Early Favorites at the 2008 NPC Nationals

by George DePirro

November 20, 2008


The 2008 NPC Nationals kicks of tomorrow in Atlanta, Georgia. There, the winner of each of the seven men’s weight classes has the opportunity to join the brotherhood of IFBB pros. The contest carries with it a high degree of drama and gives fans and competitors alike a chance to glimpse the new breed. A representative for each class is listed below. These athletes aren’t guaranteed a win, but as they have exemplified flashes of potential in the past as well as competitive grit, their physiques are very likely to be considered when the top man in their class is determined.


The top four at this year’s USA will be at it again, only this time one will graduate to the pros. Nunn grabbed top honors in Las Vegas and is the early favorite to do so again here. The road will likely be harder in Atlanta, as Nunn was the only competitor out of the top four to nail his conditioning at the USAs. We can’t see that happening again (or we hope it doesn’t happen again). Nunn needs only to bring up his back width and thickness to stand well above the other front runners, but that’s a tall order with only four months between the USAs and the Nationals. Most of the other names here have been around the block, so we are most looking forward to the Nationals debut of young guns like xx-year-old Steve Kucklo, who looked very impressive when guest posing at the Kentucky Pro Figure show two weeks ago.
Other super-heavyweights to watch: Grigori Atoyan, Kirk DeFrancesco, Stephen Frazier, Steve Kucklo Malcolm Marshall

HEAVYWEIGHTS: Michael Lockett

Lockett won the heavyweight and overall titles at the 2006 Team Universe and the super-heavyweight and overall at the 2007 Junior Nationals. The 26-year-old former boxer from the Cleveland area has potential to go far in the sport, but his appearances have been sporadic up until now. Certainly gifted, he’ll need to drop about 20 pounds from his Junior Nationals win to make the weight-class cutoff, and his presence in the mix will probably maintain the quality of the heavyweight class, even though last year’s top five won’t be present.
Other heavyweights to watch: Mark Alvisi, Trey Brewer, Anthoneil Chapagnie, Mike Liberatore


Putnam’s amateur career has been well-documented, perhaps moreso than any in recent memory, and he enters this contest as the most decorated and publicized athlete in the NPC ranks. After winning the light-heavyweight class at the 2007 USAs, Putnam placed a close second to Charles Dixon at last year’s Nationals. He bypassed this year’s USAs in order to focus on hitting paydirt in Atlanta. Nailing his conditioning has never been a problem for Putnam, so if he shows improvement in his back and chest he is the odds-on favorite to win the class. But with only one chance to prove that was the right decision, the pressure is on Putnam this weekend.
Other light-heavyweights to watch: Al Auguste Alan Bailey, Monty Mabry, Darrell Terrell

Even though it’s only Cisternino’s second year at the NPC national level, the 26-year-old from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, has shown plenty of promise and is in demand as a guest poser. In 2007, he won the middleweight class at the Junior USA and placed second to wily veteran Jose Raymond at the Nationals. This year, Cisternino weighed 180 shredded pounds three weeks out, so he should be able to cruise into Atlanta near the middleweight upper limit of 1761/4 pounds. His conditioning, especially when viewed from the back, really made him stand out last year in Dallas and could do the same here.
Other middleweights to watch: Devon Bender, Blas Montalvo, Sacha Pasquet

Missing out by only a point to Carlo Filippone in last year’s welterweight class, Stoilov should be poised to lock up the division, especially after coming off a Masters Nationals middleweight-class win a few months ago. Stoilov, who lives in Bensenville, Illinois, has superb leg definition and wide lats. Originally from Bulgaria, Stoilov has adjusted well to national-level contests in the United States.
Other welterweights to watch: Alex Azarian, Ralph Gaxiola , Jeff Olcsvary

Of all active NPC athletes, Ward, from Trenton, New Jersey, has the most prestigious resume and is one of only a few to have had a degree of success at the international level. With his history as Nationals bantamweight champ in 1999 and 2003, as well as the only bantamweight overall winner at a national-level contest at the 2000 Team Universe, he could have had a pro qualification three times over under the current rules. Proportionally, it’s hard to better Ward for condition and symmetry, and his taper is inspirational. Celebrating his 37th birthday the day before prejudging and nicknamed “Muscle Demon,” 5’2″ Ward may now have incentive to go pro to compete in the sub-202 division, giving impish fits to the field even though he’ll still be outweighed by almost 50 pounds.
Other lightweights to watch: Kelly Bautista, Leonardo Pacheco, Travis Rogers

Over the last four years, 5’3″ Abaco has been a formidable national-level bantam competitor, with runner-up berths in the last two national championships to go along with his 2006 USA class win. After he rose to the top at the USA, the 46-year-old from Rocklin, California, has focused solely on the Nationals. That kind of direction could end up paying dividends for him in Atlanta. He certainly has the muscle maturity and some freaky vascularity in his arms, but youngster Dave Candy nipped him at last year’s show. Like many bantams, his legs aren’t overly large, but he should get the prejudging going with a fine showing in the lightest of the seven classes.
Other bantamweights to watch: Rafael Campuzano, Scott Foster, Johnny McKnight IV