by Christian Duque
Over the course of the last month, I’ve been receiving messages on Facebook, DM’s on IG, and even comments on YouTube, all asking me the same question. The viewers want to know what my thoughts are on 7x Mr. Olympia Phil “The Gift” Heath getting smaller. Just a couple days ago NS&P released a video on Phil downsizing and countless other networks have given this story varying degrees of coverage.
It’s not like it’s breaking news, I mean those of us who follow the fitness industry can’t help but notice that Phil isn’t packing on the same level of muscle as when he competed at the 2020 Olympia. Then again, it is late November, and the 2022 Olympia won’t be until December of next year. While there’s no reason for The Gift to walk around at 280lbs, the fans have noticed he’s reduced his size even more so than a lean off-season active competitor would.
As we all know, all too well, when the fans take to talking about something, they usually don’t stop. I mean, how long has it been since Kai Greene did a bodybuilding show? Five, six years, I’d say; however, anytime the Arnold or Olympia approaches, many fans won’t rule out The Predator until the athlete weigh-ins. They keep hope alive until the end. But they don’t just keep hope alive, they keep the conversation going.
While it may seem Phil has no intention of competing again for the foreseeable future, the fact he’s shedding some of his trademark size, will have his critics speculating as to his retirement. His hardcore fans, however, will probably live in the same denial that Kai Greene fans do. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think Phil announcing retirement would be a good career move and here’s why.
Speculation on the message boards, on Youtube comments, and throughout Facebook groups and sub reddits are fantastic examples of free and effective, organic marketing efforts. Heath doesn’t have to pay for this advertising; in fact, he doesn’t even have to acknowledge it, much less give it his blessing. All he really has to do is, from time to time, tease the fans. In a similar way to the concept of feeding the trolls. It’s also good to feed/tease your hardcore supporters.
This is why Kai will meet for lunch with Dan Solomon, use a suggestive hashtag, or make some kind of vague comment about wanting to get back on stage, strategically timed right around the NY Pro, Arnold, or Olympia. He’s been doing it for years and whether people know it or not, they play along. This helps The Predator sell more ebooks, training services, supplements and really whatever he’s pushing at the time. He spends no dollars, he just drops a line on a post or video. How effortless is that, especially for the amazing returns? Not only doesn’t he pay a cent, that kind of organic word of mouth you can’t pay for!! Nothing travels as fast and nothing keeps an audience engaged like it.
With that being said, you can only do that if there’s even the remotest possibility an athlete will compete. If Kai had ever said he was officially retired or worse, gone out with a huge sendoff like Dexter Jackson did at the 2020 Olympia, then very few people would believe in the hype. Once you get the standing ovation at the O, like The Blade got, coming back is pretty much off the table. He got his 9th place, a standing ovations, and his family joined him onstage. And that’s a rap! Surely, Phil would get similar treatment, as would Kai, but that would be the end of their competitive careers.
Kai hasn’t retired because it’s bad for business. Phil shouldn’t officially retire for this very reason, either. That being said, the downsizing in physique may have the same effect.
Let’s look back to the early 2000’s when The Maryland Muscle Machine downsized to the point he was unrecognizable to his champion physique. He did this because he wanted to have a real chance at breaking big in Hollywood. Not only was he able to achieve real cinematic celebrity, but his music career with Full Blown was also taking off. For about ten years, seeing Kevin Levrone competing as a bodybuilder was the farthest thing from most people’s minds. Although he didn’t officially retire, the end result was the same. Will Phil go to Levrone lengths for whatever projects loom on the horizon? Who knows?
With Big Ramy solidifying his position with two Sandows, Brandon Curry hot on his heels with a Sandow of his own, and the ever impressive Hadi Choopan pounding on the door, the Olympia landscape doesn’t look too promising for another Heath attempt in 2022. Moreover, you have a new guard forming with guys like Nick Walker, Hunter Labrada, and Iain Valliere. While Phil could probably still best these guys, he won’t for long.
Let’s not forget that Health is 41 years of age. He’s not old, but he’s also no spring chicken. For him to return he’d have to best two Mr. Olympias in their prime, a 2x People’s Champion on the rise, and a pack of young guns all vying for the Top 3. Each year off the stage, his prospects become more fleeting. In reality, he’s got little to prove, though. He’s tied with The Oak at 7, he’s won the Arnold, and his niche in the fitness industry is ironclad. So what’s the big deal with winning another Sandow and tying with Haney and Coleman? The real vindication would have been in besting their records. That’s what he was really after. So it might be a great time to hang ‘em up, at least unofficially speaking. I mean, he may win another Sandow if all the stars align and several guys come in off, but he isn’t winning two. He may be confident, but he’s not delusional.
Furthermore, size is not his friend. Whether he wants to pursue acting, public speaking, or other avenues to break into the mainstream, he’ll need to look a lot less like a freak and a lot more like a regular, albeit very fit, man of 41. Look at Frank Sepe for example. He’s jacked by fitness standards and gets a tons of attention from the mainstream public, but he has a neck, he can touch his shoulders, and he’s not breathing heavy after walking just ten feet. Again, it’s all about being marketable. Phil at 270-280 lbs, ripped or round, is not going to land movie roles or appear in mainstream publications.
Most mainstream people see a 280lb bodybuilder and we all know what they think. They don’t think hardcore diet, serious training, and years of hard work. They think of steroids and steroids alone. Is that ignorant? Yes! But guess what, that’s how most people outside the fitness industry think (and many in it, as well). Good luck trying to change that attitude; the better approach is when in Rome, do like the Romans. That’s might be Phil’s plan.
With The Rock and Danny Garcia in his corner, plus key connections like those to Patrick Bet David of Valuetainment, Heath has a very good chance of transitioning from bodybuilding to other sports and interests. Let’s not forget that he’s landed some of the biggest contracts in the industry, he’s college educated with a concentration in business, and he’s also traveled the world. Although he can be exceedingly arrogant and was always known for his cockiness, that too, has given him insights and perspectives into so many walks of life, that he could easily run a very successful podcast or radio show, along with guests, or even fly solo.
The key to successful programs is keeping an audience engaged, from there it’s all about consistency, knowing your worth, and studying your analytics. Then again, he may also not be leaving the fitness industry, but just competing. Look at what “Sugar” Shawn Ray, Dennis James, and Bob Cicherilo do with the Olympia. All of these guys could be competing at the Masters Pro level, but why would they? They’re making a killing working various roles for Jake Wood, they’re heavily involved in the sport and industry, and I’d imagine their take home pay and benefits packages are nothing to sneeze at. I mean, let’s not forget Athleticon. Why would The Rock hire any of the aforementioned guys, if he could potentially have a 7x Mr Olympia as the MC, lead the press conference and/or oversee the production? Phil could be what Dan and/or Tamer are to the Olympia, to Athleticon.
After all, whenever Athleticon does happen, it’s said to be on the level of the Arnold and Olympia. I wouldn’t expect anything less given who the owners/promoters are. Phil could have that gig on lockdown for five, ten, or more years. It’s also something that wouldn’t require him to walk around at 270lbs of muscle.
All in all, Heath may just be taking a break, or 250 might be the new him. At 250, he’s still a good 40-50lbs less than Greene, but he could still look somewhat ready to compete. That’s probably a healthier way to keep the hype factor going, as well. It keeps him in striking range of coming back, but it also keeps him in striking range of dropping to 225’ish where he could land more mainstream roles and other interests. That being said, Phil has nothing to prove so I’d be utterly shocked if he ever competed again.
After taking 3rd in Orlando, looking phenomenally good, that should be all folks. He needs to protect his legacy and he needs to look beyond the stage. Again, much love to him, but at 41, another comeback is probably the last thing on his mind. Do you agree, disagree? I look forward to reading your feedback.