If the prejudging was anything to go by, the 2008 Ironman Pro would present its share of surprises in the form of low placements for several of bodybuilding's established pros', while heralding in some new, quality beef to the upper ranks of the season opener.
Traditionally the Ironman is a show that attracts a large number of competitors all vying to establish themselves ahead of the season's remaining contests.
A handful of these men return year after year before they finally break through to the top ten, and of these a few even go on to win. Fifty precent remain out of the money and a source of ridicule for armchair critics like myself. But all deserve immense respect for turning pro and making it to the Ironman stage.
They are champions all. Of the usual 30 or so yearly Ironman competitors, less than a handful or so could be considered top tier. The 2008 Ironman once again showcased its usual handful (or two handfuls') of established competitors: men like Toney Freeman, David Henry and Troy Alves.
Phil Heath, Moe El Moussawi and Desmond Miller, first, third and sixth respectively.
Gustavo Badell, in second, signalled his return to top form and positioned himself as an Arnold Classic favorite, while the ever-impressive Silvio Samuel came in fourth with "Mr. Traps" Johnny Jackson in fifth and "Mr. Wheels" Desmond Miller in sixth.
Phil Heath would be the man to beat, such was his crisp lines, the additional 15 pounds of quality, evenly distributed muscle he had gained and the winning attitude he presented. For my money it was either Gustavo or Moe in second.
The latter was slightly sharper and presented better leg development in my view while the former had a superior upper body and was more vocally and physically aggressive, which strangely enough seems to attract positive attention from the judges (think the 2006 San Francisco Pro where a softer Gustavo beat a ripped to shreds Branch Warren with much grunting from Gustavo's side).
Well, that was my interpretation. Here is how it transpired in actuality.
The Top Six: How It Was
First: Phil Heath
From the outset,
Phil Heath gave the fans exactly what they had been expecting several weeks prior: 15 or so pounds of additional muscle on a ripped to shreds frame, complete with jaw dropping arms and improvements to his previous problematic chest.
With all of these qualities, along with his usual tremendous X-frame and massive, shapely calves (uncharacteristic for a man of his race), capped off with a deserved air of superiority, Phil was the man to beat. And so it was: a third pro win in as many years for Phenomenal Phil, the man who holds the justifiable moniker, "The Gift".
With Victor out it really only leaves the mountainous Jay for Phil to climb and with none of Jay's shortcomings and plenty of his own advantageous qualities Phil just might do the Impossible. Let's hope he takes plenty of oxygen.
Second: Gustavo Badell
If there were an award for "most vocal bodybuilder while competing"
Gustavo Badell would be a multiple winner with no direct challengers' in the foreseeable future.
It is impossible to overlook Gustavo on any bodybuilding stage, regardless of his conditioning and chance of success: with his perpetual grunting you are drawn to him like whether you like it or not. If this is one of his strategies to ensure he is not overlooked, it works, and whatever works should continue to be done. Look for more grunting from Badell in future contests.
After this showing it would be easy to say we should never count Gustavo out. And this is true. But equally true is the fact that the Ironman is no Arnold Classic or Olympia and it remains to be seen if he can once again hit the top five at either of these contests'.
Third: Moe El Moussawi
In 2007 we had
Kai Greene and
Silvio Samuel as breakthrough athletes. This year we have a man who has more sheer overall potential, muscle quality and balance than either of these two:
Moe El Moussawi. From the moment he strode onstage at the prejudging, it was evident he had it all: full muscle bellies, no apparent weaknesses anywhere, ripped, grainy conditioning and great stage presence.
Fans and insiders have been talking about Moe for several years' now and most of the discussion has centered on whether he could pull it all together to impress the judges with a physique he had all the potential in the world to present.
He certainly has the muscle and shape to do this. The only thing holding him back has been conditioning. Now he has nailed this aspect of his presentation there will be no stopping him. Good work Moe: statistically New Zealand's best ever, professional bodybuilder.
Fourth: Silvio Samuel
Silvio presented his usual great conditioning, but the hype surrounding his physique is now blowing over and alongside other, equally well-conditioned athletes, it is evident he does not have the best shape and
Fifth: Johnny Jackson
Johnny is always great to see onstage. Thick, full muscle capped off with some of the most impressive traps and shoulders ever seen on any competitor, the Texan is always in the fight. In the comparisons, Johnny looked as wide as he was tall, a massive ball of muscle, no doubt a product of his extensive power-lifting background.
Sixth: Desmond Miller
Other than the outstanding Moe Moussawi,
Desmond Miller was another big surprise of the evening, at least in my eyes. Photos taken a few days out from this show presented a gaunt, soft Desmond looking like he would barely make the top ten. What a difference a few days can make to the appearance of a top line bodybuilder?