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February 28, 2008
Few bodybuilders have stormed into the pro ranks with the ferocity with which Mike Francois did in the mid-1990s. After winning the 1993 NPC Nationals, the-then 28-year-old Francois won the first four professional contests of his career, including a win in his debut at the Arnold Classic in 1995. Nearly 15 years later, Francois’ win streak still stands as the benchmark for wins to start a professional career, as he and Flex Wheeler remain the only men to have accomplished the feat.
As fate would have it, however, those four wins – capped off with a win at the San Jose Pro one week after the 199u5 Arnold Classic – would be the only win streak of Francois’ career, as a case of colitis cut short a promising competitive career, which ended at the 1997 Mr. Olympia. Recently, FLEXONLINE caught up with Francois to relive some past memories and take a look ahead at the 2008 Arnold Classic.
FLEXONLINE: THE 1995 ARNOLD CLASSIC WAS THE BIGGEST WIN OF YOUR CAREER. DID YOU THINK YOU HAD A CHANCE TO WIN THAT CONTEST GOING IN?
MIKE FRANCOIS: Winning the Arnold Classic was an awesome feeling for me. It holds a special meaning. In my mind Â and I would never this say to anybody – in my mind every contest I went in I felt could be the winner. I trained the way I trained, and I knew Flex [Wheeler] would be very difficult to beat just because of how good he is. Genetics-wise he was phenomenal. He has one of the all-time best physiques.
FLEX: WHAT HAPPENED IN THE REMATCH AT THE ARNOLD IN 1997, WHEN FLEX WON AND YOU FINISHED THIRD?
FRANCOIS: I feel that I probably Â I was bigger by at least 10 to 15 pounds and basically as hard Â it was just one of those times where I think Flex was on. In my mind, I felt like I at least should have gotten second, and then when it comes down to Flex and me ÂitÂ¹s apples and oranges.
FLEX: YOU NEVER SEEMED TO PERFORM AS WELL AS SOME THOUGHT YOU COULD HAVE AT THE OLYMPIA. WHY WAS THAT?
FRANCOIS: I honestly felt I could have done a little better then I did as far as the judging goes at the Olympia. I donÂ¹t think I was as on as I was for the Arnold – for some reason, whether it was the time of year and what was going on Â really  was only time I was 100 percent healthy. But I never was able to hit my peak for that one.
FLEX: WHO HAD THE BETTER PHYSIQUE, OUT OF THESE TWO PAST ARNOLD CLASSIC WINNERS: FLEX WHEELER OR Ronnie Coleman?
FRANCOIS: Aesthetics-wise I would say Flex. Maybe Flex couldnÂ¹t get as big as Ronnie. But Ronnie probably did more with what he was given.
FLEX: YOU SAT ON THE JUDGING PANEL AT A FEW ARNOLD CLASSICS. WHAT COMPETITORS STAND OUT TO YOU?
FRANCOIS: When I judged it a guy I was really impressed with was Dennis James. He was a guy I saw when I was judging, that I donÂ¹t know if had him first in that show, but I remember thinking, This guy has a great physique. I was really impressed with him. And then youÂ¹ve got the old guys like Chris Cormier, and Kevin Levrone. But Dennis James is a guy that really stands out.
FLEX: CORMIER FINISHED SECOND AT THE ARNOLD A RECORD SIX TIMES FROM 2000 TO 2005. WHAT ABOUT CORMIER STANDS OUT TO YOU?
FRANCOIS: I know ChrisÂ¹s physique because I competed against him. Nothing that stood out, everything was in balance with him. If he did beat you, you would wonder, Why did he beat me? But at same time heÂ¹s good. HeÂ¹s great. And it usually seemed like he came in in pretty good shape, and that helped him a ton.
FLEX: DO YOU HAVE ANY PREDICTIONS ON WHO IS GOING TO WIN THIS YEARÂ¹S ARNOLD?
FRANCOIS: I couldnÂ¹t predict. I know that Dexter Jackson is competing and heÂ¹s won it before. Phil Heath, IÂ¹ve and heard a lot of people talking about him. The reason I know about him is he was trying to win his first four and he didnÂ¹t. I donÂ¹t know Â didnÂ¹t he play basketball in college too?
FLEX: YES, AT THE UNIVERSITY OF DENVER.
FRANCOIS: Yeah, I’m sure he’ll probably win. I don’t know anything about it, but I think Phil Heath is going to win.
FLEX: SOME PEOPLE SAY SINCE THE LIGHTING AT THE IRONMAN IS SO GOOD, ONCE YOU GO FROM THERE TO THE ARNOLD YOU CAN’T HELP BUT LOOOK WORSE. WILL THAT PLAY A FACTOR THIS WEEKEND FOR PHIL?
FRANCOIS: When I did the Arnold and won, Flex had just won the Ironman. I donÂ¹t know if that helped him or hurt him – and then I beat him. I almost got beat in my first pro show because the lighting was horrible. John Sherman, I almost got beat by him because the lighting was horrible. I donÂ¹t want to say Arnold has lighting that bad, but I think they have a different purpose with the lighting there. So it could be a factor.
FLEX: HEATH HAS ADMITTED HE FELT A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF PRESSURE TO KEEP HIS WIN STREAK INTACT HEADING INTO THE 2007 ARNOLD CLASSIC. DID YOU FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO YOUR STREAK GOING ENTERING THE 1993 ARNOLD CLASSIC?
FRANCOIS: I didnÂ¹t even think about it. I didnÂ¹t even realize it quite honestly. I took one thing at a time. I had no idea no one hadn’t won their first 10 before, so to me, I really didnÂ¹t know. And I think now …with all that stuff online now, I think people get into that so much. I think probably he got caught up in going online everyday and reading the things people were saying. I went into my little cave here in Columbus – I really had no communication with anybody – and thatÂ¹s really the only contact I had. I donÂ¹t think there was the pressure you have now.
FLEX: LOOKING BACK, CAN YOU PUT THOSE FIRST FOUR WINS INTO PERSPECTIVE?
FRANCOIS: ItÂ¹s like a a different world to me. It seems like that was just a different person. I donÂ¹t know how to explain it. It seems like, Wow, I really did that, but it seems like it wasnÂ¹t even me doing it. The thing is I gave it everything I had. It was one of those deals where I could look at myself in the mirror and truly say I gave it everything I had.