Toney Freeman has come a long way since the 2006 Ironman Pro. At that show, he finished well out of the running, in seventh. Two weeks later, he was ninth at the Arnold Classic, then fifth a week after that at the San Francisco Pro. A respectable start to the season, to be sure, but not if your goal is to be in the top tier of the pro ranks.
So it was a huge breakthrough for him that he walked into the Europa Super Show in August and won his first IFBB title, over the solid field that included Johnnie Jackson, Darrem Charles and German phenom Dennis Wolf, among others. A seventh at a loaded Mr. Olympia contest followed, along with buzz that carried over to 2007.
This year, the 40-year-old Atlantan entered the Ironman not as a top-10 hopeful, but a bona fide favorite. And he did not disappoint, clocking in a dominating performance that sets him up with momentum going into the upcoming Arnold Classic March 3. Defined and muscular with a compact waist, the 6'2" 280-pounder is overlooked no more, and was a deserving champ on this night.
As for the remainder of the field, it was a horserace for the four remaining Mr. Olympia qualification spots - the IFBB increased the O invites from the top three to the top five at the Ironman for the first time this year, further raising its importance in the competitive season. Unfortunately, while some quality bodybuilders did make the cut, there are a few others with a legitimate beef that they didn't get a fair look, as the judging panel inexplicably pared down the number of callouts in the afternoon prejudging.
Coming in second, Washington's Mark Dugdale. He brought a quality physique to the stage, but word is, he's planning his ultimate peak for the Arnold Classic, which is a shame. Had he brought a more sliced physique to this contest, there's no telling whether he would have made a serious run at his first pro title. In any case, it's nice to see him earn his best IFBB finish to date since going pro in 2004.
In third, England's Eddie Abbew. While perhaps ranked too high at this particular show, Abbew is an athlete who has paid his dues over an eight-year pro career, and will make a good addition to the Olympia lineup - it'll be his first time on that hallowed stage.
Spain's Silvio Samuel was criminally overlooked during the day's prejudging, but at least squeezed his way into the top five. He was good enough to arguably be as high as second, and should have been in the first callout of the prejudging - as it was, he didn't get his comparison to the others in the top five until the final round, which was too late to give him a legitimate shot at catching Freeman.
Marcus Haley, who announced just this week he was stepping into the Ironman fray, made the most of his decision by grasping fifth, punching his Olympia ticket in the process.
Sixth-place David Henry, second last year at the Ironman, could have absolutely won his show had he brought the same level of conditioning this time around. Unfortunately for the Tucson, Arizona resident, he wasn't at the level we've all come to expect - here's hoping he rectifies that come Arnold time.
As for those who could have made the top five, the line starts at Japan's Hidetada Yamagishi and Ft. Lauderdale's Ahmad Haidar. Yamagishi improved upon his outside-the-top-15 placing at the Ironman last year by taking seventh, but at least deserved some callouts with the men who finished above him. Ahmad Haidar, dropped to eighth here, finds himself in that same boat, as his uber-symmetrical physique compares very favorably no matter who he's pitted against. He's come close to a pro win, coming in second at the 2004 Florida Pro Xtreme Challenge and 2005 New York Pro, but decisions like this make you wonder if he'll ever get the judging consideration his physique warrants.
As far as the show itself, John Balik and the Ironman staff have put on a high quality event yet again. The Pasadena Civic Center venue is top notch, and the FitExpo grows larger every year (it's also going on Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. if you're in the Los Angeles area). They deserve kudos for kicking off another IFBB season in style. It should also be noted, in attendance for the night show was none other than Joe Weider, who got a standing ovation when emcee Lonnie Teper pointed him out to the crowd. In addition, Ellen Hargitay was on hand as her late husband Mickey Hargitay was given the Perry and Mabel Rader Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously for his contributions to bodybuilding.
To see how the prejudging went, check out a full blog recap at HYPERLINK "http://updates.mrolympia.com" http://updates.mrolympia.com. Complete galleries featuring all of the competitors are also available through the links on this page.
2007 Ironman Pro February 17, 2007, Pasadena, California
Top 10 Final Results
1) Toney Freeman
2) Mark Dugdale
3) Eddie Abbew
4) Silvio Samuel
5) Marcus Haley
6) David Henry
7) Hidetada Yamagishi
8) Ahmad Haidar
9) Omar Deckard
10) Joel Stubbs
1) Eddie Abbew
2) Jason Arntz
3) Eryk Bui
4) Omar Deckard
5) Kris Dim
6) Mark Dugdale
7) Moe Elmoussaoui
8) Aiman Faour
9) Toney Freeman
10) Ahmad Haidar
11) Marcus Haley
12) David Henry
13) Rusty Jeffers
14) Rod Ketchens
15) Martin Kjellstrom
16) Frank McGrath
17) Francesco Mazzotta
18) Silvio Samuel
19) Daniele Seccarecci
20) Roc Shabazz
21) Sergey Shelestov
22) Clifton Torres
23) Hidetada Yamagishi
24) Fabrizio Zittucro
25) Joel Stubbs
With the 2007 Ironman Pro prejudging in the books, it looks like Toney Freeman will be standing tall at the end of the night. Last year, he finished seventh at this contest, showing just how far he's come in a year. (He won the 2006 Europa Super Show).
Meanwhile, based on callouts, it looks like Mark Dugdale and England's Eddie Abbew are locked in battle for the second spot, while David Henry, Marcus Haley and Silvio Samuel are vying for the final two Olympia qualifying spots, fourth and fifth. Samuel was in razor-sharp condition and should be as high as second.
On the outside looking in as far as top five are two standouts, Japan's Hidetada Yamagishi, and often=overlooked Ahmad Haidar. Yamagishi at least should be top five, but won't get it. Russia's Sergey Shelestov deserves top 10, but who knows - there's been an incredibly disappointing lack of comparisons in this first contest of the season, which is hopefully something that is corrected in upcoming shows.
All in all for tonight's finals, while it won't be the most compelling drama as far as first place, the top 10 will be interesting, as the judges need to sort through 25 bodybuilders and, based on the paucity of needed callouts, there's going to be some mistakes.
Check out a full blog recap of the prejudging at FLEX blog You can watch the finals live tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific time at www.bodybuilding.com, where the live, free webcast will be hosted by Dan Solomon and Bob Cicherillo (follow the links for Ironman from the main page). And check back for the final report tonight at flexonline.com after the show.