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Winning isn’t everything. Contest placings are always dependent on the opinions of fallible judges as well as the physiques of other competitors. Sometimes the best bodybuilder doesn’t win. And sometimes someone superb is simply defeated by those who are even better.
The 15 men on our alphabetical honor roll never won an IFBB pro contest or cracked the Olympia top three. Six of them failed to earn pro cards. Still, all 15 of these contest underachievers were developmental overachievers. We emphasized those who were slighted on score sheets or bottled up in talent logjams, as opposed to those who never lived up to their immense potential. And in the spirit of this celebration, we’ve included seven routines and training tips focused on overlooked body parts and techniques. At long last, the losers get their due, because, ultimately, bodybuilding isn’t about contest results. It’s about physical results.
BEST LOSS: 1995 MR. OLYMPIA, 9TH
Despite enough shapely muscle to hang with anyone, Baker had only one significant win over an NPC and IFBB career that lasted more than two decades. That was the 1990 USA Championships, and it only came after six pro-qualifier top five finishes. The big league proved even more frustrating for this Californian. In 25 contests over 11 years, Baker cracked only five posedowns. Though he had enough density to contend for Sandows, his conditioning was frequently muddled, and he got lost in the stacked lineups of the ’90s. That wasn’t true in 1995, however, when, at 34, the 5’8″ 240-pounder twice pushed a less-than-optimum Flex Wheeler to the brink. Controversially, Wheeler got the nod in both shows. Baker’s photos still wow physique fans today, but he rarely wowed judges during his long career.
BEST LOSS: 1996 ARNOLD CLASSIC, 7TH
This 5’8″ Polish-born German was on no one’s radar screen when he made his pro debut at the 1994 Mr. Olympia. He placed 18th. Still, FLEX noticed his incredible density and details. “Why Was This Man Overlooked at the 1994 Mr. Olympia?” we asked on the cover of our February 1995 issue. By then, he had been given some due, placing fifth in three Grand Prix contests after the Mr. O. Cziurlok was only 26 when he burst onto the mid-90s pro scene, but that scene was already overcrowded with an ever-expanding gaggle of legends jockeying for the biggest prizes. A decade later, he could’ve collected professional titles. Instead, in 14 pro contests until his 2001 retirement, his highest placing was fourth. Returning in 2011 for the Masters Pro World at 44, he was high-def but landed out of the money yet again. Despite his mediocre placings, there was never anything average about Cziurlok’s physique.
CZIURLOK’S GLUTES ROUTINE
Standing Lunge, 4 sets, 15–20 reps
Machine Glute Kickback, 4 sets, 15–20 reps
BEST LOSS: 2002 SOUTHWEST PRO CUP, 4TH
Four years passed between Dawodu winning the 1992 British Championships and his pro debut. Thereafter, he barely made a ripple during his 18-contest, eight-year professional career. His best finish was fourth—four times—and he was 17th out of 21 in his only Olympia (2001). But don’t judge a physique by a record. This 5’7″, 235-pound Englishman sported a striking V-taper and two of the best guns ever flexed—a combination that spawned a superb front double biceps. He lacked ab clarity, and his conditioning was sometimes cloudy. But, nevertheless, Dawodu always seemed to land a few spots too low. He should’ve won at least one of those times he was fourth—the 2002 Southwest Pro Cup. He never got much love from judges, but in the early ’00s, J.D. Dawodu displayed one of the world’s densest bodies.
BEST LOSS: 1990 NPC NATIONALS, LIGHT-HEAVYWEIGHT 2ND
Lining up with heavyweights (before there was a super-heavy class) often more than a half-foot taller than he was, 5’6″ Fletcher never appeared squat. He wore his 210 pounds like a stylish suit. And he melded a dramatic V-taper, superb arms, and an ab vacuum into one of history’s best front double biceps poses. After leaping into bodybuilding’s collective consciousness with a second-place heavy finish at the 1990 Nationals, the then-25-year-old Pennsylvanian seemed destined for big paydays. It wasn’t to be. In eight pro qualifiers over the next five frustrating years—often just missing his peak—he placed third five times and fourth twice. That initial runnerup spot was his highwater mark. Fletcher, who last competed in 2000, remains one of bodybuilding’s greatest “What if’s?”
Fletcher grew his gargantuan arms thanks to wimpy weights. You read that right. He believed if you couldn’t flex your biceps intensely during curls you were going too heavy. He might use only 50 pounds for 10 reps of preacher curls, but he made it feel like 120 by tensing throughout and holding each contraction for two seconds.
BEST LOSS: 1983 MR. OLYMPIA, 5TH
When this Caribbean-born Englishman and two-time NABBA pro Mr. Universe made his IFBB pro debut in 1981 around the time he turned 30, it was one of the most anticipated arrivals in muscle history. This was the “lightweight era” when men like Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, and Chris Dickerson won the Mr. Olympia weighing south of 200. At 5’8″ and 230, Fox was their antithesis. His pecs, traps, and arms remain today among the fullest ever seen, and it seemed possible his mass could carry him to the Olympia throne. But he never got traction in the IFBB.
He was fifth in that aforementioned debut. Many thought he should’ve won the 1982 Night Of Champions when he was at his leanest, but he was edged out by a peeled Al Beckles. The following year, he was fifth in the Olympia and in contention for Grand Prix titles afterward. That was his zenith. He remained in the mix for the rest of the ’80s, including a seventh at the 1986 Olympia and a sixth at the 1989 Arnold Classic, but he was no longer a sensation. The much wider Lee Haney eclipsed him. Fox last competed in 1994. Convicted of double murder in 1998, he is currently serving a life sentence in a Caribbean prison.
Fox superset expanded range upright rows (pulled to forehead level) with seated rear laterals. This worked his traps and entire delt complex together.
JEAN PIERRE FUX
BEST LOSS: 1997 MR. OLYMPIA, 7TH
Nobody overlooked Fux. When he made his pro debut in 1996, the 27-year old, 5’11” Swiss was 270 pounds with one of the widest backs ever seen. His lats, traps, pecs, and quads were incredibly inflated. Taken as a whole, his body wasn’t aesthetic, but there was too much of it to ignore. And Fux was seemingly everywhere. He did nine pro contests that rookie season, with placings ranging from ninth (pro debut at Arnold Classic) to second (post- Olympia Grand Prix show). His eighth-place Olympia debut was exceptional considering how strong the lineup was.
Fux’s only problem was bad timing. He leapt into the IFBB Pro League when it was chockablock with living legends. He fended many of them off. For example, he beat Ronnie Coleman (the year before he won the Sandow) and Chris Cormier in the 1997 Olympia, and yet six other icons relegated him to seventh. By the end of the ’90s, his conditioning was frequently blurry. When he tore tendons in both knees in 2002, his career effectively ended. Fux impacted the pro scene only for three years from 1996–98, and that period ended before he was 30. Unfortunately for him, those were arguably the three most talent-laden years in bodybuilding history.
BEST LOSS 1969 NABBA MR. UNIVERSE, TALL 1ST (LOST OVERALL)
Sporting capacious shoulders, a svelte waist, and dramatic quad sweeps, this Floridian used his 5’11” X-frame and 220 proportional pounds to win both the 1966 Mr. North America and the 1967 Mr. USA. Following a runner-up finish in the ’67 Mr. America, Haislop took the Mr. America title in ’68, defeating five future IFBB pros, including 1982 Mr. Olympia Chris Dickerson. A similar pattern nearly occurred in the Mr. Universe. After placing second in the tall class of the 1968 Mr. U, he won that Mr. U division the next year. But he lost the overall. And that was the end. At a time when only Mr. Universes qualified for the Mr. Olympia (and while Sergio Oliva was dominating with Arnold Schwarzenegger rising fast), he hung up his posing trunks at 27. Nearly forgotten today, Jim Haislop rapidly ascended to very near the pinnacle of bodybuilding in the earliest years of the pro era.
To improve his symmetry, Haislop occasionally devoted entire workouts to training only the weak side of his body. He did exercises like one-arm curls and one-leg extensions with only his weakest limb.
BEST LOSS: 1995 ARNOLD CLASSIC, 7TH
Lost in the vast shadow of fellow Englishman Dorian Yates, it’s easy to forget just how great Harrison was at a very young age. In 2009, we ranked him as the 11th best teenage bodybuilder of all time, ahead of Lee Haney, Shawn Ray, and Branch Warren. (That takes into account only what they did as teens.)
When he won the 1989 British Championships (the year after Yates), Harrison was only 20, which remains the record for youngest to take that title. While further filling out his six-foot X-frame, he, like J.D. Dawodu after him, waited four years before making his pro debut. Then, even with 260 pleasing pounds, the broad Brit had difficulty gaining judges’ attention in the extremely deep lineups of the ’90s. In 13 pro contests from 1993–98, Harrison made one posedown. When he, retired he was only 29. Today, he owns a gym in Florida.
BEST LOSS: 1987 MR. OLYMPIA 8TH
Maybe Eduardo Kawak had grown complacent. After all, he’d racked up nine pro titles in inferior organizations over the previous five years before he first stepped on an IFBB dais in 1986. Flexing one of the most densely developed physiques of the ’80s, the then-27-year-old Lebanon native was accustomed to dominating NABBA and WABBA Pro World Championships. Fine detailing had not been required to win non-IFBB contests, but his lack of spaghetti striations held him back in the IFBB Pro League. Still, one can argue he deserved higher placings when considering how much muscle he had in areas others lacked, like abs. In 15 pro shows over three years, a fourth marked his only posedown appearance. He returned to European-based organizations in 1989, subsequently collecting two more pro titles. He later gave the IFBB another try, last competing in 1999, seven years before his death. Though he is one of the most accomplished non-IFBB victors of all time, Kawak barely made a ripple in the IFBB.
KAWAKS ABDOMINAL ROUTINE
Roman Chair Situp, 4 sets, 25 reps
Seated Leg Raise, 4 sets, 25 reps
Rope Crunch, 4 sets, 25 reps
BEST LOSS: 1983 NPC NATIONALS, HEAVYWEIGHT 2ND
This Holland-born Californian was already a muscle magazine cover model when, at 23, he finished a close second in the Mr. America light-heavy class to the overall victor. It seemed a mere delay of the inevitable. With his symmetrical thickness, surely he would contend for Olympia titles for a generation. In 1983, weighing 224, his was either the best or second-best physique at the Nationals (Rich Gaspari, Mike Christian, and Matt Mendenhall all placed behind him), but another surprising phenom, Bob Paris, was appraised No. 1. In retrospect, this was the then-25-year-old Leidelmeyer’s zenith. Thereafter, he looked untouchable in pre-contest photos, but muddled stage conditioning pushed his dream progressively further away. He was judged the fifth-best heavy at the 1984 Nationals, sixth in 1986, ninth in 1987, and, coming back at age 36, 14th in 1994. Today, photos of him from the ’80s capturing his rare combination of pleasing aesthetics and abundant mass continue to inspire.
For periods, Leidelmeyer did a routine consisting of three exercises per body part and only one set per exercise. The catch was that set lasted 100 reps. He typically paused at least once for as many seconds as reps remained. For example, if he reached failure at 65 reps, he paused for 35 seconds and then continued.
BEST LOSS: 1982 NPC NATIONALS, LIGHT-HEAVY 1ST (LOST OVERALL)
The main reason for several amateur-only Americans making our list was that so few NPC pro cards were handed out in the ’80s and early ’90s. No one suffered more from this than Maldonado. At 26 in 1982, he won the loaded light-heavy class of the inaugural NPC Nationals with thickness, detailing, and aesthetics. Unfortunately, only the overall Nats champ or IFBB World Championships class winners went pro then. Future eight-time Mr. O Lee Haney won the Nats overall. And Maldonado was the only American not to take his class at the World (he was third). Torturously, this New Yorker was second in the Nationals light-heavy class the next two years (once to Rich Gaspari) and fourth behind three future pros in 1985. And that was it. Maldonado, who seemed like a sure-thing professional just three years prior, hung up his trunks at 29 with a stellar NPC record but zero pro contests.
BEST LOSS: 1991 USA, LIGHT-HEAVY 1ST (LOST OVERALL)
He’s nearly forgotten today, but Matlock was a juggernaut in 1991 when merely 21. That year, this 5’7″ New Jerseyan won the Junior USA overall and the light-heavy class of the USA, and placed third in the Nationals. At a time when you had to take the USA overall to go pro, many favored Matlock’s artistic physique over the freakier Mike Matarazzo’s for the USA crown. Regardless, everyone felt the losing “Mat” would soon be competing for pro prizes. Moving up to the unlimited class (at 208) in the 1992 Nationals, he narrowly missed again, placing second ahead of Edgar Fletcher and six future pros. Unwisely staying in the heaviest division, he struggled the following year. When he last competed, placing sixth in the 1994 USA, Matlock was only 24. And though that was 21 years ago, he’s still younger than Dexter Jackson today.
BEST LOSS: 1982 NPC NATIONALS, HEAVYWEIGHT 2ND
One of the 22-year-old, 5’11” phenoms in the 1982 NPC Nationals was winner Lee Haney. The other, Matt Mendenhall—second behind Haney and ahead of five future pros in the heavy class—was destined to remain an amateur. Despite an outrageous X-frame coupled with traps-to-calves density universally labeled “can’t miss,” somehow he missed. After a fifth in the 1983 Nationals, he bounced back the following year for another second (ahead of Leidelmeyer). In 1985, he won the USA heavy class, but lost the overall. Then at the World Games (a pro qualifier), he was second once again.
In 1986, he became a three-time Nationals runner-up. Incredibly, it was the fifth occasion he landed one spot away from a competitor turning pro! It seemed someone always showed up in the shape of his life to edge past him. (He later learned he had a lingering yeast infection, which caused water retention.) Three more times he entered the Nats. Weighing 255 in 1991 at 31, he was fifth in the deepest amateur class of all time. He never competed again. Haney also retired that year, also at 31—but after winning his eighth Sandow. Mendenhall had enough properly placed muscle to challenge Haney’s Olympia dominance in the ’80s—if only he had gone pro.
MENDENHALL’S FOREARM ROUTINE
Reverse Curl, 4 sets, 8 reps
Barbell Wrist Curl, 4 sets, 12 reps
BEST LOSS: 2005 MR. OLYMPIA, 10TH
Nine years are missing. The Jordanian-born Mohammad rose as high as he could go in non- IFBB contests, winning two world amateur titles in 1992 at age 26. Then he vanished. During what should’ve been his peak, he stayed off stages and focused on his new family and career in Austria. When he finally made his IFBB pro debut in 2001, he was 35. In his 24 IFBB contests, he never placed higher than third. Often he was a nonfactor. Mohammad failed to achieve the arid look necessary to collect the biggest checks, but his physique type didn’t lend itself to grainy detailing. Though repeatedly passed over by judges, fans celebrated his 3-D depth. At 5’8″ and 240 pounds, his pecs, abs, and quads were especially dense. Two questions remain unanswered. How high could he have climbed if he’d dialed in his conditioning? And what would his record have been if he’d competed on pro stages when he should’ve been at his best?
BEST LOSS: 1981 MR. OLYMPIA, 5TH
He was the Giant Killer. At only 5’2″ and 170 pounds, you might have thought Rochester, NY’s Danny Padilla wouldn’t stand a chance against much taller men who outweighed him by more than 50 pounds. But his Goliath-slaying reputation was born when he won the 1975 Mr. USA and 1977 Mr. America overalls. Despite his shortness and thickness, his mass was perfectly proportioned and aesthetically pleasing. A fan favorite, he was the little engine that could. In his pro debut in 1978, he battled Robby Robinson to a close second. They repeated that epic dual with the same debatable result at the 1979 Night Of Champions (Mike Mentzer was third).
The 1981 Mr. Olympia won by Franco Columbu remains the most controversial in history. Most think Columbu shouldn’t have won. But who should’ve? A strong case can be made for the Giant Killer, who came in thoroughly peeled at 150 pounds. He sacrificed fullness to reveal deep cuts, but in a lineup devoid of a clear victor he was arguably the best choice. The judges disagreed. They placed him fifth. He last competed in the 2000 Masters Olympia. This list is alphabetical, but if it had a No. 1 it’d be Danny Padilla. He is the greatest bodybuilder of the modern era who never won a pro show.
PADILLA’S CALF ROUTINE
Standing Calf Raise, 5 sets, 15 reps
Donkey Calf Raise, 5 sets, 15 reps
Seated Calf Raise, 5 sets, 20 reps