The Right Choice - 2004 NPC USA's Review!

Chris Cook came in with the hype. Mark Dugdale had the might. And, Will Harris finally got it right...
Chris Cook came in with the hype. Mark Dugdale had the might. And, Will Harris finally got it right.

Cook, the 2003 USA Superheavyweight champ, was the compelling favorite to toss the dice and put his opponents on ice at last weekend's '04 shebang, held, as always, at the Artemus Ham Auditorium on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Although Cook left the arena sans his pro card (Richard Jones and Mike Dragna won those), the guy I nicknamed "The New Blond Bomber" a couple of years back inked deals with MRM and Weider, was featured on five magazine covers in the ensuing months and, with wife Denise, moved into a new home in Castaic, California. Life was sweet. The '04 USA crown, and the elusive pro card, was at his feet. Fans raved about his pre-contest condition, and those who saw him pose down a few fellow USA contenders at the LA Championships a week before the USA thought Chris was really cookin'.

He tipped the scales at 251 at the weigh-in, five pounds heavier than last year. The stage was set, and Cook was the sure bet in most circles.

If you read my News and Views column in the August issue of Ironman, however, you know I warned of a real threat to the crown, a guy who opened up a lot of eyes at the '03 USA with a powerful third place finish behind only Jones and Kris Dim in the Lightheavyweight class. I was so impressed with Dugdale that I immediately told anyone who would listen that this 29-year-old from Woodinville, Washington could definitely win it all.

Dugdale was certainly on the Mark in 'Vegas. At a shade over 5'6", he weighed in at a super tight 196 pounds. But, not only would the father of three have to fret about Cook, he also had to listen about the new and improved version of Will (The Thrill) Harris, who finally looked like the bodybuilder we all knew he could be if he ever learned how to peak. Harris, at 226, took the Overall at the LA a week earlier, and dropped three pounds as he also dropped into the Heavyweight class at the USA.

Could a best ever Dugdale still be superior to the likes of larger men like Cook and Harris? From the moment I saw him back stage, I felt Dugdale would walk away with the Overall trophy. He gave a new meaning to the word "polished." Dugdale was great last year; he was at least 10 percent better this time around. His conditioning was on the money, and he left no stone unturned. His color was perfect; he posing was professional and confident. The man had "Winner" stamped on his forehead the moment he took off the sweats in the pump up room.

After the Friday night pre-judging, most "experts" in the auditorium felt it would be Dugdale and Harris-if Will could get by Florida ace Markus Haley-who would leave the desert with IFBB cards, allowing them to move on to the next level. Especially if Cook, who wasn't in any better condition than he was a year earlier, didn't present a sharper look at the finals, Chris has huge calves, outstanding thighs and big guns, but the area's where he needed more thickness and separation-his chest and back-were not locale's of enhancement.


2004 NPC USA Review!
One of the hottest shows of the year (literally) took place in Las Vegas, NV on July 15-18. The contest was talked about and hyped by many. Find out who won, who should have won and more...
[ Click here to learn more. ]

When Chris didn't show any upgrading over the night before, I felt the two pro cards would go to Dugdale and whoever took the Heavyweight class. It ended up being, as I expected, Harris, whose 5'8", 223-pound overall package of shape and conditioning was too much for Haley, and impressive third place finisher Faramarz Aghazadeh, to overcome.

Middleweight winner Garrett Allin, the homeboy from 'Vegas, was an imposing winner in his class and Lightweight champ "Ripped" Ralph Gaxiola, looked tremendous. But, how often can someone give up that much size and still have a shot at the Overall? It's happened, but it wasn't gonna happen here.

The judges handed me the results (Teper has been the emcee of the USA every year but one since 1993 and has hosted every Nationals event since that time) and it ran true to form. No more amateur shows for Mark and Will; Cook again has to get back to the drawing board. It was, without question, the right call.

But, don't feel sorry for Chris just yet. The kid is only 27-years-old and makes around 100K annually with his contracts, guest posings, etc. He is cordial to the fans, and has built up a large following.

True, he didn't present any gains from a year ago, but he's got time on his side, especially if past history is any indication. Harris, who took two years away from competing, is in his late 30s. Last season's Nationals winner, Matt DuVall, was 31, a relative youngster these days for winning a pro card. Toney Freeman, who took the same show a year earlier, was 36, the same age as Idrise Ward-El was when he copped the USA in 2002.

Troy Alves was 36 when he turned pro; bodybuilding.com rep Bob Cicherillo was 34 when he stood on the same 'Vegas stage in 2000, his hand raised as the champ. Hell, Dale Hicks, who finished sixth in the Lightheavyweight class, is 19 years older than Cook!

Yes, on this weekend Dugdale, Smith and the judging panel definitely did it right. But, don't be in a hurry to think Chris Cook is now out of sight.

Be sure to also check out:
2004 NPC USA Results & Pictures!