If you asked Vegas oddsmakers to put a line on a rookie winning the Mr. Olympia, chances are it would be a long shot. Perhaps not along the same lines as the Chicago Cubs storming back to a World Series berth this year, but still in the general vicinity of Clark and Addison—i.e., the crossroads of perpetual heartbreak.
After all, it’s been quite a while since the feat occurred, and that was simply on a technicality, going all the way back to the first-ever Mr. O in 1965, when Larry Scott won the title on his (or anyone’s) first try.
Such are the cold, hard facts. Those setting the book can’t get caught up in feel-good stories or hopes and dreams. It’s statistics, pure and simple. So any thoughts of a first-timer putting his Pro Tan–stained mitts on a Sandow are quickly swept aside for names like Phil Heath, Jay Cutler, Kai Greene, et al.
Oddsmakers also wouldn’t give much credence to the fact that we are in the midst of tumult not seen in the top of the sport for three decades, when Arnold Schwarzenegger clandestinely stormed back into the mix in 1980 and claimed the Olympia title. That set off a freewheeling chain of events, with four different men taking the crown in each of the next four years.
It was pure madness, with every Mr. O contest a feverish battle—never before had the definitive title in bodybuilding been more up for grabs. Until now, perhaps. Since Jay Cutler unseated eight-time victor Ronnie
Coleman in 2006, there have been three different champs in five years. Cutler may have won three of them, yes, but in 2011 his reign was toppled—at least temporarily—by Phil Heath. In any case, it may not be easy, or all that likely, but thinking a rookie could charge the field and create havoc in the upper echelons of the bodybuilding world order is not that far-fetched. Is it?
And if you happen to bring some definite advantages to the fray, such as Ben Pakulski and his best-in-show legs, or 2012 FLEX Pro champ Lionel Beyeke’s all-around shape and muscularity that could be crushing if topped with peeled-to-the-bone conditioning, the chances may just get a whole lot better. Challenging prospects are also what face last year’s Olympia 202 Showdown runner-up, Flex Lewis. Standing in the way of his first O title in what’s now the 212 category is a familiar foe: three-time incumbent Kevin English. Can he overcome the inherent difficulties of unseating a dominant, established champion?
All three men profiled on the following pages know the uphill battle facing them. Instead of a deterrent, it has been a driving force in every rep, every workout, every carb-sparse meal...essentially, every waking moment of 2012. Whatever the ultimate outcome for each, odds are their individual pursuit of success will confound those who rely only on statistics without taking pure heart and desire into consideration. Vegas, you’ve been warned.
In popular demand worldwide, Flex Lewis seems to have it all. But he wants one more thing to complete his bodybuilding conquest: an Olympia 212 Showdown title.
The 212 class—formerly the 202— was born of behemoths ruling IFBB stages. Athletes like Dorian Yates, Jay Cutler, and Ronnie Coleman, who between the three of them kept a firm stranglehold on the Sandow from 1992 to 2007, giving nary a peek to the likes of a Flex Wheeler or Shawn Ray, prompting the lament of fans who mourned the demise of the so-called classic physiques of yore. It seemed the days of a sub-200-pound Frank Zane dominating the O were long gone.
So in 2008, a new class was born. Actually, it was a reinstatement, of sorts, of the “lightweight” and “heavyweight” divisions of Olympia of the past. In that first year, David Henry—one of the very best pound-for-pound bodybuilders of his or any era—took the title, without surprise. What was perhaps a revelation is the rookie out of Wales who, in just his third pro event, captured third place over a slew of seasoned competitors.
Although other contenders from the 2008 202 Showdown fell away, Lewis has stayed the course, building a legion of fans worldwide and steadily gaining momentum in his ascension to the upper echelons of his sport.
In 2009, Lewis returned to the Showdown stage and netted fifth, but after a year away from competing, the Welsh Dragon had a banner year in 2011. He won the British Grand Prix 202 class, came in second at the New York Pro 202, and finished one spot behind English (again).
So how has the division progressed in the eyes of one of its most stalwart competitors over that time? “I think the class has definitely evolved,” Lewis says in his trademark brogue. “A lot of European athletes and guys who turned pro years ago unfortunately figured there was no way for them to keep up with the big guys, so they hung up their trunks. They’re now coming back in the 212, getting to use the pro card they worked so hard for. “It makes it an exciting class,” he adds, “because you don’t really know who might turn up from show to show...new athletes are being added to the mix every year.”
Now, with the decision in late 2011 to bump up the weight limit from 202 to 212, even more contenders have been drawn into the skirmish. Although Lewis plans to take some advantage of the increased weight limit, it’s not foremost in his battle plans. “I competed in last year’s Olympia at 196 pounds, and came in at 202 in the British Grand Prix,” he admits. “This year, I wouldn’t say I’m coming in at 212, but I’ll be closer to that than to 202.” But, he adds, “I really don’t care what my exact weight is. No one can really tell when you’re up there.”
What’s more important, in Lewis’ view, is the hard work he’s putting in to target and eliminate any perceived weaknesses in his physique. This year, he says, it’s all guns blazing to take the title he has clawed for since ’08. “The whole dynamic in my camp has changed,” he says. “Right now, I’m working on improvements in certain poses where it has been said I lack depth. I’m one of the youngest in this class, so I’m up against bodybuilders with more muscle maturity. I have to overcome that with refinements and deeper cuts.”
He’ll have to accomplish that, however, while maintaining the most rigorous travel schedule of anyone among the 212 contenders. “It’s a double-edged sword when you do well onstage—the demands offstage for me have doubled this year,” Lewis says. “I fly the flag for the 212, but to do that, I’m on the road a lot. For instance, I just returned from a six-week tour to places like Denmark, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K., and was home during that time for only four days total. I dropped around 20 pounds doing that.”
For Lewis, however, that was a lesson learned. “Those trips are a blessing, because it’s why my fan base is as big as it is—I get to reach fans who don’t get to go to the Olympia, or meet other professional athletes in our sport,” he says.
Now, at 28, is Lewis ready to ascend to the very top of his class? Will he have what it takes to take out English and the others who yearn for 212 glory on Sept. 29 in Las Vegas? He’s confident, but in a nod to the contest’s venue, he’s holding his cards close to his chest. “I think, each and every year as your physique changes and evolves, you get challenged differently,” he says. “It’s going to come down to balance...learning to balance being on the road and improving my physique. I’m not a rookie anymore, but I’m still always learning.”
Birthplace Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom
Current Residence Brentwood, TN
Weight 208 lbs (contest); 220–230 lbs (off-season)
Career Highlights 2011 Olympia 202, 2nd; 2011 British Grand Prix 202, 1st; 2011 New York Pro 202, 2nd; 2009 Olympia 202 Showdown, 5th; 2009 Atlantic City Pro 202, 1st; 2008 Olympia 202 Showdown, 3rd; 2008 Pro Bodybuilding Weekly Championships 202, 2nd; 2008 Europa Super Show 202, 1st; 2007 British Championships Overall (pro card)
Sponsors Weider/AMI, Gaspari Nutrition
Reigning FLEX Pro champ Lionel Beyeke looks ahead to his first Mr. Olympia with a determined focus in the gym and history on his mind.
Larry Scott. Sergio Oliva. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Franco Columbu. Frank Zane. Lee Haney. Dorian Yates. Ronnie Coleman. Jay Cutler.
What do these names have in common? All won multiple Mr. Olympia titles, and are considered to be the best bodybuilders of all time. But that’s not all they share. All of them also know defeat under the brightest spotlight in bodybuilding.
In fact, of the 13 men who have ever worn the Mr. O crown, none save Scott (the very first champ) ever earned it on their initial try. Only two, in fact, even came close—Schwarzenegger finishing second to Oliva in ’69 and Yates a step behind Haney in ’91.
That’s the reality facing rookies. In this competition, it seems, there are dues to be paid. Although that tempers expectations of many coming into the event, it could also serve as a warning of sorts to anyone among the seasoned veterans who become a little too complacent—because in sports, if there’s anything history teaches us, it’s that such streaks are born to be broken.
Will Lionel Beyeke be the competitor to do so? For his part, he’s not proclaiming it so. “I will consider the Mr. Olympia a success if I finish in the top six—and top five is a dream,” he says. “I will give all I can to make it come true.”
That leaves us to dissect his competitive history. The 5'10", 252-pounder’s first IFBB foray was in 2010, a sixth in the Phoenix Pro. In 2011, he took fourth in the New York Pro, and second in the Toronto Pro, one slot behind Craig Richardson. Thus far this year, he’s cracked the top six at the Arnold Classic and won the FLEX Pro. All in all, a short but impressive résumé, made possible by an incredible transformation between 2010 and 2011, engineered by trainer Hany Rambod, in which Beyeke added 30 pounds of muscle mass.
But, as Beyeke knows, as good as that first pro victory felt, he still has improvements to make, especially considering the chasm he’s about to bridge between the level of the Olympia compared with the other contests on the IFBB schedule. “I know I need to stay focused every single day, because the best of the world will be onstage at the Mr. O,” he says. “To be there has been my ultimate aim since I started this sport, and I have to give it all to be on top.”
To put his best foot forward, the 31-year-old has added four weeks to his pre-contest prep, extending from his usual 12 to 16 weeks, which should help dial in the crisp conditioning that was admittedly lacking in his early-year forays. “I’m taking in more calories to try and add more size, about five pounds,” he explains. “I don’t want to grow too fast and lose my symmetry. I’m also going heavy in training, working down to eight reps to help get bigger and more dense overall.”
Toiling daily at the gym from his home base in Paris, France, he’s giving special emphasis to his back and hamstrings, as well as his calves. “But I’m increasing my attention on all my body parts, really, to keep my lines,” he adds.
The intense dedication is, as Beyeke acknowledges, vital to fulfilling his ambitions of crashing a very competitive top six, populated with the likes of defending champ Phil Heath, four-time titlist Jay Cutler, Kai Greene, Dennis Wolf, Branch Warren, and a slew of other hungry and talented contenders. He knows, with every workout he does, the others are matching him, rep for rep, with their own ambitions for glory.
“Being a bodybuilding professional is my full-time job, one that I take seriously,” he says. “I must do my best all the time. Winning the FLEX Pro and taking sixth at the Arnold this year helped a lot. Those were good experiences for me. Now, to see how my body reacts to this next major challenge is very important.”
With the size, cuts, and physical presence Beyeke brings to the mix, there’s little doubt that he’s a threat for the top six in his first Mr. O. But can he shock the iron world on Sept. 28 and 29 by becoming the first Olympia rookie to hold the Sandow? Improbable, perhaps. But that’s why, as they say, they play the games.
Current Residence Paris, France
Weight 252 lbs (contest); 285 lbs (off-season)
Career Highlights 2012 FLEX Pro, 1st; 2012 Arnold Classic, 6th; 2011 Toronto Pro, 2nd; 2011 New York Pro, 4th; 2010 Phoenix Pro, 6th; 2009 Arnold Amateur, super-heavyweight, 2nd
Canadian pro Ben Pakulski isn’t simply entering the Mr. Olympia this September for his participation medal—he has his sights set on being one of the last five men standing.
When it comes to the 2012 Mr. Olympia title, the names most often touted as contenders are familiar. Four-time winner Jay Cutler. Two-time Arnold Classic champ Kai Greene. Can’t forget Branch Warren, Victor Martinez, and Dennis Wolf, all with the firepower to muscle the title from current champ Phil Heath.
Of course, after considering that list, keen historians would remind everyone of one particular event 14 years ago in New York City. It was then that an affable pro from Arlington, TX—who just a year prior had finished a distant ninth—shocked the iron world.
Ronnie Coleman’s Mr. Olympia conquest over Flex Wheeler and a slew of other legendary names—Nasser El Sonbaty, Kevin Levrone, Shawn Ray, Chris Cormier, and Lee Priest among them—was stunning at the time, perhaps even more so than the fact that he reeled off a record-tying seven more victories after that.
So when Ben Pakulski confidently states that the goal for his first-ever Olympia is to crash the top five—and adds that he firmly believes top three is very possible—you can’t simply dismiss it as brash rookie talk.
After all, this isn’t a bodybuilder without world-class weapons. In fact, he’ll stride onto the Orleans Arena stage on Sept. 28 for prejudging on what are arguably the two best-developed legs in the sport, in part due to Branch Warren’s torn quads in 2011 but also because of years of intense dedication to the squat.
Since earning his pro card in 2008 by taking the overall at the Canadian Championships, the University of Western Ontario graduate has entered eight pro tilts, never finishing outside the top 10. This year, he comes to the Sandow chase with some valuable momentum, having taken second at the FLEX Pro and fourth at the Arnold Classic, where he was one notch ahead of 2008 Mr. Olympia Dexter Jackson.
Now, with a comfortable lead in the new Olympia qualification points system and confident of his chances of qualifying (at press time, Pakulski has yet to officially qualify), he is bypassing the summer shows and focusing all his preparation efforts on the Olympia (even with one of those shows, the Pro Bodybuilding Weekly in Tampa, in his proverbial backyard).
“Eight weeks out from the Arnold, I started working out in a new way that’s changed my body and the way I look at training,” Pakulski reveals. “I’ve been doing the same body part twice in one day, six days a week.”
How does Pakulski’s training unfold each day? “The first workout is central nervous system based,” he says. “It’s explosive speed training, essentially exciting the nervous system. The second workout of the day, which I do six hours later, is hypertrophy based, which is basically annihilating every muscle fiber. That means higher sets, higher volume, using lots of giant sets and supersets.”
As for the results so far, the 290-pounder has one word to describe them: “Unbelievable.”
Of course, to win the O, they need to be. And for Pakulski, there’s one particular aspect of his physique that needs particular attention, if only because the counterpart is so incredible. In short, his prodigious legs are both a blessing—because of the attention they demand from judges—and a challenge, because of the need to bring his upper-body development in line with them.
Those exceptional, awe-inducing wheels were born of intense training sessions in the 31-year-old’s younger years. “I used to just train legs because I loved it,” he says. “I never missed a squat workout, especially when I was in college and training only twice a week.
That foundation sets the bar high for me—when you’re said to have the best legs in the world, now you have to bring the upper body up to match.”
While he hasn’t backed off an ounce in intensity in training legs, he has altered frequency to give his upper body the necessary attention. In the off-season, Pakulski trains legs every 10 to 14 days, and every six to seven pre-contest. Upper-body parts, however, are hit every three to four days, year-round.
Like the test of facing his first Olympia battle, gaining the prerequisite proportion of one who can call himself the best bodybuilder in the world is a challenge Pakulski is ready for. “My upper body, it’s just a matter of time,” he says. “I haven’t been training that long as a bodybuilder, relatively speaking. It’s taking the time and giving it the same attention as I gave my lower body the first 10 years I was in the gym.”
Birthplace Toronto, Ontario
Current Residence Tampa, FL
Weight 270 lbs (contest), 290–310 lbs (off-season)
Career Highlights 2012 Arnold Classic, 4th; 2012 FLEX Pro, 2nd; 2011 Grand Prix Australia, 4th; 2011 FLEX Pro, 5th; 2009 Tampa Bay Pro, 3rd; 2008 Canadian Championships, overall (earned pro card)
Sponsors Weider/AMI, ALLMAX Nutrition