Review and Photos by Mark Mason
Dynamic Duo Ivan Ribic and Paul Hughes have the NPC Empire Classic down to a fine art. To call this year's production a success would only serve to tarnish the word "success." The 2008 Empire surpassed all previous events. Whether it be the Northern Quest Casino venue, featured guest poser the "Invincible" Vince Taylor or six-dozen of the finest physiques from the Spokane Valley and beyond, the Empire Classic rocked the Lilac City on April 26th.
Paula Williams-Gulman kicked off the evening with her "good cop/bad cop" routine. Williams-Gulman's two close second place finishes at earlier shows this season only served to spur her on for her eventual victory in front of her hometown crowd.
The figure classes were overflowing with excellent competitors. Short class winner Brandy Carestia, who missed the top five in last weeks Emerald Cup, redeemed herself in Spokane winning the class and came close to an upset win in the overall.
Paula Williams-Gulman crossed over to the short figure and won the second placed trophy and Tri-Cities gal Denise Twaites took third.
Fiona Krug is another figure competitor that finally got her due. She has been steadily improving her placings throughout the spring season.
First winning the 5'5" to 5'7" class at the Tanji Johnson Fitness and Figure Championships, then taking home the fifth place award from the Emerald Cup and finally collecting the overall at the Empire Classic.
Angie Corbin showed up sporting a new darker hairstyle and in her best shape ever.
Terina Terrill's stage presentation was excellent and she took home a solid third place in one of the largest classes of the evening.
In the tall ladies class Tiffany Speer's natural smile and good looks made her a popular standout.
Jacquie Crackford, who was awarded second in the class made a great showing for her first time out, as did platinum blond and third place winner
Janice Zander topped the masters class beating out an incredibly conditioned
Kathy Lyons' winning smile and strong presentation made her a crowd favorite and winner of the third place trophy.
The Empire Classic usually has large numbers of Junior Men for a show of its size. This year the numbers were down but
Kyle Kopczynski and
Mike Plank encountered one another as if they were competing at the NPC Nationals.
"Ski" who's dark eyed, dark haired brooding good looks resembled a bodybuilding Elvis Presley, right down to the snarled upper lip.
Mike Plank looked like a member of the Vin Diesel family tree. Beauty and the Beast went to battle and on this evening Elvis left the building with the first place award.
Masters Bodybuilding:Kathy Garcia posed her way to victory in the masters women class. She defeated well-proportioned Eden Davidson. Alan Woody made claim to the masters men over forty class with first timer Ken Smith taking second. The "Lone Wolf" Charlie Brown stood unopposed in the over fifty class.
Ribic and Hughes' decision to include a wheelchair division is one of the best things to happen to the Empire. Last year's unopposed winner
Tommy Gun Wyant was back with a vengeance but
Jake Vernon had big plans as well.
The posedown between these two sensational bodybuilders rivaled some of the best face-offs I have seen in my time. MC Kim Farrison had to threaten to throw a chain lock on the wheels of both competitors chairs to end the posedown.
There were no losers in the wheelchair division although Tommy Gun did defend his title and took home the gold. Warning to Tommy Gun: Big Jake is no Big Joke. Beware in 2009.
Women's Open Bodybuilding:
The open women lightweight was a match up between Spokanite
Ann Gannon and Emerald City phenomenon
Denise Rathwick. Both ladies could have entered the masters class but either way they would have ended up competing against each other.
They opted for the open and both gave it their best. Rathwick, who traveled across the mountains for her first showing at the Empire, came out with the win but her match up with Gannon was one of the best parts of the evening. Figure crossover
Denise Twaites took third.
Heavyweight Silvia Mischke came down from Canada was ready to conquer. She took first in the heavyweight over the
Peggy Willis. Willis possesses the kind of physique where muscles pop from nowhere once she begins flexing.
Mischke and Willis along with Rathwick and Gannon are a few of the ladies who are single handedly keeping the women's divisions from fading to oblivion.
Men's Open Bodybuilding:
Bradley "The Cyclone" Sikes is one person to never say die. No matter what placing he takes the contest previously he always comes to the next ready to win. And win he did in Spokane. Sikes routed contender
Jaques Pitcher and newcomer
Travis Beller with a dose of self-confidence and a muscle maturity that always makes him the lightweight to beat.
The top three middleweights were an impressive line up. First place
David Santucci's thickness was incredible.
Mike Lafave flaunted one of the best chests of the evening.
Lafave placed second and
Lauren Stoyanonski, who displayed one of the most symmetrical bodies of the night, took third. Honorable mention goes to wildman
The energy that Cahill generated during his free posing routine Saturday evening was second only to Grand Coulee Dam. The spectators delight was so thunderous that Kim Farrison's plea to straight-jacket Cahill went unheard.
The light heavyweight class was a dogfight between two rivals who are no strangers to the Empire stage. Hometown boy,
Kyle Stevens out did his conditioning from last years light heavy win. Stevens was set to reclaim his class win and then take the overall.
His nemesis came by the name of
Monty Rogers. The changes in Rogers' physique a mere week after his second place finish at the Emerald Cup was nothing short of breathtaking. The cross striations in his glutes and shoulders could be seen clear in the back row.
Jonathon Wood displayed incredible conditioning and vascularity but was no match for the size and shape of both Rogers and Stevens.
The night could have been anti-climactic after the light heavyweights left stage. I stress the word "could." Heavyweights
Matt Failing, and the redoubtable
Marcell Scott had other plans.
The posedown looked more like a UFC fight then a bodybuilding contest. The four horsemen pushed and shoved, and bobbed and weaved, each vying for perfect stage position and basking in the cheers of the standing room only mob. Plumb took first, Flowerdew second, Failing third and the Great Scott forth.
Guest poser Vince Taylor took command of the stage in a way only he can do. Not only did Taylor dance and pose his way into Empire history but also pulled some slight-of-hand magic out of his bag of tricks.
One thing that is not a trick with the fifty-two year old Taylor are his five time Master's Mr. Olympia wins. Until recently Taylor's owned the long-standing record of twenty-two professional wins.
He was relieved of that record by none other the eight-time Mr. Olympia, Ronnie Coleman. Obviously Taylor keeps good company.
As MC Kim Farrison called all four open class winners on-stage for comparisons the decibel level of the packed house rose considerably. The conditioning of Rogers was eye catching.
Cody Plumb's size looked threatening and was standing by as the spoiler. Both Sikes and Santucci made a gallant attempt but the Rogers' overall package made the obvious even more apparent.
The decision seemed unanimous between the judges and the fans as Monty Rogers was declared the 2008 Empire Classic overall winner.
Ribic and Hughes, who are not the type to rest on their laurels, plan on launching another yet unnamed show in the fall of 2009. The continuing success of the Empire Classic just about guarantees that the new show will be a welcomed addition to the NPC calendar in the tri-state area.