With only four pro shows under his belt, Phil Heath now has three pro wins. With a stunning showing, The Gift chalked up a win at the first IFBB Pro competition of the year, the 2008 Ironman, which was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, February 16. Here's an in-depth review of the IFBB season opener.
At the same time it was disappointing not to see Toney Freeman in winning form again and it was disappointing that David Henry and Will Harris weren't in top form either. The battle between Heath and Badell, however, made up for any other disappointments.
Here's a recap of the top-ten finishers in order of their placings:
10th Place: King Kamali
I walked out to my car to grab my MacBook before the judge started.
King was just entering the building as I came back with my laptop in hand. King appeared big as a house as he walked into the Convention Center with
Milos Sarcev. Wearing some cool shades and a painted on
tan, he looked calm and ready for a battle.
I asked him if all the peanut butter and jelly had done the trick. He laughed and Milos quipped that he lost count of all the jars of peanut butter that Kamali had consumed. I walked on ahead and grabbed a seat and waited for the judging to begin.
I was very curious to see what package the King would bring to the competition since he had "turned to the dark side" as he put it and began training under Milos. Questions were asked if Kamali would be able to return to his 2001 form or bring in a bigger and better package with great conditioning.
All questions were answered when King stepped out for his turn during the first round of individual posing. He was big and his coloring was good, but I didn't think he looked as sharp as he was at the 2005 Ironman. When he was brought out for comparisons, I thought he'd make the top ten, but not much higher than possibly ninth place.
King promised to bring down the house with his posing routine and he did - even winning the Vince Gironda Posing Award, which pocketed him $1,000. I have to admit his routine was enjoyable to watch with the lock and pop stuff. (Personally, I could have done without the ripping off of the black posing trunks to reveal the red ones underneath, but to each his own, I guess.)
The crowd roared with approval and the tag-team posing display between Melvin Anthony and King was fun to watch after Anthony presented King with the Vince Gironda award. Now, if John Brown, Melvin's mentor, would have joined them on stage, that would have been a most memorable moment on a bodybuilding stage.
9th Place: Troy Alves
Alves has great
symmetry, proportion, shape, separation and size. The only very important factor he's missing conditioning. He needs to be sharper to really be in contention for a pro win.
Whenever he figures out the combination that works for him, he'll chalk up an IFBB pro victory or two. Extreme dryness has been elusive to Troy throughout his career. If he ever nails it, watch out.
8th Place: Toney Freeman
Toney Freeman was off for this show. I didn't think his conditioning was as far off as it was at the
Olympia last year, but he wasn't nearly sharp enough to be in contention for winning the show. I had in eighth or ninth place. He was a bit sharper during the finals and he looked a few pounds lighter.
I saw him at the FitExpo between shows and he didn't look nearly as sharp as when I saw him between shows last year. The big question we now have for Toney is can he get his conditioning back? He has a couple more weeks before the
Arnold Classic. Let's see what he does between the Ironman and the big show in Columbus.
7th Place: Eddie Abbew
Eddie looked much better than his Olympia outing, but not as good as last year at the Ironman. He didn't appear as dry. He was still holding some water. I'm not sure if it's Eddie's skin tone, his coloring or his oil, but something doesn't look quite right when he's standing on stage in the lights.
He has a glow about him that makes it difficult to see the fine details on his physique. He admitted some coloring mistakes at the Olympia, but I don't think he's fully corrected the problem.
6th Place: Desmond Miller
I wasn't surprised that
Desmond's wheels were great, but I was taken back by the flatness of his upper body. The top and bottom didn't match. After taking some time off, I expected to see more of a difference. It could have been some
carb loading problems.
He didn't really fade during the judging, it's just that he didn't fill up as he posed either. He just stayed the same - kinda flat. If had been fuller, he could have made the top five.
5th Place: Johnny Jackson
Milos Sarcev's other pupil looked to be in contention for an Olympia qualification after the judging. I had him in fifth place and thought he might be as high as fourth. As with many competitors in most shows, he just wasn't quite sharp enough. His hamstrings showed some good cuts, but they didn't have that shrinkwrapped look like Heath's.
Jackson has great mass, but I think his traps are a little too thick. It might help his aesthetics a bit to lay off the trap work a bit and concentrate more on delt width. This is one of those pearls of wisdom that Vince Gironda used to preach and I think many of the bodybuilders with powerlifting-type looking physiques could take this advice seriously.
4th Place: Silvio Samuel
Samuel showed up with great conditioning, but looked the same as every show he's in. He looked small compared to the three guys who placed ahead of him. Samuel has some tremendous muscle shape, separations, and great tie-ins. He hit his mandatory poses better this time.
His feet were closer together so he didn't look as awkward in his front poses. With his fourth-place finish, Silvio secured an Olympia qualification again. I thought it was fairly close between Silvio and Moe and they could have traded places in the final standings.
In order for Samuel to make some real gains and bring up his weak areas, it might be good for him to take a break from competition for a while. His delts have great shape, but overall they need to bigger. His arms are so huge it makes his deltoids appear even smaller.
He really hasn't taken an extended offseason training period since he burst onto the scene in 2006. Time off certainly has helped Phil Heath and I think a few other pros, including Silvio, could benefit from this strategy.
3rd Place:Moe El Moussawi
What a surprise! No one predicted
Moe being in the top five, but he managed to come in fantastic shape and secure a third-place finish. The minute he stepped on stage everyone knew he had nailed his conditioning. As he posed, Moe's physique reminded me of Ali Malla, one of the popular pros of the 1980s.
His structure is similar, but Moe has certainly surpassed Malla in the area of conditioning. The dryness that Moe achieved is elusive for nearly all the pros these days. If Moe has put together a winning strategy that he can stay consistent with, he'll do very well in many shows in the next few years.
2nd Place: Gustavo Badell
The noises that
Badell makes while he poses on stage always crack me up. Many guys make the hissing sound that sounds like a leaking steam pipe while they blow out their air to keep everything tight in the pose. Gustavo makes a loud "Shoooop!" noise when he hits his poses.
It's entertaining, but the other guys on stage seemed to have figured out a way to hit their poses without yelling after hitting each pose. (Hmmmm… now that I think of it, it reminds me of that scene in Pumping Iron where Arnold told how he "helped" the one guy with his posing buy telling him to scream loudly during his best poses.)
Badell was disappointed when he was announced in second place. He didn't appear angry, just disappointed. Gustavo did look good - better than the Olympia, but he wasn't as sharp as when he won the Ironman back in 2005.
I don't think he was as sharp as he was in 2004 either, but this is the best Gustavo looked in a while. If he comes down a few more pounds by the Arnold Classic, he'll do really well there.
1st Place: Phil Heath
This is the first time I saw
Phil compete. I was very impressed. In talking with several people sitting next to me, I could see that they were also impressed. Phil's arms were incredible and his hamstrings were deeply etched and his conditioning was superior to everyone in the show.
Since I haven't seen him compete before, I can't say if this was his best conditioning or not, but what I saw was really good. No one was even close to Heath conditioning wise.
It's refreshing to see a pro bodybuilder have a well thought-out game plan. Heath decided to bypass the Olympia twice (for which he was criticized for doing so by many experts in the industry).
I applauded the idea and thought there's finally a guy who isn't caught up in the I-have-to-qualify-and-compete-in-the-Olympia-every-year mindset. More offseason time gives a bodybuilder more time to grow and work on weaknesses.
Every bodybuilder has weaknesses and the trick in placing well is to have fewer weaknesses than the other guys standing next to you. As far as weak body parts go, the only things I could see for Phil to bring up a bit would be delt width and maybe a little more thickness in his chest.
He needs to keep his proportions and not get too caught up in the size game. A little size here and there will be fine, but I don't think he'll keep his lines if he adds another 15-20 pounds. Even going against Cutler at the Olympia, he'll have a better chance by staying at his current package and play the conditioning game rather than the size game.
Heath carried himself well and looked like a champion while he was on stage. It's really hard to believe that this is only his fourth pro contest, because he looks like he has been on stage for years and years. He has great stage presence and looks completely at ease on stage and, most importantly, he looks like he's enjoying himself while he's out there. Some guys look waaay too serious when they're out on stage.
Backstage after the show I was able to talk to Phil briefly. (I didn't want to hold him up too long. After a long day I knew he'd want to drink and eat something.) I asked him what his game plan was for the upcoming Arnold Classic. Here's what he had to say:
"Pretty much the same thing that we did for this show. Just to come in with as much fullness as we showcased tonight, but hopefully with a little bit better conditioning because the lighting isn't as good here as it is at the Arnold.
Quite frankly, I have no idea how exactly to go about it. Just take it day by day. That's the beautiful thing about this sport of bodybuilding is that once you get to certain point, actually, you get to be really meticulous about how the food works and become really educated about how things work with just your body.
Tonight I won't go crazy - probably as much as I'd like to. No Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. No burgers and fries and no shakes and that stuff. I've got photoshoots in the next couple days and then I've gotta get back on the cardio."
I asked Phil if he was going to give himself at least some sort of treat.
"Probably not. I'm mean, this is a treat enough. I've never been able to compete on the West Coast and I've been able to meet all you guys. This is a treat for me, to be honest. This is great. This is awesome. I hope to come back some time and hopefully win it again.
Probably not as many times as Flex Wheeler did. He won it five times! I'd definitely like to come back. As far as a treat's concerned, once you win, that's enough. When you're dieting, that's all you're thinking about is your next treat, your next sugar meal or whatever you crave.
But I'll tell you one thing, when the finished product is up there, you don't even think about it any more. You don't even care. You could care less about that stuff because you know that didn't get you there."
I told Phil that I had written the preview for the Arnold Classic and I was up in the air a bit when I was writing the article. I couldn't decide between him and Dexter. A month ago I thought Dexter would take it, but I told him he had solidified my choice and I thought he was now the favorite.
He replied, "Let's hope so!"