance to do a photo shoot with famed physique photographer, IRONMAN Magazine's own Mike Neveux.
Hannah Park from San Jose, California was the winner of the short class and the overall. Selma McPherson from Sherman Oaks, California won the medium height class and the very curvaceous Shannon Nuessle from Glendale, Arizona was the victor of the tall class.
One of the true living legends of the sport of bodybuilding was presented with the Peary Rader Lifetime Achievement Award at the Pro IRONMAN Invitational. Four time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl graciously accepted his award from IRONMAN Magazine publisher John Balik following a fantastic video put together by IRONMAN Magazine art director Terry Bratcher. At 72 years of age, Pearl looked like the epitome of health and he continues to be a true inspiration for bodybuilders of all generations.
Also receiving a well deserved award for his work in Cinematography was Wayne Gallasch. Wayne began filming competitions and competitors nearly 40 years ago and his classic videos are available through his company, GMV Videos at www.gmv.com.au. Without Wayne's foresight in filming these classic competitions, we would never have any footage of bodybuilding icons such as Bill Pearl, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sergio Oliva, Frank Zane and Mike Mentzer, among many others.
Some of my favorite bodybuilding moments that were captured by Wayne include the classic battle between Sergio and Arnold at the 1972 Mr. Olympia, rare footage of a young 21 year old Arnold shortly after he won his second NABBA Mr. Universe, Arnold and Franco posing outside in 1972 and the highly controversial 1980 Mr. Olympia contest in Sydney, Australia featuring Arnold, Chris Dickerson, Frank Zane and Mike Mentzer in his last competition.
Some interesting highlights of the 2003 Pro IRONMAN Invitational included:
The current Mr. Olympia, Ronnie Coleman, checking out the competition. Ronnie came in a little late to see the night show but, ironically, he entered the auditorium at the exact moment that Jay Cutler began his posing routine. I noticed that Ronnie avoided looking at Iron Jay and instead looked for a place to sit. By the time he was settled in, Cutler was walking off the stage. I don't blame Ronnie. If my competition was a massive 267 pounds of quality, striated beef, I don't think I would want to look either.
The man of the hour, gigantic Gunter Schlierkamp, was enjoying himself at the pre-judging. Looking happy and huge, Gunter is training hard and getting even bigger for a showdown with Ronnie Coleman in October. Gunter made history by beating the current Mr. O in November at the GNC Show of Strength.
Chris Cormier arrived during the middle of the pre-judging with his girlfriend and gym bag in hand. Everyone was looking forward to seeing the showdown with Jay Cutler and Chris but it was not meant to be on this night. Chris is promising to be onstage at the Arnold Classic where Iron Jay will have to defend his title against not only Cormier but also last year's Mr. Olympia runner-up, Kevin Levrone.
Several bodybuilding guru's were in attendance to help out their clients. Hany Rambod was consulting with Melvin Anthony, Troy Alves and Quincy Taylor. Milos Sarcev was advising Flex Wheeler and Chris Aceto was there to support his main man, Jay Cutler.
Other bodybuilding celebrities checking out the action were Shawn Ray, Milos Sarcev, Bob Cicherillo and lovely girlfriend Tiffany Remley, Samir Bannout, Mike Christian, Tom Platz, Nasser El Sonbaty and Craig Titus with his wife Kelly Ryan