Lionel Beyeke won the 2012 Flex Pro Championships, but not everyone in the auditorium agreed. Here's my take on what went down with these controversial placings.
After arriving at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, I immediately went backstage to see if Fouad Abiad had shaved his beard. He had been growing it out to somehow gain an edge through good luck. Abiad was clean shaven. His face was lean and taught and he assured me he was in better shape than last year.
About an hour later, the athletes filed out on stage for their individual, 60-second routines. Abiad was competitor number one so I didn't have to wait too long to see if his self-analysis was accurate.
He was very tight -- maybe even tighter than last year, but not as full.
Beyeke came out next. This was the first time I had seen him compete, and my initial thoughts were that he had great size, nice flow, a tiny waist and he was smoother than Abiad -- a lot smoother actually, especially from the back.
According to our experts on the forums, Abiad, Beyeke, Pakulski, Rhoden, and Correa were the guys to watch. So I was excited to see Correa. Holy cow! That guy was peeled! I mean, we're talking cellophane-for-skin crisp.
Correa reportedly weighed about 217, that's more than 10 pounds heavier than the last time I saw him as a 202 competitor.
Last year Pakulski came out strong, but faded quickly. This year he seemed to gain momentum as he posed, and was able to keep his crispness throughout the judging.
Ben's super-wide shoulders and huge calves are really a sight to behold.
Shawn Rhoden has a very pretty physique, but when he turned around his back was very smooth. His herniated belly button was very distracting.
It reminded me of a huge zit on a beautiful woman's nose: I just couldn't help staring at it.
I thought Mark Dugdale might pull it together, but it wasn't to be.
He looked sharp from the front, but his back was smooth like most of the competitors.
Mark's doing the 212 show in AZ next weekend; he said he'll definitely tighten up for that one.
In the first callout were Abiad, Beyeke, Pakulski and Rhoden. That wasn't too surprising, but I thought Correa should have been in that callout as well. I was sitting next to the guys from RXMuscle and they thought Correa should have been in the callout too. They had him pegged to win the whole show!
It was easy to see that the top three was going to be Abiad, Beyeke and Pakulski, but I wasn't sure about the order. At first, I thought Abiad had it hands down because he was so sharp and his shape was better than Pakulski's. Beyeke had the best shape, but he was too smooth, especially in the back of his lower body. As the judging progressed, I thought Abiad started to flatten out a bit and he lost that "pop." It became more noticeable that he wasn't as full as he needed to be.
Ben got stronger during the callout while Abiad faded. Beyeke looked about the same and had a thin film of water the entire time. I also thought Beyeke lacked calves, but anyone standing next to Pakulski is going to lack lack calves unless his nickname is The House! Beyeke didn't know how to hit a back double biceps pose either: he scrunched his shoulder blades together much like Paul Dillet used to.
Correa, Rhoden and Pakulski put their best sides forward.
Correa never did a comparison with the top guys like I thought he should have, and based on the way he was compared and moved around in the callouts, it looked like he would be in fifth. (Chris Aceto from RXMuscle wasn't too pleased with the way Correa was overlooked.)
After the judging, I talked with a few people to get their opinions. Those opinions were all over the place. Some people thought Correa should chalk up a win based on his conditioning. It was split between Pakulski and Abiad for first and second. Most people had Beyeke in third. From my seat in 10 feet from the stage, I saw Ben in first, Abiad in second, Beyeke in third, Correa in fourth and Rhoden rounding out the top five.
While waiting for the show to start, I chatted with IFBB Pro judge, Brian Bullman. Brian wasn't judging the Flex Pro, he was the guy on stage pointing out where the guys should stand making sure they were all on stage at the right time. (My hat is off to Brian. That is not any easy job.)
Brian pointed out that the Flex Pro had the top judges in the IFBB; All of them had judged an Olympia - there's no higher rank than that. I asked Brian who he thought looked best in the lineup. From his vantage point on the side of the stage, it isn't easy to see. (The judges sit directly in front of the stage, so they see a whole different perspective.) Brian could tell from back in the pump-up room, however, that Eduardo Correa was easily the best conditioned guy in the show.
When the routines began, I was looking to see if Abiad had filled out or if he was still flat. After his routine I concluded he was a little bit fuller and still tight.
Correa, Beyeke and Abiad hit their best "lights out" shots.
The next thing I was expecting to see was a sharper Beyeke. He's working with Hany Rambod so I thought they'd make adjustments to improve for the night show. If they made adjustments, I couldn't tell because I thought he looked even smoother at night. At first I thought it was just my eyes, but even one of the guys from Flex magazine agreed that Beyeke was smoother. I thought Beyeke needed to lose about five pounds of water to have the sharpness he needed to pull off a decisive win.
I also wondered if Pakulski would hold his conditioning. After seeing his routine, I thought he had. He looked about the same, but might have eaten a few too many carbs because his stomach seemed to bloat a little when he was in relaxed stances.
Finally, I wanted to see if Rhoden could sharpen up. If he wasn't tighter, I was certain that he would leave the fourth place, or possibly third, open for Correa. Because Correa was so well-conditioned, I just couldn't see him lower than fourth. Sure he wasn't quite as big, but conditioning has been rewarded in so many other shows, it just seemed that it would be recognized in this one too.
Return of the Titans: Pro bodybuilding is back!
The Top Five
After the confirmation judging round, the final five competitors were called out. Unsurprisingly, Abiad, Beyeke, Correa, Pakulski and Rhoden were the finalists. I wasn't sure though, about the placings.
When the announcement for Correa placing fifth was made, the crowd booed. That happens all the time at shows. Sometimes, I agree with the judges' decisions and sometimes I don't. And while I wasn't booing, I did think that Correa should have been placed higher than Rhoden.
As I waited for the top three to be announced, I tried to figure out how the chips would fall. Would Abiads's conditioning, which resulted in him being too flat, be rewarded? Could Pakulski pull out his first win despite not having the most pleasing shape and proportion? How would Beyeke fare? He had the best shape and plenty of size, but some of his poses were awkward and he was clearly holding water.
I've seen about 20 pro shows and I know how the process works, so I quickly made up my mind. Conditioning is usually the determining factor in placing, so I placed Beyeke in third, Abiad in second and Pakulski in first. I thought Pakulski had the best combination that day. If Beyeke was sharper, he would have had the lights out win.
The judges, however, saw it differently. Abiad was third. Pakulski was second and Beyeke was declared the winner.
Beyeke brings home the big one.
2012 FLEX PRO RANKING
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
11 DeShaun Grimez
12 Stan Efferding
13 Lionel Brown
14 Oleg Emelyanov
15 Rusty Jeffers
16 Jojo Ntiforo
17 Mehmet Yildirim
Even though I saw a different outcome than the judges, I thought it was refreshing to be kept in suspense between the pre-judging and the finals.
Some shows are too predictable. Most everybody agreed with the top three, but their places were cause for some debate. That's what the forum is for!
Overall, the Flex Pro Championships was a great production. The event ran smoothly and everything moved along quickly. I like the venue. It wasn't huge, but the seating and lighting was good.
It's location was great too because Gold's Gym, Venice and the Firehouse are only a mile away. Robin Chang and the crew at Flex did a great job with the event. This show was a great warm-up for the 2012 IFBB Pro season.
I'd like to give a shout-out to the guys in the IFBB Pro section for chiming in on play-by-play, posting photos, and giving me advice on how to type better on a Kindle Fire. (My favorite typo was my Kindle auto-filling "Rhoden" with "duodenum." ) Thanks, guys! It was a blast.