Tales From Columbus

Behind-the-scenes stories from the Arnold Classic




The most controversial result in the history of the Arnold Classic was the 1996 rendition, when a seemingly off Kevin Levrone bested a decidedly on Flex Wheeler. As he was announced second, Wheeler’s eyes bulged as if he’d been the recipient of a surprise prostate examination and large sections of the audience broke into a chorus of boos.

Twenty minutes

after the result, as I made my way out of Veterans Memorial Hall, I espied Wheeler sitting in the empty theater with his support group. Flex doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve; he wears it pumping away like a neon sign on his forehead. He was almost in tears as he reflected on what had transpired. I told him I thought he was the clear winner. He told me: “I’m very disappointed. Kevin wasn’t in shape; I was in shape. They looked for certain improvements in me from last week’s Ironman and I delivered. [Although Flex won the Ironman, he was not at his best.] I was 230, ripped; day and night from last year’s Olympia [where he was eighth]. Kevin’s a great competitor — nothing personal toward him — he just didn’t hit his peak. No separation in his legs or back. He’s massive, but judging is supposed to be more critical than that.

“Coming into

the show, Paul [Dillett] and I figured Kevin would be the biggest threat because he had the name and we knew he could come in shape. Backstage, Paul and I looked at Kevin and thought, OK, Kevin is off, the door is open. But as the prejudging went on, it was clear Kevin wasn’t being looked at as if he was off. When there was just me and Kevin left, I feared the worst. He had just won the most-muscular trophy, and I thought, How do you get the most muscular when you have  no definition and are not in condition? Vince [Taylor] laughed and told me, ‘It’s a consolation prize to Kevin ’cause he ain’t gonna win the show.’ ”

Wheeler’s next contest was to be the May 18 Night Of Champions. Asked whether he would  make further improvements by then, he replied,  “Based on tonight, what difference does it make?”

Levrone, of course, had an entirely different take on the outcome. I duly spoke to the contest winner and the following discourse took place.

PETER MCGOUGH: The consensus is that Flex Wheeler should have won the show. Your response?

KEVIN LEVRONE: The judges judge the contest. The reason for the dissent was the lighting. The contest was lit like an MTV special. I think the bad lighting during the prejudging worked to Flex’s advantage. It favored the darker-skinned guys. The lighting was much better in the evening, and then it was clear that I was much bigger than Flex. I overpowered him. Yeah, he might have had pretty lines, but the bottom line is that he didn’t have enough muscle to beat me. I don’t see where he beat me. I don’t see that he was harder than me. I don’t think he posed better. What did you think?

As soon as you walked out, it seemed clear you were holding water. You were big, but there was no separation in your legs and back like there was in Flex’s.

Maybe ’cause

my skin tone was lighter [the lighting] kinda washed me out. The game is about competing, and as the show went on, I got better while Flex’s condition faded a little. It could have gone either way, but I got the nod ’cause the judges were up close and could see certain things others couldn’t. I don’t think I would have won the most-muscular award if I wasn’t the most muscular. Who did you have first?


Really? I was shredded and hard, but that damn lighting made everything look bad. I wanted to come into the Arnold and just blow everybody away, but now I hear all this negative stuff. To have a hundred grand and the trophy and then to hear people think you don’t deserve it makes the win not worth having. For me to win the show and then pick up a magazine a month later and read stuff like “Levrone was off, his condition hadn’t improved since the Olympia.” That’s more depressing than actually losing the damn competition. You still think Flex won?


I was bigger and thicker than Flex. If he feels he’s the better bodybuilder, then I’m doing the San Jose show [seven days afterward] and we can go do it again. I’m ready to go again, but he ain’t doing a show that’s just a short hop from his front door. So seriously, who do you think won the show?



For three months afterward, Levrone would call me once every couple of weeks and ask me that same “Who do you think won?” question. I would always answer, “Flex.”

Finally, I said, “OK, Kevin, you convinced me — I’ve changed my mind about the result.”

A buoyed Levrone enthused: “So, finally you agree I won.”

“No,” I answered, “I think you should have been third, with Paul Dillett second and Flex still first.”

With that, the Maryland Muscle Machine (a name I gave him) told me to do something with my computer that is not only anatomically impossible, but also surely illegal in most states.

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