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Their last names helped define different eras in the sport. In the late ’60s, Sergio Oliva won three Mr. Olympias. The man known as “The Myth” was the original freak of bodybuilding, boasting 23-inch arms and legs larger than his 27-inch waist. He remains the only man to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Olympia stage. From the mid-’80s into the early ’90s, there was Lee Labrada, whose polished physique earned him the moniker “Mass with Class.” Labrada boasts 22 pro wins and seven consecutive top 4 placings at the Mr. Olympia.
Oliva was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 1999, Labrada in 2004. Oliva spent three decades as a Chicago police officer before passing away in 2012 at age 71. Labrada went on to found Labrada Nutrition, one of the most successful supplement companies in the world. Today the two men’s sons—22-year-old Hunter and 29-year-old Sergio Jr.—carry on where their fathers left off, their physiques garnering much-deserved attention.
FLEX: Some kids try to follow in their father’s footsteps and others rebel. How did you guys come to choose bodybuilding?
HUNTER LABRADA: My story is a very common one among bodybuilders. I was head over heels in love with football. The mind-set I have now about how I train, how I don’t miss meals, that comes from football. Seeing dad doing it [bodybuilding], there was a transition. At one point it was so far removed from me and I didn’t understand what was going on, but by freshman year in high school, I was able to appreciate what he achieved in the bodybuilding world, that he was one of the best at the sport he chose to compete in. I came to really admire that.
I got a football scholarship to a Division 2 school, but senior year in high school I had two substantial injuries—I tore my hamstring and had an emulsion fracture in my hip—which led me to adjust my training split toward a more bodybuilding-oriented one. The changes I saw in my body and the ways my body responded to that were nothing short of extraordinary. I came to enjoy training for itself more than football or training for football. I showed up for college football and it wasn’t football with my friends anymore, it was just a sport and it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. It was a tough decision and one my dad honestly tried to steer me not to make; he knows what bodybuilding entails and he loved watching me play football. It wasn’t something he was overly excited about at first, but the past couple years have shown him I’m serious about it, so we’re both pretty happy with the decision now.
SERGIO OLIVA JR.: I was always into sports in school, but then they got boring. I got tired of being a skinny track athlete: I was 6 foot tall and 135 pounds. My dad did everything he could to keep me out of it. I think he had some bad experiences that soured him. I’d be like, “Let me go to the gym with you” and he wouldn’t take me. I think he knew if I did I would fall in love with it and do well, which I did—I put on 30 pounds in my first three months.
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Lee, was there any hesitation on your part when Hunter came to you and said he wanted to be a bodybuilder?
LEE LABRADA: Knowing how stressful bodybuilding can be on one’s body, I was concerned. But Hunter has a natural affinity and God-given genetics. I like to say God gave us those and I just passed the torch along! The kid is built like a brick house, with symmetry to boot. He’s a larger and improved version of me [Hunter is 5’9”; Lee is 5’6”]. Any time you have a son who aspires to go into a professional sport, you’re always concerned for their safety, but I couldn’t think of a better sport than bodybuilding.
Guys, do you ever feel any pressure as bodybuilders because of who your fathers were in the sport?
SERGIO: [laughs] Sure! But there’s no point in even complaining about it. Hunter hasn’t competed yet, so we still can say I’m the first bodybuilder who stepped up and took after someone who competed on the Olympia stage. I’m gonna be the biggest idiot, crying because someone wants to compare me to my dad [laughing]. I mean, who was I kidding getting into this?
HUNTER: I wouldn’t say it’s pressure. It has affected the way I view competing. I’m always going to be compared to my dad, and Sergio will probably tell you the same thing. He was having photos of himself from his first NPC show Photoshopped and put next to his dad at the Olympia. I haven’t reached that level. I’m not there yet and I know I’m not. But I know I was blessed with the same genetics and tools and even more opportunities than Dad. It’s not so much pressure as the feeling [that] I have a very large set of shoes to fill, but I am looking forward to doing the work o try to do that.
SERGIO: Hunter is right. I was a 176-pound middleweight and people were comparing me to pictures of my father on the Olympia stage, which was ridiculous. When I started competing, I won some contests and there was talk—“Oh, he only won because of who his father was.” But I feel if anything, maybe I get judged a little more harshly than others because of who my dad was. People assumed my dad was helping me get ready for my shows and he really wasn’t. I understand it, though. If I saw Arnold’s son onstage and he looked good I’d probably be like, Hmm, he could look better, he’s got Arnold helping him. There was one point separating second and third and a point separating first and second at the Junior Nationals this year [Oliva placed 3rd in the super-heavyweight class], so you can’t tell me I’m getting any favors when I lose by a point. Hunter and I are walking proof that bodybuilding is about genetics and hard work.
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Lee, did you know Sergio’s dad?
LEE: Yeah, we were friends. There was a generation gap there, but I’ve met and spoken to him.
You’re both Cuban.
LEE: I’m glad you brought that up, because there must be something in the water in Cuba! [Laughs] Sergio Sr. and I were born in Cuba; Hunter and Sergio Jr. are Cuban-American. They’re both sons of champions, though I give Sergio Sr. the nod; he’s the greater of the two of us.
SERGIO: I feel like I’m never going to live up to this guy [Oliva Sr.] unless I win four Mr. Olympias.
And I like that, because it never lets me settle.
At what point as a little kid did you realize, Hey, other kids’ dads don’t look like my dad?
HUNTER: I was eight or nine years old. Since I can remember, my dad has been a freak walking around with road-map veins and low body fat. He’s always been in great shape.
SERGIO: Everyone who knew my dad was a fan of his. I never really understood his accomplishments until I got older and people would tell me about him. And it wasn’t until I started competing that I fully understood. He had arms bigger than his head! That said, it’s the offstage stuff I feel he was more famous for. People who knew my dad loved him. I definitely never lost the “my dad can beat up your dad” attitude.
Sergio, your dad was a police officer for a long time.
SERGIO: Yeah, he was a Chicago cop for 30 years and I think that’s what messed him up the most. He saw everything there was to see and I don’t think he knew how to turn that off when he got home. At his funeral I got to hear a lot of great stories because every cop showed up. Chicago shut down when my dad died. It was cool hearing stories about a lot of the crime he would deter just because of his physical appearance. I always liked his specially made uniforms, how the sleeves were split to fit his arms.
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Who do you guys admire in the current bodybuilding scene?
HUNTER: Honestly, Shawn Rhoden is one of my favorite bodybuilders. He’s bringing that modern size to the stage with lines that are pleasing and flow. When he walked out at the 2012 Olympia, me, my dad, and my mom were like “Who is that?”
SERGIO: I actually love the ’90s bodybuilding: Lee Labrada, Kevin Levrone, Flex Wheeler. When Ronnie won the 1998 Olympia, he was in the best shape of his life and probably would have kept winning if he just came in looking like that year after year. Today I don’t think anyone can be into bodybuilding without being a Phil fan. He can hang with the mass monsters and he’s still got that small waist. The guy, I think, who can surprise everyone if and when he puts it all together is Cedric McMillan.
What do you guys consider your best body parts and where do you see the most room for improvement?
HUNTER: My triceps and quads are strengths. I have the most room for improvement from behind: my back and hamstrings. I have strong glutes from all the squatting I’ve done for bodybuilding and football. But the exercises we did for football were for functional strength, so the hams didn’t receive a lot of isolated work.
SERGIO: Quads are my best body part. My back needs work, so I often train it twice a week.
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What do each of you consider the other guy’s strengths?
HUNTER: Sergio’s arms are sick! The length of his biceps and how low they insert is just ridiculous.
SERGIO: Hunter has some wheels on him. And he’s young. I told him when I was his age  I was a middleweight, and he’s already there. He’s also got a father that cares about him competing and is so smart about bodybuilding; that’s what I envy most, in a friendly way. I think Hunter has the potential to be a better bodybuilder than I will be. Sergio, you’ve got your father’s arms. How do you train them?
SERGIO: Yeah [matter-of-factly], I don’t really do arms. When I’m getting ready for a show I’ll throw them in on a Saturday. Because of my dad, every time I work out back, chest, or shoulders, my arms grow. Which is funny because my chest and my back need the most work!
What’s it like training together?
HUNTER: The first time Sergio came down [to Texas where Labrada Nutrition is headquartered], we decided to go train shoulders. I didn’t know what to expect because some people don’t train that hard, don’t train that intensely—it’s like they coast. But we got into the gym and we were on the same page about the exercises we wanted to do, the amount of rest we wanted between sets, the whole nine yards. We popped the headphones in and really didn’t talk for the next hour and 15 minutes.
SERGIO: Hunter trains smart and Hunter trains hard!
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LEE: I’m proud of both these young men. They met and got along like peanut butter and jelly from the beginning. Like a couple of brothers. Sergio Jr. is just a great guy. When they get together to train, man, those weights just fly. I feel like the torch is being passed on to the next generation. I’m very excited.
Hunter, when will we see you onstage?
HUNTER: God willing, I’ll be completing my degree in economics from Texas A&M University and graduating in December, so Dad and I are pretty set that next year will be my first contest. It will be a local or state-level NPC show. I’m not thinking past that yet. I know what level I want to do it at, but until I get there I’m putting in the work. Maybe I can add that one of the most profound things Shawn Rhoden has said to me is, “Enjoy your journey, because once you’re a pro there’s expectations, there’s contracts, you lose your money if you don’t do well.” He said, “It’s stressful, it becomes your job.” Enjoy your journey to becoming a pro, he told me, and I thought that was pretty cool. My dad’s always said that too, enjoy the ride.
Lee, looking back, if you will, what did you consider your best form?
LEE: The ’89 and ’92 Olympias were two of my best. I’d go back even further, to ’85 when I won the IFBB Mr. Universe. I won it with a perfect score. Many of the judges said if they had an overall I would have been the overall winner [there were only class at the time]. FLEX