Something had to give. Someone had to take that giant leap to the next level. The 2012 FLEX Pro was the strongest show in recent memory that did not include an entrant with a victory in an open pro contest. Of the 17 competitors, six had placed in top threes (one of those had won a 202 show), and all were hunting for a title to propel them upward. Heightening the stakes, this was the initial contest under new Olympia qualification rules: Only the winner earned an invite to bodybuilding’s Super Bowl. That’s why when, in the end, it came down to three—one Frenchman and two Canadians—the tension was icy. When it broke, and one of that international trio was elevated to the big-time, it ignited a conversation destined to endure.
On a weekend when sensational, er, Linsational, NBA rookie Jeremy Lin was the talk of the sports world, the FLEX Pro had no equivalent. In fact, none of the 17 competitors at the Santa Monica Convention Center on Feb. 18 were making their IFBB Pro League debut, and, beyond the eventual top five, the lineup consisted of mostly middle-aged veterans who had seen better days.
Grigori Atoyan lacked the leg and back size to hang with the top four and the detailing to duel the fifth-place finisher. He ultimately landed just one point ahead of Mark Dugdale. After trying the 202 division in 2009, Dugdale was fourth in an open contest each of the last two years, and he had previously enjoyed great success in greater Los Angeles by placing second at the 2007 Ironman Pro. But his wheels were deflated this time. Perhaps he’ll find his ideal home in the new 212 division (which replaces the old 202). Trivia: Dugdale was the only American-born member of the FLEX Pro top nine.
Despite his lighter-shade-of-pale coloring, I would’ve awarded Vladimir Sizov the sixth slot, largely on the strength of his stellar back shots. The Russian Sizov, formerly a trapeze artist in Cirque du Soleil, wowed the crowd with his acrobatic posing routine. Among the others, none received greater applause than 44-year-old Stan Efferding. When, at the evening show, emcee Bob Cicherillo announced this was the final physique contest for the “World’s Strongest Bodybuilder,” the audience gave Efferding a send-off standing ovation.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
At his previous contest—the 2010 Olympia 202 Showdown—Eduardo Correa had to furiously sweat off pounds and then even peel off his posing trunks to (just barely) make it down to 202 at the last possible moment. Seventeen months later, this was his debut in an open contest. At 217 and void of every last ounce of adipose tissue and drop of water, he sported more details than Wikipedia, and his high-def quads and back were the most peeled parts seen on a pro stage in years. That’s why it was so stunning when he was left out of the first callout—a four-man affair. I would’ve placed Correa fourth. If conditioning was the only criterion, he would’ve run away with this show, but he lacked the leg meat to hang with those above him. Is it possible to be too ripped? The 30-year-old Brazilian may have to sacrifice some striations to gain the fullness in his lower half necessary for battling 250-plus-pound behemoths—or he could jump into the 212 division and potentially dominate.
Usually, when bodybuilders have half an X frame, they sport the upper half but lack quad sweep. Shawn Rhoden reverses that. With wide legs and a narrow middle, he’s struggled to pack on delt and lat mass. The upper half of his X was notably wider this time. Unfortunately, his conditioning was blurry. Rhoden was firmly in fourth in both rounds, and this was a three-man contest.
THERE’S A CROWD
The top three was a case of apple versus orange versus apple/orange hybrid. The hybrid was Toronto’s Fouad Abiad, who was not quite as sharp as fellow Canadian Ben Pakulski but sharper than Frenchman Lionel Beyeke. Meanwhile, Beyeke had a smaller waist and greater physique flow than Abiad, but Abiad bested Pakulski in those same aesthetics. Some thought the hybrid was the perfect compromise between the other two, but the judges preferred to reward the apple and the orange.
The rear double biceps is the ultimate arbiter of contest success, and, on the basis of his lat and delt size and vertical blind hamstrings, Abiad had the strongest rear double bi in the contest. It’s the most important pose, but it’s not the only important pose. Abiad lost other shots in four-man comparisons, and his conditioning had faded slightly by the finals. His third-place finish (the same as last year’s FLEX Pro) generated the contest’s greatest boos, especially after it was clear from prejudging callouts that the judges originally had him in the top two.
If the top three still qualified for the Mr. Olympia, Pakulski’s runner-up placing, his best-ever as a pro, would have been the show’s biggest story. After all, the 270-pounder moved up from a fifth here last year by finally bringing the details to match his mass. His legs are arguably the world’s best, but what is most remarkable is how much he’s stretched out his back since turning pro in 2008. He was once woefully lat-deficient, but on Feb. 18 his rear lat spread rivaled even Beyeke’s for broadest onstage. His arms still trail the rest of him, and his wider waist/hip structure hurt him in some comparisons with Beyeke, but he dominated the abs and thigh and most muscular poses, and his front lat spread is equally stellar.
Outside of Correa, Pak-Man—who sported deep glute, pec, and oblique lines—was the best-conditioned competitor. He gained momentum as prejudging wore on, and then easily bested Abiad on judges’ score sheets (straight seconds to Abiad’s straight thirds) at the finals to move into the runner-up spot. “I’m never happy with second,” he said afterward. “I always want to win. But certainly I’m happy with my progress. My condition kind of came in and out today. There were times when I was great and times when I was eh, but for the most part that’s the best I’d ever been.” When he first appeared onstage, LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” was playing, and Pakulski lip-synched the line, “And I’m just getting warm.” He might be right.
A GIANT LEAP
At 260, France’s Lionel Beyeke was also at his best, but his conditioning has never been a strong suit. Though he lacked fine detailing, his quads were deeply separated and sported cross striations, he had the densest pecs in the contest, and his front and rear lat spreads were winners (unlike his front and rear double biceps, where his lats curiously shrunk). He has the Lee Haney advantage of packing a thick musculature on a wide-shouldered, narrow hipped frame. I understand the judges’ argument for giving him straight firsts, but I would’ve rewarded Pak-Man’s crisper conditioning. Of course, apple versus orange is always up for debate.
“It’s a dream come true. I’m so happy to be qualified for the Mr. Olympia this year,” an exuberant Beyeke effused afterward. He qualified for the O last year, as well, but this September he’ll make his Olympia debut. Before that, he’s got his first Arnold Classic. “I’m going to go back to the gym tomorrow and continue my job,” the Parisian said, vowing to stay in Los Angeles (where he previ ously lived) between the FLEX Pro and the Arnold. He knew he’d need to be drier to have the same sort of impact in Columbus that he had in Santa Monica. The Arnold would be another chance for everyone in the top five. The FLEX Pro merely started a conversation destined to continue throughout 2012.
2012 FLEX PRO BODYBUILDING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Feb. 18, Santa Monica, CA
1 Lionel Beyeke*
2 Ben Pakulski
3 Fouad Abiad
4 Shawn Rhoden
5 Eduardo Correa
6 Grigori Atoyan
7 Mark Dugdale
8 Vladimir Sizov
9 Constantinos Demetriou
10 Omar Deckard
*Qualifies for the 2012 Mr. Olympia Contest
For the first time ever, pro fitness took center stage in Southern California, and by the evening’s end, reigning Fitness Olympia and Fitness International champion Adela Garcia added another win to her considerable résumé. Garcia is now in the record books as the inaugural FLEX Pro Fitness Championships winner. Oksana Grishina, largely on the strength of yet another stunning routine, notched the highest placing of her pro career with her runner-up finish. The third-place spot went to Myriam Capes, with Tanji Johnson, Bethany Cisternino, and Jodi Boam rounding out fourth through six.
2012 FLEX Pro Fitness Championships
Feb. 18, Santa Monica, CA
1 Adela Garcia*
2 Oksana Grishina
3 Myriam Capes
4 Tanji Johnson
5 Bethany Cisternino
6 Jodi Boam
7 Vanda Hadarean
8 Camal Rodriguez
9 Allison Ethier
10 Sheri Vucick
11 Michele Mayberry
12 Paula Gulman-Williams
* Qualifies for 2012 Fitness Olympia contest.
JANAINA’S BIG NIGHT
The second-annual FLEX Bikini Model Search L.A. served up a bevy of beauties, and the final decision— as tough as any faced by our panel of expert judges— went to Janaina Barral of Northridge, CA. Barral and runner-up Katrina McLellan are the first two contestants to qualify for the 2012 FLEX Bikini Model Search Championships, held during Olympia Weekend in Las Vegas, NV, Sept. 28–29. The winner of that show will earn an exclusive modeling contract with FLEX Magazine. Check back next month for details on how to enter the 2012 FLEX Bikini Model Search Online.
2012 FLEX BIKINI MODEL SEARCH LOS ANGELES
Feb. 18, Santa Monica, CA
1 Janaina Barral*
2 Katrina McLellan*
3 Lauren Triana
4 Adriana Guzman
5 Almira Rezaimalek
6 Ana Foster
7 Crystal Cunningham
8 Denise Milani
9 Evina Luna
10 Jessica Quillian
*Qualifies for the 2012 FLEX Bikini Model Search