Bodybuilding’s Greatest “What Ifs” – Part 1


by Geoff Roberts

In the world of sports, few topics are as exciting or intriguing to discuss and dissect as hypothetical what-if scenarios. Questions such as “What if Bo Jackson never got injured?” or “What if Michael Jordan played with today’s crop of guys?” come to mind. Bodybuilding, due to the general nature of the sport, just so happens to have a nearly infinite number of great hypothetical what-ifs. Two of the greatest what-ifs from the past involve the two most iconic bodybuilders of all time, hands down, Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger. These two what-if scenarios being, what if Arnold was born in 1985 and was competing today at 30 years old, and what if Lou Ferrigno decided not to take The Incredible Hulk role, and instead continued chasing the Mr. Olympia title.

Lou Ferrigno finished third place in the 1975 Mr. Olympia at only 24 years old, bested by both Serge Nubret and Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Lou was not in top condition at this show, which is what ended up relegating him to third place, his potential was very obvious and had he been in proper condition, he would have easily placed higher than third. It must also be understood that Lou was not originally going to do this show, which cut his available time to prepare for the show down significantly. After this show, Lou would stop bodybuilding at a competitive level in order to accept a major role in the ultra popular television program, The Incredible Hulk. However, Lou did make a semi successful comeback to bodybuilding and the Mr. Olympia in 1992 and 1993. More on that later. Ironically, Arnold also decided to forgo competitive bodybuilding after that 1975 Mr. Olympia in order to focus on Hollywood, which left the Mr. Olympia title up for grabs, allowing a sub two hundred pound Franco Columbu to win the show the following year.

Based on the way that Lou Ferrigno looked in 1975, at only 24 years old and after not having sufficient time to prepare for the show, most bodybuilding insiders would agree that with just one more year of proper training, Lou would be extremely hard to beat at that time. Extreme politics aside, Franco would have had no chance against Lou Ferrigno in 1976. From 1976 to 1983, the Olympia title passed hands between Franco, Frank Zane, Arnold, Chris Dickerson, and Samir Bannout. It is hard to make a case for any of these athletes defeating Lou, especially Arnold in 1980 and Franco in 1981, based on the inevitable improvements he would have made over those six years. Although it is highly unlikely that any of these men would have bested Lou, you always have the possibly of Lou coming in off his best and a guy like Frank Zane or Samir slipping past him. That said, I feel that Lou would have won at least five of those six Olympias. This means not only would Lou have five Sandows by 1983, he more than likely would have cut Arnold’s Olympia win count down from seven to six, as there is no way on earth that Arnold would have defeated Lou in 1980.

In 1984 the bodybuilding world saw the emergence of the great Lee Haney. This is where the hypothetical Lou Ferrigno what-if scenario becomes especially interesting. If you ask people who were around Lou in the early 90’s when he was making his comeback, Lou was an absolute freak. John Romano claims that Lou was bigger than Big Ramy and hard as nails. Chris Aceto made a similar comment about Lou, stating that in 1991 Lou was the biggest bodybuilder he had ever laid eyes on, which is saying a lot coming from arguably the most renowned bodybuilding guru in history. John and Chris both claim that had Lou not lost so much weight in the last few weeks of his diet, he would have finished much higher in those early 90’s Olympias than the 12th and 10th he actually received. With these bold statements in mind, if Lou was able to blow the minds of guys like John and Chris in his forties, how would he have looked in his mid thirties had he never gave up on winning the Olympia? Think of how the forty year old Jay Cutler looked in comparison to the thirty five year old Jay Cutler, for example. The reason this hypothetical mid thirties Lou is of importance, is because it is the physique that would have had to go toe to toe with Lee Haney from 1984 to 1989. Personally, I feel that Lou would have won the majority of those years over Lee Haney, once again, based on the personal testimonies of John and Chris in regards to Lou’s physique in his early forties. If we give Lou four of those six years (1984 to 1989) over Lee Haney, not only does Lou become the winning-est Mr. Olympia of all time, but he also eliminates the name Lee Haney from any discussion of who the greatest bodybuilder of all time is entirely. Based on all of this hypothetical information, it is very likely that Lou Ferrigno would have gone down in history as the undisputed greatest bodybuilder of all time with nine Mr. Olympia victories. Not only that, but it is also not absolutely impossible that Lou could have won every single Olympia from 1976 to 1989. For all the math challenged readers out there, that would be fourteen Olympia victories.

What would Arnold’s physique look like on stage in these modern times? Would Arnold have better arms than Roelly? Would he appear bigger than Big Ramy? Let me break it down with a combination of statistics, observation and opinion to come up with a rough, and quite frankly frightening (to other bodybuilders who would have had the misfortune of standing next to this hypothetical 2015 rendition of the Austrian oak) estimate. When Arnold was dominating the Mr Olympia in the 70’s, he was beating men by the names of Sergio Oliva, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, Lou Ferrigno, and Serge Nubret. Looking back at these lineups, the average body weight was roughly 210 pounds. Doing the same with today’s Olympia lineup which includes monsters such as Phil, Kai, Ramy, Dennis, Dexter, Shawn and Compton, you get a weight average of at least 255 pounds. Mathematically speaking, this means the competitors today are 1.2 times heavier on average. Arnold at his best was in the high 230’s. Judging based entirely on body weight, Arnold would be coming into this year’s Olympia at approximately 6’1″ and roughly 290 pounds. Now, obviously Arnold did not have the conditioning in the 70’s at 237 pounds that competitors currently display onstage. So it is only fair to take a few pounds off Arnold’s weight to hypothetically “allow” him to achieve similar condition. This still puts Arnold in the low 280’s onstage, making him the heaviest competitor in the Olympia, with the exception of Big Ramy.

The best comparison to Arnold in today’s field, in terms of a single physique, in my mind would be Cedric McMillan. Assuming Cedric is in any kind of shape, it is safe to say that your attention would be pulled towards his physique in any lineup due to his height, width, lack of distention, and roundness. These are all attributes Arnold also possessed in strides in his prime. As imposing a figure Cedric may be on stage, thoughts of a modern day Arnold gives imposing a whole new meaning with his Looney Tune arms, pecs that each resemble 72 oz steaks, and cannonball delts. The classic vacuum pose is disappearing as fast as our rain forests today, and nobody hit a vacuum like Arnold. Even when he weighed over 240 pounds, from the side his waist appeared to be only a few inches thick. This said, I fully believe with the right precautions Arnold would still have his nutty vacuum pose at over 280 pounds, which would be astounding. In comparing this “modern Arnold” to Cedric, it is safe to say that Arnold would out do Cedric in all of these shared attributes and take every pose outside of the rear lat spread.

On a modern stage, assuming the top guys were all on their game, Arnold may not only be the tallest and heaviest competitor, but also the only one with the ability to hit a legitimate vacuum pose. It is hard to say whether or not Arnold’s weaknesses would still be weaknesses with modern knowledge and technology, however it is only fair to assume they would be. With this in mind, Arnold would be vulnerable from the back, especially the back lat spread, which is why finding a picture of Arnold hitting a back lat spread is similar to winning the lottery. This is only one pose however, and I personally feel his monster arms and delts would keep him above water in the rear double bi. As far as the front shots are concerned, it is hard for me to imagine the show being anything but “lights out” for any competitor onstage not named Arnold. In Arnold’s most muscular at a grainy 282 pounds, his delts, arms, and chest would be truly mind boggling. Find a photo of Arnold’s 1974 front double bicep and attempt to imagine him with modern day grainy conditioning, as well as 40+ pounds of extra muscle evenly distributed over his physique. If the image this creates in your head does not evoke considerable chills down your spine and destroy any doubt that a modern day Arnold would in fact be Mr. Olympia, you may want to have your head examined.

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