People that follow my articles know I generally write about nutrition, supplements, training, and other topics that are more science based than subjective, like interviews or contest coverage. However, what most people don’t know is early in my career, interviewing pro bodybuilders and covering contests was how I started out in the bodybuilding and fitness biz. In conjunction with Big Magazine, I decided to go back to my roots and cover the 25th Anniversary of the IFBB Night of Champions held May 30th each year in New York City.
The Night of Champions (NOC) started in 1978 and is considered one of the top shows in professional bodybuilding, second only to the Mr. Olympia and the Arnold Classic in its importance and prestige. It’s well known as the most “hard core” pro show on the circuit, and the notorious NY crowds make it the loudest and most enthusiastic of bodybuilding shows you will ever attend. Combine that with the background of Manhattan itself, one of the worlds truly great cities, and you have a must see show. I myself grew up in Brooklyn NY, so this was something of a “returning to my roots trip” for me.
This year, for the 25th Anniversary of the NOC, they added a women’s pro bodybuilding show, women’s pro fitness, a women’s pro figure competition, and a killer after show party! The NOC is also a very international show, with competitors from all over the globe. Add to that the fact the show was being held on my birthday (May 30th)… Bottom line, there was no way I was going to miss the 25th Anniversary of the NOC!
Now, my style for covering such shows is a little different from others writers. Personally, I find simply describing each competitor and how they looked as boring as death to write, and I always find such articles boring as death to read. So, I am not going to describe each and every competitor as there were no less than four full competitions going on at one time and the pictures that accompany this write-up is better than 1000 words I could write anyway, not to mention I only have so much space to write in.
Figure competitions are a fairly recent spin off from fitness shows. To compete in fitness you need to have both a great body (for the one piece and two piece swim suit part) and the athletic ability to do a high energy routine. The result of this is that women with strong gymnastics, dance, and cheerleading backgrounds tend to dominate the fitness competitions which leaves women who look great in a swim suit-but lack the strong gymnastics/dance/cheerleading background-unable to place well in fitness shows. Thus, the figure competition was a logical spin off of the fitness competition where women who are in great shape and look great in a one piece and two piece bathing suits, have their own competition. Not terribly surprising, the figure competition tends to be quite popular with the male segment of the audience!
Now it might seem quite straight forward to judge such a competition, but as a judge myself, I can tell you it’s anything but simple. The judges have to find the perfect balance between muscularity, symmetry, bodyfat levels, skin tone, skin color, poise, stage presence, and femininity. When you are looking at over 30 beautiful women, all of whom fit the above requirements, it’s not as easy at it appears to pick the worthy winner, then go onto figure out second through the top fifteen or so placements. This show had over 30 competitors, all in great shape.
The competitors were:
Though all the women in this show had clearly done their home work, it was interesting to see the vastly different body types that ranged from tall and slender to short and muscular. I suspect many of the women presented too much muscle for the judges, even though they had great physiques. In the end, the judges picked Davana Medina as the winner, with Jenny Lynn in second place and Mari Kudla rounding off third place.
Though not quite as large as the women’s figure competition with eighteen competitors, the women’s fitness was no less competitive, if not more so than the figure. The fitness competition requires the same swim suit rounds as the figure, but has the addition of a routine that usually combines various disciplines from dance to gymnastics and martial arts.
The competitors were:
This was a tough show to judge as there were several standouts, and the judges have to balance the quality of the routines against how they look in swim wear. However, Kelly Ryan was clearly dominating the competition after they judges witnessed her amazing routines. Some of them do strength moves well, some do dance moves well, some do gymnastics moves well, but Kelly’s routines have it all in spades. Add to that her infectious stage presence and her great condition for the swim suit rounds, and this show was a lock for her. She took first place and the audience (including this writer) were in total agreement with that decision. Rounding out the top five was Stacy Hilton in second place, Anna level in third place, Julie Palmer in fourth place, and Tracey Greenwood in fifth place.
The all new women’s bodybuilding competition to the NOC had three weight classes: light, middle, and the heavy weights. In the lights weights division was Maria Lehtonen, Fannie Barrios, Mary Ellen Terumbo, Rosemary Jennings, Denise Masino, and Angela Debatin. From the minute she hit the stage and started posing, it was clear Denise Masino was spot on in her conditioning and ready to do battle. She was probably in the best condition of her pro career, and she walked away with the first place win for the class. Denise is also the publisher of Muscle Elegance Magazine which presents muscular women in very (read X rated…) sexy settings. Rounding out the top three was Rosemary Jennings in second place and Maria Lehton in third.
The middle weights only had four competitors: Kim Harris, Heike Jung, Desiree Ellis, and Jeannie Paparone. Kim Harris edged out Desiree Ellis (2nd place) for the class, with Jeanie Paparone taking third.
Big is the word that would be used to describe my first impression of the women’s heavyweights. However, in great shape, is not. There were some huge woman in the class, but many were no where close to pro level condition. In the heavy weights were: Maria Calo, Zdenka Razymova, Emma Sue, Betty Viana, Lisa Aukland, Carmella Key, Christine Envall, Karen Marillier, Beth Roberts, Donna Logue, Barbora Mrazkova, and Heather Foster. Within fairly short order it became apparent who would dominate the class. Betty Viana was the “bodybuilder’s bodybuilder” in this show. She was in great condition, with fantastic symmetry and clean classic lines, great stage presence, and more than enough muscle to please the hard core NY crowd. She was impressive form all angles and has Ms. Olympia written all over her. Definitely the name to watch in women’s pro bodybuilding. Rounding out the top three was Zdenka Razymova in second place, and Barbora Mrazkova in third place.
The overall… (or lack there of). I wish I could tell you who won the overall, but there was no overall! Don’t ask me why. In my view, if you have weight classes, someone should be awarded an overall trophy so they can claim the overall title of a show, in this case the NOC. I hope they will add an overall winner next year as that’s only fair to the ladies and the crowed. Personally, I am not a big fan of weight classes in a professional show. As a professional athlete, you either hang with the big boys-or in this case big women-or you don’t, but that’s just me I suppose…
The NOC is always a much anticipated show because (a) it tends to be a very diverse show and (b) many competitors make their pro debut at this show and (c) many European bodybuilders make their pro US debut at the NOC. The result is that you get to see many new faces, and I for one enjoy seeing more than the same old faces you find at most of the other pro shows in the US. This year did not disappoint as there were many new men competing at the NOC.
The competitors and their respective placings were:
1) Victor Martinez
2) Pavol Jablonicky
3) Craig Titus
4) King Kamali
5) Johnnie Jackson
6) Bob Cicherillo
7) Art Atwood
8) George Farah
9) Milos Sarcev
10) Rodney St. Cloud
11) Toney Freeman
12) Heiko Kallbach
13) Jeffrey Long
14) Mike Morris
15) Ronnie Rockel
16) Craig Richardson
17) Idrise Ward-El
18) Bruce Patterson
19) Tommi Thorvildsen
20) Milton Holloway
Men that competed but didn’t make top twenty cut: Wong Hung, Oleg Makchantzev, Jean-Pierre Fux, Mike Sheridan, Berry Kabov, Rudi Solomon, Alexander Vishnevski, Mustafa Mohammad, Jeramy Freeman, Rod Ketchens, Kenny Jones, Gustavo Badell, Clifton Torres, Valentin Jabes, Jocelyn Pelletier, Kamal El-Gargni, Leon Brown, Aaron Maddron, Fred Bigot, Evgeny Mishin, and Nelson DeSilva.
Now that’s a lot of competitors! This was a tough show and each and every spot was highly contested, with people winning or losing a placing by a single point. I will briefly give a run down of my impressions of the top five:
Fifth place, Johnnie Jackson. In a word, thick! Big full muscle bellies, particularly his pecs. He was in great condition, and combined that with ultra round full muscle bellies with a small waist and solid posing abilities. I would have had no problems with him placing higher honestly.
Fourth place, King Kamali. King is blessed with one of the most eye catching frames in the sport. He has naturally super wide shoulders and round delts and wide lats that makes him stand out in a line up, thus he gets the attention of the judges in a crowded stage and that clearly helps his placings. King is thick and has eye pleasing symmetry. He is also one of the most fun free posers to watch as he does a sort of robotic break dance routine that gets the crowed fired up. However, he was holding a slight film of water under his skin at this show and he needs to bring up his thigh sweep, and reduce his obliques, to further increase the illusion of the X frame shape and small waist. I also felt he had a tad too much oil on that that worsened the effect of the water he was holding.
Third place, Craig Titus. Craig has many natural gifts as a bodybuilder and a few drawbacks. However, like all smart bodybuilders, he is great at emphasizing his strengths and hiding his weaknesses. His strengths are his killer legs, big ass triceps, round delts, and overall balanced physique combined with solid posing and a great confident stage presence and good skin prep. He has also brought his waist down a bit and has learned to control his abs much better, not letting them relax and “all hang out” so to speak (see my comments below regarding that topic). However, Craig was in good condition, but he was not in great condition, and appeared to have spilled over a bit, which detracted from his overall appearance and relegated him to third place by a single point.
Second Place, Pavol Jablonicky In a word, ripped, shredded, peeled! Ok, that was three words. Pavol has been on the pro circuit for some years now, and at forty, he is not a young man, yet he continues to improve. He was by far the best conditioned person on stage, and he was full enough not to look ripped yet flat. His shape and overall symmetry is quite good, but not exactly Flex Wheeler good. His glutes, delts, and lower back had striations on their striations! He carries some truly impressive and quality muscle on his frame and is always a threat for top spot when he is “on.” He really does not have any bodyparts that could be considered weak in relation to his other bodyparts.
In other words, a very balanced physique. What really hurts him is a seeming total lack of skin preparation. Little to no tan (real or otherwise), and little to no oil, which really detracts from his appearance. His hair is sort of non- style, and his stage presence is on the stiff side, though he poses well enough. If he would make the effort to improve the overall package he presents to the judges, Pavol would be top five in any show any place, if not win outright. That he took second at this show in spite of all that is testament to just how good he is when is he in his best shape.
First pace, Victor Martinez. By shear coincidence, Victor is a New Yorker and the crowed went ballistic with its approval over his first place finish at the NOC. Though it took a while to hash him out of this big line up, it became very apparent that Victor was destined for top five placing and probably the man to beat at this show after the first few rounds of call outs at pre judging. You could tell the other competitors could feel it also. Though there were many quality physiques in this show, Victor presented the true total package at the NOC. Victor was hard as nails, with a super tight midsection, and very impressive overall shape and symmetry.
He has a great X frame (wide square shoulders that tapers down to a small waist only to flare back out from the sweep in the quads giving the illusion of an X). He displayed some truly righteous wheels (big quads!), superb back density with a wicked Christmas tree lower back that tapered right into his striated glutes. No doubt, Victor has real potential in the pro ranks and is someone to fear if he can continue to come in this type of condition show to show while making slight overall improvements. He could learn to pose his back from the front a bit better, and if he can get his hams to match his quads, and add a touch of medial delt mass to further improve his V taper, there will be few pros out there to stand in his way to future titles.
Most Overlooked: In my opinion the most overlooked guy in this show had to be Heiko Kallbach of Germany. This guy was a total freak and the crowed loved him. He had muscle on top of his muscle. He was hard as granite over steel, as hard as any bodybuilder has ever been. Huge ripped quads, giant arms, and a back reminiscent of Dorian Yates.
For such a big man, his shape was not half bad (though Flex Wheeler and Shawn ray he aint), and really no weak bodyparts to speak of. In fact, Doran was sitting right over my right shoulder and commented to me that you just don’t see big men like that in that type of condition these days. His lats were a little high from the front, but that may have been more how he posed than anything, and he needs to pose so as to keep maximum quad sweep showing, but those are small issues. I do have one major issue with him, and I cover that below shortly as it applies to him and many others.
There have been many super freaks in bodybuilding in the past and present, but none I know of that can come in that hard and full. He may have just ushered in the era of the Super Mega Freak! In fact, his placement (12th) may have been more that the judges didn’t know what to do with him, so he sort of got lost in the shuffle. Definitely someone to keep an eye out for.
Final comments on the Men
If there was one thing many, even most, of the competitors in this show suffered from visually, it was big distended stomachs. Some of them looked like the creature from the first Aliens movie was going to burst right out on stage, covering everyone in gore. Worse, most made very little effort to control it. It’s a matter of debate just what causes the affliction (don’t get me started!), but what is not up for debate is the need for bodybuilders to learn to control it. It really detracts from the overall look and I suspect was the reason for some of the poor placings of otherwise good bodybuilders. For example, Craig Titus, who used to be criticized for this, has clearly worked on the problem of controlling the midsection bloated look on stage, and it’s cleary worked in his favor with the judges. Another big man who totally mastered it was Dorian Yates. He never let his gut hang out, even when in the back line up as did Crag at this years NOC. I would say the Euro bodybuilders were the worst offenders in this show, but there were certainly some US pros that looked 6-8 months pregnant. Not good mojo….
Party Party Party!
This momentous 25th anniversary NOC concluded with a great party. This one was a who’s who of well-known bodybuilders, industry people, fans, wise guy writers (me!) and of course fitness models to boot. Good times…