In a fitting launch of the highly anticipated 2004 IFBB roster of shows, the Ironman Pro Invitational has attracted a fight card worthy of the year’s first pro slugfest. Leading the pack is Dexter “The Blade” Jackson, third place finisher in the 2003 Mr. Olympia and winner of the GNC Show of Strength, who decided to jump into the fray only recently. Also a latecomer to the Ironman is Lee Priest. The Awesome Aussie is looking to go from down under to back on top after his disappointing 14th place finish in the ’03 Olympia. Not to be outdone — nor intimidated — is the notorious Bad Boy himself Craig Titus. The agitated Boss of Bash is tired of not getting the respect he feels he’s earned after his third place finish at last year’s Night Of Champions, and will be looking to sharply elbow his way into the winner’s circle. A likely recipient of those elbows is the always enthralling Bob Cicherillo. The determined Chick has pulled out all the proverbial stops in his prep this year. He’s ready. As was reported on FLEXonline earlier, Tom Prince is still hoping to make a dramatic comeback at the Ironman after his serious health problems were diagnosed a year ago. Here’s the full lineup: Jason Arntz, Gustavo Badell, Bob Cicherillo, Ahmad Haider, David Henry, Dexter Jackson, Johnnie Jackson, Ken Jones, Rod Ketchens, Cristian Mihailescu, Dragan Pavnovic, Lee Powell, Lee Priest, Tom Prince, Ronny Rockel, Craig Titus, Clifton Torres, George Turmon and Idrise Ward-El.

Taking place in scenic Pasadena, California, on the weekend of February 20-22, the 2004 Ironman is like no other, as promoter John Balik has added a fitness expo and pro figure competition to the mix (see below for more information, including how to order tickets). Balik also announced that famed FLEX photographer Chris Lund will be receiving the annual Art Zeller award for artistic achievement in the sport. It’s a well-deserved plaudit for Lund, who normally shies away from the spotlight he is so expert at devising for others. Also earning a lifetime achievement award at the Ironman will be none other than Ben Weider, IFBB president who, along with his brother Joe, has made this sport what it is today.

This year, the Ironman Pro Invitational is broadening its ambitions by expanding into an entire weekend of fitness and bodybuilding action. Besides the aforementioned men’s pro show, a women’s pro figure contest will be held on Saturday evening, with the prejudging taking place at the brand-spanking-new Ironman Fit Expo. This celebration of muscle and curves will take place in Pasadena, California, one of the great underrated cities in the Los Angeles area. The Ironman will also hold a press conference featuring competitors from both shows. The Expo lats from Friday, February 20 to Sunday February 22. If you’re in the area, missing it is not an option.

Here’s all the info.
Ironman Fit Expo , Figure Championship and Men’s Pro Invitational
February 20-22, Pasadena Center Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green Street, Pasadena, California.
Fit Expo hours: Fri/Sat/Sun, Feb. 20-22 from 11 AM to 6 PM
Press Conference: Friday, Feb. 20, 3 PM (expo stage)
Men’s Judging: Saturday, Feb. 21 at 10 AM (Civic Auditorium)
Figure Judging: Saturday, Feb. 21 at 2 PM (expo stage)
Men’s & Figure Finals: Saturday, Feb. 21 at 7 PM (Civic Auditorium)

To order, call (800) 447-0008, or visit the Ironman Magazine website.

Men’s judging, plus FREE Saturday Expo ($35, $20).
Figure judging free with purchase of expo ticket.
Finals, plus free Saturday/Sunday Expo (VIP* $125, $75, $50, $40, $25).
The VIP package includes judging an finals, expo pass, first 10 rows orchestra seating, and 2004 video ($125).

Host hotel: Pasadena Sheraton, $135 a night for singles, doubles or twins. Mention Ironman Fitness Expo to get this special rate by calling them at (626) 449-4000.
Travel: contact Georgia Baker at Plaza Travel (800) 347-4447.