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Ronnie Coleman, Flex Wheeler, Chris Cormier, Paul DeMayo, and Matt Mendenhall—that’s just a partial list of heavyweight legends in the 1991 NPC Nationals, the greatest amateur bodybuilding class of all time. When Kevin Levrone, a nearly unknown from Baltimore, won, it was only the first time he shocked the bodybuilding world. He did it again a year later when, as a rookie, he nearly seized the Sandow. And he kept surprising us until 2003 when he retired without really retiring.
In 1992, Levrone launched one of the all-time greatest pro careers by winning a show a week after his debut and placing a stunning second in the Mr. Olympia. It was a precursor to the dominance that followed. He went on to win more open pro shows (19) in the 1990s than any other competitor. Competing in 62 IFBB contests from 1992–2003, he won 20 (32%). He was in the top two 37 times (60%), and 48 times he made the top three (77%). His placing percentage is 2.41. (Coleman’s is 3.59.) Only once did he miss the posedown. No one who has competed as much as the Maryland Muscle Machine has compiled a greater record of consistent excellence—and he racked up most of his gold, silver, and bronze finishes during the 1990s against the deepest bodybuilding lineups of all time.
”Before I was big, I was strong,” Levrone remembers. “From my first workouts, I’ve just always been able to move a lot of weight.” He’s one of the strongest bodybuilders ever, but don’t take his word for it. You can watch YouTube videos of him incline-pressing 455 four times shortly before the 1998 Mr. Olympia and bench-pressing 405 six times this year. You can also see him cranking out 500-pound behind-the-neck shoulder presses and 700-pound hack squats back in the day. Pound for pound, he was one of the world’s strongest bodybuilders when he won the 1991 NPC Nationals. A quarter century later, he still is.
DID YOU KNOW?
Less than two months after he was second in the 2002 Olympia, Levrone was second again, this time to sprinter Dwain Chambers in a 60-meter dash. Chambers was the Levrone of sprinting, having finished fourth in the 100-meter dash in the 2000 Olympics. Flex Wheeler, Shawn Ray, and Gunter Schlierkamp cheered Levrone on, though Chambers won the duel handily.
His four seconds in the Mr. Olympia spanned 11 years, from his rookie season to what was, until his unretirement, his penultimate year. Unfortunately for him, he collided with two of history’s greatest Sandow collectors, landing just behind six-timer Dorian Yates in 1992 and 1995 and eight-timer Ronnie Coleman in 2000 and 2002. The first and final of those were most notable. Coming in a high-def 228 in his rookie year, the 27-year-old nearly upset the juggernaut that was Yates. With superior quads, delts, and arms, he bested Yates in front shots but was overshadowed from the rear. And in 2002, when he matched Coleman pound for pound at 245, he beat the reigning champ on judges’ scorecards in the finals.
But enough about losses. Levrone did a lot of winning. If we don’t count master’s contests, his 20 pro victories are the third most behind Coleman’s 25 and Dexter Jackson’s 23. His trophy stash includes two for Arnold Classic titles, in 2004 and 2006. Mostly, he dominated post-Olympia European tour shows, winning 14 of his 20 pro titles outside America. Those contests were stacked because almost all the top Olympia finishers journeyed across the Atlantic chasing paychecks. Levrone won a German pro show four different years. In 1997 alone, he won all but one of the seven post-Olympia foreign contests he entered, defeating a who’s who of bodybuilding icons in six different countries.
EAST COAST ETHOS
During the ’90s, when the East Coast battled the West Coast for rap supremacy, Levrone waged a similar war, alone, on the Mr. Olympia stage. He was forever outnumbered but not always outgunned. In callouts, the Maryland Muscle Machine traded shots with Flex Wheeler, Shawn Ray, Nasser El Sonbaty, and a cadre of other Southern California natives and transplants. You can read too much into geography. Maybe Levrone would’ve been a hardcore beast wherever he lived. Nevertheless, the prevalent image was him hoisting 500-pound bench presses and 405-pound barbell rows in his own empty gym. His hoodie’s hood was up, as if it were always winter, even inside, and he was captured in shades of gray, as if the sun never shined in Baltimore. Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, his foes were teamed together and bathed in the effervescent glow of an endless summer. After he retired, Levrone moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. But now, unretired, he’s back in a Maryland gym, out of the light and once again moving heavy metal.
DID YOU KNOW?
The name of Levrone’s rock band, Fulblown, was appropriated from his training video, Full Blown. In 2006, Fulblown released its album, Mirage, which is available on iTunes.
LEVRONE’S CHEST ROUTINE
Barbell Bench Press | SETS: 4 | REPS:10–6
Incline Dumbbell Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8–10
Dumbbell Flye | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12
Dip | SETS: 4 | REPS: 15–25