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Winning at the NPC Nationals Bodybuilding Championships means that for this one day, you are the best; the best in a nation full of competitors vying for that recognition. It all started in 1982 when a man by the name of Lee Haney won the very first NPC Nationals.  He would go on to win a record 8 Mr. Olympia titles and set the lofty standard for what is expected from our nation's best.

As we head into this year’s NPC Nationals, held Nov. 22–23 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, FLEX is giving you a list of the greatest Nationals champions of all time.  Each day leading up to the competition, we will unveil another name from this elite group of athletes.  Beginning with #12, here are the Nationals champions who met the criteria for this exclusive list. 

*Note that Jay Cutler and Branch Warren, who won their respective divisions but not the overall, are absent from our list. That’s because in order to be considered, athletes had to: a) be an overall champion, and b) have won at least one IFBB pro contest or competed in a Mr. Olympia contest.

Click "Next Page" (page 2) to unveil National Hero #12

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#12 Cedric McMillan

IFBB contest wins: 3

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 0

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: N/A

When unknown Cedric McMillan shocked the bodybuilding world with his win in 2008, there was talk of a Sandow(s) in 
his near future. Five years later, McMillan has yet to enter the Mr. Olympia (all
 indications point to Big Mac being on 
the O stage this year) and his career,
 despite three contest wins, remains a disappointment to those who expect more from the man many have compared to eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney. With his combination of eye-popping size, shape, and overall aesthetic qualities that harken back to the classic physiques of both Haney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, 
it will be interesting to see if McMillan, who serves full-time in the Army, will ever fully commit to competitive bodybuilding and realize the potential others see in him. 

Click "Next Page" (page 3) to unveil National Hero #11

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#11 Evan Centopani

IFBB contest wins: 3

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 1

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 8th

Electing to sit out the 2008 IFBB season to focus on improving, Evan Centopani punctuated his entry into the pros with a resounding victory in his debut at the 2009 New York Pro. Centopani then took of 2010 to add more size, and came back in 2011 to win his second consecutive show (more than a year apart), the FLEX Pro. He then placed fourth (the lowest placing of his competitive career) at the Arnold Classic. Last year, Centopani improved to third at the Arnold, and in his long-awaited Mr. Olympia debut, he placed eighth. With the ideal bodybuilding structure and the full muscle bellies to complement it, Centopani, at age 31, has time on his side to continue making improvements to an already outstanding physique.

Click "Next Page" (page 4) to unveil National Hero #10

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#10 GARY STRYDOM

IFBB contest wins: 4

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 1

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 5th

South Africa’s Gary Strydom was one of a few tall men during the latter half of the ’80s who many considered to be a legitimate threat for the Sandow. Nearly Haney’s equal from the front (with better wheels), from the rear it was a different story, as Strydom’s back lagged far behind the rest of his physique. Strydom won his pro debut, the 1987 Night Of Champions, and placed fifth in his first and only Mr. Olympia appearance in 1988. He won three more contests before leaving the IFBB in 1991 for the now-defunct World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF). He returned to IFBB competition in 1996 and last competed in the 2006 Colorado Pro, where he placed seventh.

Click "Next Page" (page 5) to unveil National Hero #9

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#9 MIKE FRANCOIS

IFBB contest wins: 4

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 3

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 7th

Massive Mike Francois 
won his first four pro shows (spread out over two years) and placed seventh in his Mr. Olympia debut in 1995. Armed with an XL-frame sporting some of the thickest lats, traps, lumbars, and quads of his day, Francois competed for just two more years before retiring due to health complications (ulcerative colitis). In 
his final year of competition in 1997, he placed third at both the San Jose Pro and
 the Arnold Classic, and 11th
at the Mr. Olympia. He remains active in the sport, promoting the NPC Mike Francois Classic in Ohio.

 

Frida Paulsen Stern - Bikini - 2017 Olympia

#8 JONNIE JACKSON

IFBB contest wins: 3

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 10

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 9th

When thick, dense muscle is the topic at hand, Johnnie Jackson’s name is sure to be at the center of the conversation. With an upper body hailed as Mr. Olympia-caliber by his fellow pros (particularly his pecs and back), Jackson’s muscle is as strong as it looks, as he won the inaugural Olympia World’s Strongest Bodybuilder in 2009 with a 523-pound bench press and an 815-pound deadlift (Jackson also deadlifted 815 pounds in official powerlifting competition). With fellow pro Dennis James in his corner in 2012, Jackson dialed in his finest conditioning in years to win the FIBO German Power Pro and placed ninth (his best to date) in the Mr. Olympia.

 

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#7 MIKE CHRISTIAN

IFBB contest wins: 5

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 5

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 3th

The Iron Warrior was one of the best tall men of his day and, with his wide structure, big back, delts, and arms, one of the few competitors who could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Haney. With an outspoken personality reflected in his clothing line (billowed, outrageously patterned parachute pants, string tank tops, bandannas, etc.), Christian was a fixture at Gold’s Gym and Muscle Beach, and had a bit part in the 1987 movie adaptation of Dragnet, starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. Onstage, Christian won six shows and competed in five Mr. Olympias, with his highest placing being third in 1986.

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#6 TONEY FREEMAN

IFBB contest wins: 7

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 8

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 5th

After placing fourth in the heavyweight class of the 1995 Nationals, Toney Freeman disappeared from the sport until 2001, when he placed eighth in the super-heavyweight class of the Nationals. The following year he secured both class and overall to earn his pro card, and after three years of hanging around
the bottom portion of top-10 lineups, he won the 2006 Europa Super Show. In 2007 he added wins in both the Ironman Pro and Sacramento Pro to his résumé, placed third at the Arnold Classic, but then slid to a disappointing 14th at the Mr. O. The X-Man bounced back in 2008, winning the Europa Super Show and Tampa Pro, and placing a career-best (so far) fifth at the Olympia. With his wide delts, small waist, and sweeping quads, Freeman is still pushing strong at age 47.

 

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Darren Burns

#5 SHAWN RAY

IFBB contest wins: 2

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 13

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 2nd

Shawn Ray of Placentia, CA, was already a sensation when he won the 1985 NPC Teen Nationals. Two years later, he swept the prestigious NPC California Championships and the light-heavy and overall titles at the Nationals, beating mammoth heavyweight winner Phil Hill in the process.
 After a less-than-stellar de-
but pro season (fourth at the 
Night Of Champions and 13th 
at the Mr. Olympia), Ray went on
to a spectacular career. Although he won only two contests (1990 Ironman Pro and 1991 Arnold Classic), he finished no lower than fifth for the remaining 12 years of his career, including runner-up in both the 1994 and 1996 Mr. Olympias. Had Ray competed in more contests, (after 1991, Ray did only the Mr. Olympia, the exceptions being 1996, when he placed third at the Ironman Pro and fifth at the Arnold Classic), one wonders what his contest win tally would’ve been.

 

 

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Darren Burns

#4 VICTOR MARTINEZ

IFBB contest wins: 5

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 7

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 2nd

The Dominican Dominator swept both the heavyweight and overall Nationals in 2000, but needed a couple
of years to hit his stride as a pro, finishing out of posedowns in his first three contests. Then in 2003, Martinez nailed his conditioning to win the Night Of Champions, and in 2004, won the GNC Show of Strength before finishing ninth in his Mr. Olympia debut. Martinez’s breakthrough year proved to be 2007, with a win at the Arnold Classic and a controversial runner-up finish to Jay Cutler at the Mr. Olympia. With personal troubles offstage to rival any Mexican novella, Martinez has fought back each time to score wins at the 2011 Arnold Classic Europe and 2013 Toronto Supershow.

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Darren Burns

 

#3 VINCE TAYLOR

IFBB contest wins: 22

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 7

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 3rd

After accepting the overall trophy from Lee Haney at the 1988 Nationals, Vince Taylor remarked that that would be the closest he’d ever get to Haney onstage. Of course, Taylor placed third in his Mr. Olympia debut in 1989 and third in 1991. Taylor would win 22 pro contests, including his pro debut (1989 Night of Champions), the 1992 Arnold Classic, a record five Masters Olympias, and a host of titles during the heyday of the Grand Prix contests in the post-Olympia European tours in the ’90s. Taylor last competed in the 2008 Atlantic City Pro, where he won the masters division and placed seventh in the open division.

 

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Darren Burns

#2 KEVIN LEVRONE

IFBB contest wins: 20

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 12

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 2nd

The 1991 Nationals may have been the greatest amateur contest of all time, featuring Flex Wheeler, Ronnie Coleman, Chris Cormier, Paul DeMayo, Ronnie Coleman, and Edgar Fletcher. And yet the Maryland Muscle Machine triumphed over them all, and in his 1992 rookie year, he won his pro debut at the Night Of Champions, won the German Grand Prix, and placed runner-up in his first Mr. Olympia. Levrone, with some of the best delts, traps, and triceps ever seen in the sport, finished his career with 20 wins, including two Arnold Classics. His four second-place Mr. Olympia finishes are trumped only by Jay Cutler’s six. Levrone last competed in 2003, placing fifth at the Arnold Classic, sixth at the Mr. Olympia, and third at the GNC Show of Strength.

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#1 LEE HANEY

IFBB contest wins: 11

Number of Mr. Olympia apperances: 9

Highest Mr. Olympia placing: 1st

The first Nationals champ was also the youngest at just 22 years old. In his rookie pro season in 1983, Haney competed in seven contests, winning two and placing no lower than third in the other five, including a third-place finish in his Mr. Olympia debut. He won the Sandow the following year and kept it for the next seven to set the new all-time high with eight (tied by Ronnie Coleman in 2005). Throughout his reign, the 5'11" Haney stood a head taller than the competition, with notable exceptions being Mike Christian and Gary Strydom, but with neither big men able to bring their best to the Olympia stage, the task of dethroning the Totalee Awesome One fell first to Rich Gaspari (5'8") and then later to Lee Labrada (5'3"). His combination of aesthetics and size—complete with one of the best backs in history and a chest and shoulders that certainly rank in the top three of all time—made for a physique that epitomized classic bodybuilding at its finest. There will never be another quite like the Totalee Awesome One.