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Jordan vs. Lebron. Ali vs. Tyson. Throughout sports history, fans across the globe debate about which athlete from which generation reigns supreme and should be dubbed “the greatest of all time.” Bodybuilding is no different.
The past three decades have seen some of the most iconic “small” bodybuilders (those under 220 pounds) in the storied history of the sport— Mohammed Benaziza, Lee Labrada, Lee Priest, and, of course, Shawn Ray, who all competed against much larger men.
And if you were to ask Ray himself, who is now a bodybuilding expert and commentator, who, out of the smaller guys, would’ve been a champion if given a division of his own, his answer is simple: “Me!”
Referring to the 202-pound (now 212) weight class, which was established in 2008, he says, “If there had been a 212 title back in my day, I have no doubt I would’ve been hailed as the greatest of all time.”
Ray earned his IFBB Pro League card at the 1987 NPC National Championships at the age of 22. He went on to win the Ironman Pro and the Arnold Classic, and although he never found himself in the top spot at the Olympia, Ray holds a record 12 consecutive top-five Olympia finishes (1990–2001). He achieved this in an era when there was only one weight class, and he rarely got heavier than 210 pounds.
In 2008, we saw the emergence of the 202-pound class. After four years and seeing two champions in David Henry and three-time winner Kevin English, the IFBB Pro League decided to increase the weight limit to 212 pounds.
This set the stage for Flex Lewis to win a dominant seven times, establishing himself, in the eyes of many, as the definitive “small” GOAT. Despite these overwhelming stats, Ray doesn’t agree.
“Flex Lewis is a phenomenal bodybuilder, a great champion, and a true ambassador of the sport,” he says. “But the one thing Flex never had to do was stand next to the guys I did. I was beating guys like Flex Wheeler, Kevin Levrone, Vince Taylor, Chris Cor-mier, and other guys who were taller than me and outweighed me by 20 to 30 pounds or more, and I just don’t know that Lewis would’ve been able to do the same.” (Lewis, though, plans to compete in the open class in 2021.)
And as long as Ray has a platform to speak from, he’ll always proclaim himself 212’s best.