2015 WNBF Worlds
November 14, 2015
Having won the IFPA Yorton Cup in late October, there was only one other title that eluded me - WNBF World Overall Champion. Worlds was held 3 weeks after the Yorton this year, making for some brutal days diet-wise as I pushed myself to be in even better condition than at the Yorton (since I knew my competition would be doing the same). By the time we set out for Atlantic City, I had dieted a total of 31 weeks - the longest of my career. I had no doubt that I was at my all-time best condition, but I knew that Worlds brings out the best of the best - including several foreign competitors that I had never faced. The defending Worlds champ (and 2-time Yorton Cup champ) Cleveland Thomas would also be there, and Shevon Cunningham was almost sure to turn up for a shot at avenging his loss to me at the Yorton a few weeks earlier. There was also quite a buzz about a newcomer from the UK, Adrian Grey, who had set the Brits on fire with an overall win at their pro show just a few weeks before Worlds.
This time around I traveled to the contest with my wife (thanks to my awesome parents who came out to OK to babysit our 3 kids) as well as my training partner Jason Vlastaras and his girlfriend. As we arrived in Atlantic City and went through check-in and polygraphing, I was amazed at how many of the foreign competitors knew who I was and asked to get pictures with me. It was almost as if I was a mini-celebrity! The two things I love most about competing at WNBF Worlds are (1) the elite level of competition and (2) the amount of overseas competitors it brings. And despite language and cultural barriers, the comradarie is always top-notch!
As Worlds has always done, the classes were split evenly. With nearly 40 competitors, this made for about 13 in each class. I managed to make the very top of the Lightweight class, which I was happy about (the weight cutoff was lower than in years past). As fate would have it, the defending champ Cleveland Thomas ended up as the heaviest competitor in the Middleweight class and Shevon Cunningham the lightest competitor in the Heavyweight class. Despite only about a 1-2 lb difference between them, the even-class-size format put these two elite competitors in different classes.
As the competitors began to get ready backstage, it was my first chance to see some of the big names like Cleveland and Adrian in person. They both looked absolutely amazing - Cleveland's density was mind-boggling and his condition was on the money; and Adrian looked razor-sharp with an amazing set of arms to go with his ultra-thick back. I knew I was in for a tough battle but confident that my lengthy prep would serve me well. I was also happy to have my friend Justin make the trip to Atlantic City to help apply my tan; Justin had been there for nearly all of my attempts at Worlds and having him there eased my mind about having good stage color.
Most of the names in my own class were unknown to me (in fact 9 of the 13 competitors were from outside the U.S.) - but as I saw the physiques backstage, it was clear that many of these gents were top-notch bodybuilders who had come to make a name of their own. I was particularly impressed with Gelmini Flaviono from Italy, whose condition looked incredible and with good balance and muscle maturity. The young Vernon Williams also impressed me, with amazing quads and upper body thickness to match. Prejuding was extremely challenging, with the symmetry round alone lasting 20 minutes. Finally, after 45 minutes onstage, the head judge announced that we were done. Luckily, I had been practicing posing nearly every day for the past 8 weeks or so - and I was confident in my posing stamina.
As the Middleweight class took the stage, it quickly became a 2-man battle at the top, with Cleveland Thomas going head to head with Martin Ortiz. Martin had won the Lightweight class at Worlds in 2014, and his massive quads and solid condition showed why. He gave Cleveland all he could handle, but to my eye Cleveland still had the class won on the basis of his ridiculous muscle bellies, fantastic overall symmetry (Martin was somewhat bottom-heavy due to his ridiculous quads), and slightly better condition. In the Heavies, Shevon may have been the lightest in the class but his quality immediately stood out. Though he was pushed by the newcomer Grey (who will certainly challenge for an overall title in the years to come) and last year's HW champ Chris Nsubuga (both from the UK), it looked like he would come away with another WNBF Worlds class win.
And so it went: I managed to claim my 6th LW World title; Cleveland would win the MWs, and Shevon bested both Adrian and Chris for the HW World title. This meant that I would be going up against the winners of the last two Worlds Overall titles (Shevon in 2013; Cleveland in 2014). As I waited to go onstage for the Overall, I reminded myself that THIS MOMENT is what I had been training for the past 2+ years. My five previous attempts at a WNBF World Overall title flashed before me (all failures); the brutal 7+ months of strict dieting and gut-wrenching training sessions ran through my head as well. I hit every pose with everything I had, and was extremely pleased that head judge Bob Bell moved the competitors around during both the symmetry and mandatory rounds. This was my first time being moved to the center during a Worlds Overall! The crowd was clearly on my side this year; I grew with confidence as the comparisons went on because I knew my posing endurance was on point.
A brief posedown ensued after the mandatories, and I knew in my gut that this could finally be the year. In fact as the posedown ended I immediately walked to the center of the stage as the 3 of us waited for the final verdict (despite the fact that the LW typically goes to one side). In the end it was FINALLY my name that was called as WNBF World Overall Champion. The title I had been seeking for almost 10 years was finally mine; a wave of emotion once again washed over my face before I quickly recovered and congratulated Shevon and Cleveland on an incredible battle. I would later find out that I received 5 of the 7 votes from the judges (with Shevon and Cleveland each getting 1 vote apiece), making the win relatively robust. I was ecstatic that my wife Jill was there to be a part of this moment; she had been there for so many close calls in the past and as my biggest supporter knew all too well the sacrifices I had made to reach this spot. The many WNBF friends I had made over the years were also there to congratulate me, including many of the UK contingency who were always a blast to chat with backstage and were truly happy to see me get the win.
I did not sleep that night; the day's events kept running through my head and it all seemed like a dream. As we traveled back to Oklahoma, I could not prevent myself from writing down my weak points and what I wanted to improve upon the next time I am onstage. I still truly love this sport and plan on continuing to compete for as long as I enjoy it. For now, however, I am content to enjoy the sense of peace that this win brought me.