After 10 attempts at taking the title and despite rumors flying across the message boards of his retirement, Lee Priest showed everyone in attendance and those watching via the first-ever webcast, that he was carved, ripped, chiseled and in first place at the end of the night.
With an extensive competitive line-up of high-caliber athletes, the 2006 Iron Man Pro in Pasadena, California, provided an interesting and refreshing display of muscle-clad physiques with a surprising emphasis on aesthetics.
It looks like the recent IFBB mandate is being taken seriously by the athletes. It was most enjoyable watching a contest without many of the competitors sporting bulging abdomens, which looked like they were about to burst.
The wide shoulders and tiny wasp waists, which have long been the trademark of a bodybuilder, were back in style and they helped kick off the first IFBB pro show in the 2006 season.
It looked to be a repeat of rainy weather conditions for the third year in a row. Los Angeles was getting hit by downpours on Friday night, but the showers lessened over night and held off for most of the day. Despite the cool weather conditions, things heated up inside the Pasadena Civic Auditorium as the athletes took the stage one by one in the Introductory Round.
The Introductory Round
Each athlete was called out for the mandatory poses to see what kind of shape he was in. From this first round it was evident Lee Priest was here to win. And so was David Henry.
Troy Alves, Mark Dugdale and Kris Dim were also in great shape and would be ready to battle it out for the top five. Erik Bui and Toney Freeman looked really good too and it would be very interesting to see how these guys would stack up once they were standing next to one another.
There were many new faces of European bodybuilders that came to strut their stuff to an American crowd. Some of the guys looked really good and others looked, well, as my thirteen-year-old son summed it up,
before they compete here?"
Let's just say a few national championships from smaller European countries don't equal the caliber of athletes that win the Mr. California. Enough said on that.
The first callout in the Symmetry Round was comprised of Lee Priest, Troy Alves and David Henry. It was obvious these guys had first, second and third place wrapped up.
The callouts for the Muscularity Round again featured Priest, Alves, and Henry. One thing that I noticed about Troy Alves was that it looked like he had sat on a towel between rounds and wiped off the oil off his glutes and hamstrings. That's an amateur mistake and surprised me to see that Troy had done that.
The rest of the callouts were done for the rest of the competitors to rank them all in order. It took a little while to get all the guys up there and placed because of the amount of athletes that were in the show.
The Final Callout:
On the final callout of the judging, Priest and Henry were compared one more time, which all but clinched Alves for a third-place slot. This was an intense match up, but Lee Priest overwhelmed David Henry when it came to size. Because both were similar in height, it was very apparent that Priest dominated in the mass department.
Priest weighed in at 209, which made him about 10 pounds heavier compared to last year. Henry weighed in at 196. Much of bodybuilding is an onstage illusion and carb loading affects an athlete's size and weight after the weigh-in, but Priest looked to outweigh Henry by 30 pounds not 10-15. It was very dramatic.
By himself, David Henry looked like the epitome of physique perfection. He had size and beautiful shape along with small joints. Henry had little details, striations and crisp little indentations all over his body. His back has no equal. Sure Ronnie's is bigger, but Henry's back is unbelievable when you see it move and twist.
There are these little spindly striations rippling through his lats and lower back when he pulls his arms back and rotates them. Henry looked like he was carved from marble with incredible detail.
I spoke to David at the Expo following the judging and asked him how he felt he did and what he thought of his conditioning. "I just want to qualify," he said with a huge smile. He knew he had an Olympia qualification all wrapped up.
He was also thinking he might have an Iron Man title under his belt in a few hours. That wasn't out of the realm of possibilities either. I told Henry that he had again improved and he agreed. He works very hard and seems to train very intelligently. I asked him what his plan was before the finals and he replied with a gleam in his eye, "I have a little more drying out to do."
"More?" I asked.
Somehow he did and came in a bit sharper for the night show.
Back to the final comparison of the prejudging. If Henry looked like he was carved from marble, then Priest had to have been carved from granite - a big chunk of granite. Priest was full and ripped. He dwarfed Henry and showed lots of detail as well.
Henry might have been a tad sharper, but Lee's extreme muscle size gave him the edge. I thought Lee's back had more detail this time compared to years in the past.
There was an extra little groove between his lower lats and obliques that I haven't seen on a competitor before. (The things we writers get excited about these days!) I was confident that Priest would finally have his day as the 2006 victor of the Iron Man.
The finals got underway after the figure competition winners were announced. Lonnie Teper was again playing the role of emcee and he did an outstanding job. (Here's hoping he does the Olympia this year.) Lonnie knows the sport well and seems to know everybody involved in the sport.
He did an outstanding of job of filling up dead time - not that there was much of it. The show went along very smoothly. Lonnie began by announcing that only the top 15 would be doing their full routines. The other non-finalists would be given 30 seconds so each athlete could at least be introduced.
I was all for that as the show would have lasted until midnight had they not decide to do that. Of the 30-second routines, the most entertaining was a combined 60-second routine by Kai Greene and Rodney St. Cloud. They came out with red trunks, gloves, hats and white masks.
It was kind of fun routine watch with hip-hop dancing and robotics. Both being, ah, professional dancers, I guess helps with the entertainment levels.
The Top Ten:
I pretty much agreed with the top ten.
Armin Scholz & Chris Cook:
I liked Armin Scholz, however, and thought he deserved the tenth spot over Chris Cook. His conditioning was better than Cook's and Armin has a lot of mass on his frame. Despite his enormous size, his coloring could have been darker.
Ahmad Haidar wasn't as sharp as he has been in the past. He still looked good, had a nice routine but needed to be drier.
Eryk Bui was in great shape and weighed about 200 pounds for his pro debut. Everything flows well with his physique and he poses smoothly.
The only thing that I see holding him back in future competitions is that he looks short. Some shorter guys look proportionately taller, but Eryk tends to look a little short.
Toney Freeman was in awesome shape. He's bigger than his last show too. What's unbelievable is that, at his height, he still looks lanky despite his overwhelming muscle size. I think he could hide that in his posing a little because certain poses show that lankiness more than others.
Mustafa Mohammed had a large following at the show. After almost any pose he hit in the prejudging the howls of approval echoed through the auditorium. When Mustafa was announced in sixth place, booing had replaced the approval howls. I'm not sure why, really. He was big and has huge freaky-shaped thighs, but his conditioning was off and his placing was justified.
Dugdale & Dim:
There were more boos when Dugdale's and Dim's placings were announced. That seemed strange too. I thought the judging was dead-on. It was very close between the two and if the placings would have been switched, that would have been fine too. So what was the booing for? I'm not sure. Maybe it's a new trend for some of the fans who feel the need to boo something for no apparent reason when they go to a show.
Dugdale was a little bigger and looked great. His arms looked bigger and fuller than they did last year. In my opinion, Mark has the most pleasing physique in the pro ranks. He has been blessed with full muscle bellies and beautiful shape that flows elegantly throughout his entire physique. Mark has one of those physiques that the general public can relate to.
Kris Dim has an incredible shoulder to waist ratio in his back lat spread. His legs could still be a bit bigger, but it looked like he added some more width to his delts.
Troy Alves, who Teper calls the Modern-Day Frank Zane, could have been a little sharper. He was a little bigger but not on the money as he has been a few times in the past. He dedicated his routine to his father who is battling a disease right now. Troy also vowed to be in his best shape at the Arnold Classic in two weeks.
Lee Priest Wins The Iron Man
As the final-five athletes stood on the stage waiting to see what their placing would be, Lee Priest was given the Vince Gironda posing award for his dramatic and well-choreographed performance. He also won the approval of his Internet fans and was voted first place by more than 50% of their e-mails.
The indication of the approval from the live crowd and the Internet crowd showed Priest is an extreme favorite in the world of fandom. It was Lee's night.
David Henry was announced in second place. After several close decisions over the years, Lee Priest had finally won the Iron Man. He drew up his arms in the now-famous victory pose that has become his trademark. The crowd roared with approval. Superman, who looks like He-Man, finally had become Iron Man.