Ranking the all-time greatest Nationals champions

By Shawn Perine

November 11, 2009


As we approach the 2009 NPC Nationals, to be held at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida on November 20-21, it’s a fitting time to look back on past Nationals competitions, and more specifically, past Nationals winners.

We’ve ranked the ten greatest Nationals champs, taking into account IFBB pro contest wins and top three finishes, Olympia placings and general impact on the sport. We hope you’ll disagree with at least a few of our placings and let us know why on the FLEX Forums.

Also be sure to check out up-to-the-minute coverage of the 2009 NPC Nationals, beginning November 19 with news, notes and photos, right here at flexonline.com!

10. Johnnie Jackson (2001 Light-heavyweight and overall)
With two pro wins to his credit — 2006 Montreal Pro Championships and 2007 Atlantic City Pro — and a slew of 2nd and 3rd place finishes to boot, Jackson has established himself as a formidable competitor in the first decade of the 21st century, not to mention being quite possibly the strongest bodybuilder of all time.

Gatorade: G Series Pro


9. Bob Paris (1983 Heavyweight and overall)
Although he never won a pro show and couldn’t manage higher than seventh at an Olympia (1984), Paris raised the bar for bodybuilding aesthetics that was set more than three decades earlier by Steve Reeves. In fact, a few years ago FLEX magazine ranked Paris as the most aesthetic bodybuilder of all time.


8. Toney Freeman (2002 Super-heavyweight and overall)
Winner of six IFBB pro contests — the latest being the ’09 Sacramento Pro Championships — Freeman took a few years after turning pro to come into his own as a big leaguer, but by 2006 it was full speed ahead. In 2008, Freeman placed fifth at the Olympia in what many consider his all-time best form. At age 43 he still believes his best days lie ahead.

Bare Bones: Abs


7. Mike Francois (1993 Heavyweight and overall)
After earning pro status at the 1993 Nationals, Francois entered the IFBB Pro division with guns ablazin’, earning victories in the first four shows he entered (1994 Chicago Pro Invitational, ’94 Night of Champions, ’95 Arnold Classic and the ’94 San Jose Pro Invitational). Unfortunately, he would retire less than five years after turning pro and could only manage a highwater mark of seventh at the Olympia, in 1995. As much as anyone in bodybuilding history, the words “What if?” often accompany Francois’s name.

Matt Holliday


6. Victor Martinez (2000 Heavyweight and overall)
Like Freeman, it took Martinez a few years to hit his stride as a pro, but since he did he’s maintained it. With three IFBB pro wins under his belt — 2003 Night of Champions, ’04 GNC Show of Strength Pro Championships and ’07 Arnold Classic — and a third and second place finish at the Olympia (in ’06 and ’07, respectively), Martinez is one of this era’s best. Although this past year was a difficult one for the Muscle Maker Grill owner, fans expect a return to top form for the Dominican Dominator in ’10.



Ranking the all-time greatest Nationals champions

By Shawn Perine

November 11, 2009


5. Gary Strydom (1986 Heavyweight and overall)
The winner of the 1986 Nationals had one of the best records in the IFBB in the years after he turned pro. In 16 contests between 1988 and 1990 he never placed lower than 5th (which was at the ’88 Olympia) and won thrice. Upon moving over to the now-defunct WBF in the early 90’s, he won the only two shows they ever staged. A 2006 comeback at the age of 46 netted him seventh among a highly competitive field at the Colorado Pro Championships, and he’s recently hinted that he may not be done competing yet.


4. Shawn Ray (1987 Light-heavyweight and overall)
Although he won just two shows during his 14-year pro career — 1990 Ironman Pro Invitational and ’91 Arnold Classic — Shawn Ray is often placed high on lists ranking the greatest physiques of all time. Ray holds the distinction of placing within the top five at the Olympia on twelve occasions, all consecutively, between 1990 and 2001. Because for nine of those years the Olympia was the only contest in which he competed, it’s arguable that Ray could have had many more wins to his credit had he chosen to enter smaller shows, which was the route many of his peers took.


3. Vince Taylor (1988 Light-heavyweight and overall)
Taylor’s 21 victories as a pro (including Masters Olympia wins in 1996, ’97, ’99, ’00 and ’01) put him second on the all-time list, behind Ronnie Coleman‘s 26. In 1991 alone, Taylor won five shows and another four in 1995 (Grand Prix England, Grand Prix France, Grand Prix Ukraine and the Niagara Falls Pro Invitational). His five Masters Olympia wins make him far and away the master of the Masters; in 2007, while just shy of 50, he took third in the Australian Pro. Taylor’s last competition was the 2008 Atlantic City Pro Masters division, at which he placed seventh in the open and 1st in the 50+ class. Could 2010 see the ageless Taylor back onstage?


2. Kevin Levrone (1991 Heavyweight and overall)
In unofficial polls on various bodybuilding forums regarding uncrowned Mr. Olympias, Levrone’s name almost always come out on top. Right behind Vince Taylor with 20 pro wins, he also filled the runner-up spot at the Mr. Olympia on four separate occasions during his 12-season pro career (1992,’95,’00 and ’02). In addition, he owns eight more top six placings at the O, plus two Arnold Classic titles (1994 and 1996). After a stint as an actor, Levrone has recently gotten back into the gym and is training hard. Rumors abound that he may be looking to pick up where he left off in 2003.


1. Lee Haney (1982 Heavyweight and overall)
We’ve saved the best for last, or first, as it were. As the winner of the inaugural NPC National Championships in 1982, Haney set a standard that no other Nationals winner has yet to match. In addition to his record-tying eight Olympia wins (with Ronnie Coleman), Haney is the owner of three other pro titles for a grand total of eleven. So dominant was Haney during his nine-year pro career that he didn’t take anything but first after his rookie season (during which he won two shows and never took lower than third) and retired just shy of 32 after breaking Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s supposedly unbreakable record of seven Olympia wins (1984-1991).

M&F Raw! #58 - Diminishing-Sets Training


Nationals Factoid: Three-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, while winning the heavyweight class at the 1996 Nationals, lost out on the overall title to light-heavyweight class winner Willie Stallings.