Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans
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LEVRONE VS. WHEELER   They were born just 38 days apart in 1965 and destined to be two of bodybuilding’s best. The rivalry between Kevin Levrone and Flex Wheeler spanned 12 years and 15 contests. Fittingly, it was launched in the heavyweight class of the 1991 NPC Nationals. Levrone won the class (and overall), Wheeler was second. It took Wheeler another year to make it to the big league, but when he did, the rookie bested Levrone twice, including at the 1993 Olympia. In 1995 Levrone returned the favor, finishing ahead of Wheeler twice. Levrone went on to win the 1996 Arnold Classic and was third in that year’s Olympia, while Wheeler was one place behind him in both.   At the end of 1996, Levrone held a 5-2 lead in head-to-head meetings and had strung together four “wins” in a row. But then Wheeler flipped the script and beat his rival six consecutive times, including victories at the 1997 and 2000 Arnold Classics. But then, Levrone bested his chief rival in their final two meetings, the 2000 and 2002 Olympias. He was runner-up in both Mr. Os, giving him four Mr. O seconds (one more than Wheeler). Either Levrone or Wheeler is the best bodybuilder to never win a Sandow, and each was the other’s greatest competition.

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GASPARI VS. LABRADA   The clash between Rich Gaspari and Lee Labrada was the ’80s version of Levrone vs. Wheeler, with both shorter men battling to be the world’s second-best bodybuilder after the taller Lee Haney. The younger, 5'7" Gaspari made it to the IFBB Pro League one year before 5'6" Labrada, but both traveled the same path, winning their class at the NPC Nationals and the IFBB World Championships in back-to-back years. Theystayed clear of each other in 1986, but in ’87 Gaspari bested Labrada three times (twice by one place) before their epic confrontations throughout Europe the next year.    Incredibly, in seven European Grand Prix shows in 1988, they finished one-two in six of them and one-three in the other. Gaspari won four, Labrada three. Over 1987 and 1988, they were separated by one place eighttimes. In 1989, Labrada succeeded his greatest rival as runner-up at the Olympia and repeated that second again in 1990, besting Gaspari both times. Gaspari had more Olympia runner-up finishes (three to two) and pro wins (nine to seven), but he also competed more, and Labrada was more consistent (his lowest pro placing was fifth). Who had the better career? Appropriately, the Gaspari/Labrada scoreboard will forever be locked in a tie.

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