The Lost (Dead) Art of Physique Display
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that because the posing round is no longer a scored component of many bodybuilding shows, the effort given to constructing a memorable and impactful routine is minimal at best.
To celebrate the lost art of posing, I’ve gathered together a list of some of the routines that I thought were the “best” in terms of their artistic physique display and entertainment value. Not surprisingly, the majority of my selection derive from the 90’s when the sport peaked in terms of audience appreciation and was dominated by a competitive element that were in no doubt influenced by its forebears from earlier generations.
Mohhamad Makkaway – 1984 Mr Olympia
The art of the slow pose’; deliberate and paused shots showcase Makkaway’s relatively light but amazingly aesthetic physique for maximum effect. Compare this to the way that the modern day human-fridges trudge the stage hitting random shots and waving their hands in the air prompting the mostly indifferent crowd to lend their applause and you can plainly see how bodybuilding continues to devolve.
Francis Benfatto – 1991 Ironman
Maybe I’m guilty of selecting physiques that represent my own personal bias and goals here, but Benfatto presents one of the most aesthetically complete packages in a standard setting routine. Benfatto still looks sensational at over 50 year and is still competitively active even today.
Rusty Jeffers – 2007 Ironman
There aren’t many routines from the last few years that captured my inspiration when compiling this list. Rusty Jeffers is one of those pros who is renown for his posing routines however. Posing to a relatively obscure Queen’s “The Show Must Go On”, he was actually criticised during this performance by one of the show’s commentators for his poor music selection. If the commentator listened to the lyrics he could have seen that Jeffers was making a statement about the current direction of bodybuilding. An inspired routine to say the least and now one of the more popular posing presentations on YouTube.
Ahmad Haidar – 2002 Mr Olympia
The only other routine from the current millennium I could find to add to list and which appears to pay homage to the early days of classic posing is from Ahmed Haidar’s first Olympia appearance. Haidar hits the poses in a quicker sequence than someone like Makkaway, but as compère, Mattarazzo alludes to, the big sweeping poses accentuate his lighter frame and aesthetics making him appear a much larger man onstage. The combination of the (often used) Rocky IV soundtack and the Pink Floyd Philharmonic Orchestra piece makes for an inspired choice that separates him from the other competitors that night.
Flex Wheeler – 1996 Mr Olympia
There’s fewer people that have been more genetically blessed for the sport than Flex Wheeler and although I believe that he presented a better package in his 1993 Arnold and Olympia debut, I enjoyed this second half of his 96 Olympia posing routine. The guy oozes charisma and stage presence which translates into a memorable posing presentation.
Bob Paris – 1988 Mr Olympia
Paris presented one of the most polished and aesthetic physiques ever to step on the professional stage and its a tragedy that we will never see the likes of these kind of bodies grace the posing dais now that the freak era continues to defy human proportions and logic. Paris’ amazing routine in this Olympia posing to Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You” was an original choreography highlighting his perfect symmetry and classic proportions. Paris poses like a Greek sculpture come to life.
Lee Priest – 1997 Mr Olympia
Lee has been competing since the age of 13 so is no stranger to the stage. His training, eating and posing are all very much attributed to old school influences. Lee turned pro at the age of 20(!!) and made his Olympia debut at 24. His Ironman appearance at 21 years of age showed that he was going to be a future force to be reckoned with and even to this day at over 40, he’s still competing and beating bodybuilders many years younger than him. Pound for pound he’s one of the biggest bodybuilders to even step on stage, but his posing accentuates pleasing lines and full muscle bellies that leap off the bone with every pose hit. Using a techno version of the often (over) used Carmina Burana, Lee’s routine could have been a hackneyed unoriginal performance if not for his ability to display his physique to its maximum potential with an amazing collection of signature poses.
Lee Labrada – 1988 Mr Olympia
Few people have ever perfected the art of posing like Lee Labrada. His every contest appearance could have earned a spot on this list, particularly his 1992 routine, but I enjoyed this presentation to “The Running Man” theme the best. Every pose is honed and polished for optimum effect. The 1988 Mr Olympia was one of the most competitive contests in the sport’s history and if I could have located the videos online I would have also included Phil Hil’s amazing “Phantom of the Opera” routine together with Lee Haney’s “Rocky 4 theme” performance.
Dorian Yates – 1996 Mr Olympia
I remember reading once in a commentary about Dorian Yates that he could simply have walked out on stage in his underwear and by virtue of his physique alone, still win any show. Yates ushered in a new standard to bodybuilding that had everyone chasing his level of muscularity and conditioning for years. Never one to leave any aspect of his professionalism to chance, Dorian used the free posing round to make a statement every time he stepped on that Olympia stage. His routines are a catalogue of entertaining and original performances that could all be nominated for spots on this list. Yates was criticised at times for his blocky appearance and injuries which detracted from his overall symmetry; but his ability to minimise these faults through effective posing made him a dominant force of that era. His routines always hit an emotional crescendo which bought the house down when he nailed that show-stopping signature pose of his.
Shawn Ray – 1994 Mr Olympia
1994 was arguably Shawn Ray’s year when a slightly off Yates won with a noticeably torn bicep. Ray represented the less extreme end of the physique spectrum presenting undeniable symmetry, conditioning and all-round perfection showcased in this unforgettable routine. Ray attributes much of his posing ability to one of his mentors; master poser of the 80’s, bodybuilder John Brown. The song used, “I’m Not Going” by Jennifer Holiday became Ray’s signature song and was a statement for Ray that he wasn’t going to be deterred from competing head on with the emerging mass monsters of the new bodybuilding era.