My prep for the 2013 WNBF Worlds started the moment I stepped offstage at the 2012 Worlds. As in most previous years, I gave myself a 6-month off-season focused on trying to address several weak points in my physique. This year, however, I worked with Dr. Mike Zourdos who helped design a workout routine that was dramatically changed from years past. As I note in my blog posts on the topic, I was squatting up to 4 times per week and deadlifting 3 times per week. My strength was at an all-time high with this approach, and I plan on continuing with it in the future. I stayed a bit leaner in the off-season this time around, with my weight peaking in the low to mid 190s; and again started my contest diet at 26 weeks out. Another change I made this year was to do basically no steady-state cardio during the entire prep. I only did 2 HIIT (high-intensity interval training) cardio sessions each week, starting at about 22 weeks out. This was much easier on me both mentally and physically; and I believe I achieved my best conditioning to date with this approach.
The 2013 WNBF Worlds was a bit different from prior years. Several weeks before the show, the WNBF allowed competitors from other pro natural organizations (such as the IFPA or DFAC) to compete, something that had never been done before. The show took place in Worcester, MA at Worcester State University under the promotion of 4-time WNBF World Champion Nancy Andrews. Although the application form indicated the lightweight cut-off would be 168 lbs, there were so many entrants into the LW class (19!) that the decision was made to split the class into two, essentially creating a bantamweight class. So, for the first time ever, there were 4 classes at the Worlds. I weighed in around 165 lbs, and as the classes were broken out I realized that the LW class was easily the toughest, with at least 5 competitors who had either won pro shows or won their classes at pro shows. In particular, Levi Burge and Francisco Montealegre had each made a name for themselves over the past couple of contest seasons, each winning pro shows and establishing themselves as some of the best relatively new pros on the scene. Ulysses Fowler and Matt Viemiester were also in the class, both impressive physiques with pro wins but different strengths - Ulysses being very symmetrical and aesthetic while Matt relies on his conditioning to get ahead. Although many big names were notably lacking from the event (including last year's champ, Hayzer Cayli, and the always impressive heavyweight Martin Daniels), there was still sure to be some stiff competition in each class. In total 33 competitors from 7 countries showed up for a shot at the title.
I was in the unusual position of not getting to see the bantamweight class onstage (I am used to being the first men's class out!) but from what I saw backstage the U.K.'s Mark Oakes was the man to beat, showing up in rock-hard condition and demonstrating very solid posing. Rich Lauro and the young Andy Kalinowski looked to be headed for a battle for 2nd, with Rich's impressive structure and big quads going up against Andy's width and condition.
As the LW class went out, I again was very confident that this physique was an improvement on my 2012 showing. I was also eager to go up against some of the new faces of the WNBF for the first time. Sure enough, after our first series of quarter turns and mandatory poses, I was moved to the centre of the stage and quickly found myself surrounded by both Levi Burge and Francisco Montealegre. The three of us were all applying our tans in the same area backstage (with our wives helping!), joking around and having a good time. It was a great environment and I knew I had my work cut out for me as they both looked very impressive. Levi's billowing quads and wide back were made all the more impressive by his youth. At only 26 years old, his future is very bright! His muscle bellies were full, and he showed up in very good condition - light years beyond where I was at his age! Francisco also showed up in great shape, and his fantastic symmetry highlighted a classical look to his physique. I knew they were both pushing me hard while we were onstage, but was confident in my own condition and posing. Our class was done with prejudging relatively quickly, and Levi, Francisco, and myself shared the middle of the stage most of the time.
The Middleweight class was the smallest at only 6 competitors, but was certainly not lacking talent. 2011 Worlds class winner Shevon Cunningham was the immediate favourite, with IFPA transfer Erik Alstrup close on his heels. Erik has a unique bodybuilding history, making a name for himself as an IFBB pro before taking some time away from the sport and then returning almost a decade later to compete in natural organizations. An impressively conditioned Sean Young and the ageless Gerry Ruck seemed to be fighting for 3rd, but Shevon's muscularity and dramatically improved condition made him a clear winner in my eyes. Erik was in very good shape but did not have as much muscle as Shevon, and though his posing has held him back in the past, Shevon seemed to have made some strides in that area.
The heavyweights were also a bit down from prior years, with only 8 competitors. The 2x defending class champion, the U.K.'s Rich Gozdecki, was back, and was immediately put to the test against the immense Abraham Tchabe from Africa. Abraham had won the HW class at the IFPA's Yorton Cup just a few weeks prior and was truly a sight to see. He probably had the largest quads of any natural I have ever seen, and massive arms to match. Though his back was a bit sub-par relative to his other freaky bodyparts, Abraham showed up in very good shape and was clearly Rich's biggest threat. Rich again weighed in at around 230 lbs, and sought to show the judges that his evenly-developed frame was the best in the class. The 2x champ was in good condition, though perhaps a hair off his 2012 showing. I was also impressed with Hashim Evans, who looked to be a solid 3rd with a wide back and tiny waist highlighting an impressive X-frame. Hashim was only held back by the sheer size and slightly better condition of what looked to be the top 2: Rich and Abraham. In my eyes, Rich was the better bodybuilder - he was a much better poser (Abraham's posing was quite bewildering to be honest) and seemed more complete to me. However, Abraham's mass was not easy to ignore, and I had the sense it would be close between the 2 of them.
As the night show commenced, my routine seemed to go over with the crowd very well and I had several long-time competitors tell me it was the best routine I have performed at the Worlds. I was receiving very positive feedback all day from people in the audience as well as other competitors, with most noting that this was my best physique to date and that I was a serious threat for the overall. As the results came down for each class, most went as I predicted: Rich Lauro taking 3rd, Andy Kalinowski 2nd, and Mark Oakes a hard-fought 1st in the Bantamweights. In my own class, Francisco took home a well-deserved 3rd place in his Worlds debut, and Levi Burge took the 2nd place spot, an impressive finish for the young star! I managed to win the class with unanimous first place votes, something I am very proud of as Francisco and Levi are some of the best in the sport. The MWs had Sean Young in 3rd, with Erik Alstup taking 2nd, but neither had the muscularity to beat Shevon, who took home the MW class for the 2nd time in 3 years. In the HWs the newcomer Hashim Evans ended up in 3rd, but perhaps the surprise of the night was Rich Gozdecki taking 2nd to the massive Abraham Tchabe. I was even more surprised to find out later that it was a unanimous decision in the class, as I for one would probably have placed Rich over Abraham.
So, for the 5th time, I marched out for a WNBF Overall that would determine the World Champion. I was as confident as I had ever been, thinking that I had a very good shot at winning the title. The fact that there were 4 classes gave me a unique advantage that I had not previously had, in that most of the attention was garnered towards the middle of the stage as Shevon and I battled it out for what ended up being the top 2 spots. As good as the bantamweight and heavyweight winners were, Mark was at a bit of a disadvantage structurally, and despite his size Abraham was not quite lean enough to challenge for the overall title. I could see the judges comparing Shevon and I, shot for shot, and I did my best to be aggressive and hit my poses spot on. I knew that Shevon had a significant amount more muscle than I did (probably 15-20 lbs), and that from the front he is very, very tough to beat. However, I felt that I had a slight advantage on both of the side shots (mostly due to better posing) and had a distinct advantage in the back shots where my condition truly stood out. In the end, it was simply a matter of what the judges preferred - size and balance vs. condition and posing. I truly thought this might finally be my year; I even held out hope as the MC Dr. Rick Silverman announced that the final vote was a 1-point decision. However, as the winning number was announced, it was not mine but Shevon's number called and he fell to his knees in joy that the title he had long sought was finally his. It was a tough decision to take, I honestly believe that a different judging panel might have gone another way; but I cannot argue with the decision as Shevon is an incredible bodybuilder and a very deserving champion. I immediately shook his hand and congratulated him on beating me when I felt I was at my best. Shevon was very gracious in victory, acknowledging that it was a close decision and that we both pushed each other as hard as we could.
In the end 4 judges went with Shevon in 1st, and 3 had me in 1st. This was as close as I have ever gotten to the Overall title. I put quite a bit of effort into this prep, and to lose in this manner was tough. But, I am very happy that I continue to get better and make improvements to my physique, and believe that as long as I continue to improve that I have quite a few more competitive seasons left in me. Congrats Shevon - enjoy that World Champion title, it has been a long time coming for you my friend!
WNBF Pro World Lightweight Champion 2013