by Christian Duque
212 Bodybuilding has been a cutting-edge division since the days of the 202 and its graduation to the heavier class. It has drawn out some amazing champions like David Henry, Jose Raymond, Flex Lewis, and of course contemporary greats like Kamal El-Gargni, Shaun Clarida, and Keone Pearson just to name a few. Of course, we can’t leave out 2023 Masters Mr. Olympia Hidetada Yamagishi who went to Romania and battled like no other.
Hide has been a driving force in the division for years, battling veteran bodybuilders like Charles “The Tank” Dixon to Hadi, Derek, and the late great George Da Bull Peterson. Japan’s #1 bodybuilder has never disappointed when it comes to his razor-sharp condition and his attention to detail. That is, after all, the norm in The 212.
This is a division not known for pettiness or bullshit rivalries, rather, they’ve outdone themselves when it comes to camaraderie and professionalism on and off stage. This is why the division has grown as quickly as it has. Even though the Arnold Classic removed it from its roster and there have been years where there’s doubt as to whether the class will go on, these guys never skip a beat. The 212 has also produced guys that have gone on to do very well in the open ranks, as well, including 2022 Mr. Olympia Hadi Choopan. That’s right folks, The Persian Wolf got his start here, as did Derek Lunsford who many believe will win the Sandow in 2023. Others have qualified for the open Olympia like Clarida and El-Gargni, but they’re true to the division, and always make sure to battle for its top title.
The 212 Masters Olympia was no different. When you look at the lineup it showcased a who’s who of top talent from all over the world. Much like the open, it drew guys out of retirement that missed the stage and missed the mindset of competing at the most elite levels in the world. I’m talking about living legends like David Henry, Derik Farnsworth, Hide, and Masoom Butt. These guys are mobbed wherever they go and they realize the tremendous star-power their physiques have generated. What’s more is that competing in Romania was a special treat for the diehard bodybuilding fans in Eastern Europe. Unlike the fans in the States and Western Europe, many of these fans can only see the DVD’s and the livestreams. Thanks to an innovative promoter like Jake Wood, they had the chance to get a front row seat to one of the most competitive contests in the world. After all, a lot of these masters guys continue to win big open shows, and terrorize the pro circuit.
The biggest misconception about masters bodybuilding is that it’s confined to older guys. That’s just not the case. Tell that to all the open guys Phil Clahar beat at the 2023 Orlando Pro. Tell that to the guys that Kamal slayed in Tampa and throughout the U.S. The fact of the matter is that anyone who underestimates the Lion of Libya will pay dearly. The same is to be said about Hidetada. Let’s not forget that Hide placed Top 10 at the open Olympia in his prime. That’s saying a lot because he was ultra-shredded and posed hard. And very much in the vein of other giant killers, he didn’t make himself scarce for the pose down.
While a lot of shorter guys tend to disappear, guys like Hide will pose down against the biggest and freakiest bodybuilders because they know that what separates them is the fact they come in bone dry and vascular. For most of the mass monsters, they may have overwhelming size, but many times they’re soft and smooth.
One of the telltale signs of The 212 is that while guys suffered from abdominal distention in the open and others rocked full blown pregnant bellies, every single guy – from 1st place to dead last in The 212 had striated glutes, tight waists, and great condition. Every guy in this division helped to collectively raise the bar. This is why some of the years that Phil Heath won, so many fans looked the other way – literally. They were fixated on the far superior look of Flex Lewis who dominated the lighter division. The obsession with Flex, Hide, Da Bull and Pearson was so great that it helped enthusiasts forget just how bad the open guys looked some years.
The irony, however, is that while The 212 guys looked so much better they were making as much as 90% less at the open Olympia. One of the many things that Jake Wood did for the Masters Olympia that I really think hit the nail on the head is that the 212 winner got $20,000 for his efforts. That’s the kind of prize money that will get people to the stage. Could it have been higher? Sure. But it’s a nice check for everyone to compete for and at least as far as the winner’s are concerned, it might more or less let them actually make a little profit.
When it’s all said and done, you know Hide probably spent a pretty penny on food, training, supps and gear, but $20k USD probably left him with a few extra bucks to his name. And that’s only fair. The top guy should enjoy some kind of perk.
We all know that bodybuilding is the last sport on Earth where competitors make money. It’s all about passion and the feeling of being your best on stage, but guys like Yamagishi have made the most of their physiques. Hide has always had an army of sponsors, owns his own businesses, and helps countless people by showing them the right way to eat and train.
He preached sensibility and longevity for his entire career. This is why he never suffered major injuries or was sidelined indefinitely. Sometimes ripping a pec or getting a hernia are just unavoidable, but lifting like a maniac, especially with reduced calories requires a level of recklessness that was never of any interest to the 2023 Masters Mr. Olympia.
When you’re a bodybuilder it doesn’t matter how strong you are. This is not a sport that rewards explosive energy. There’s no prize for the guy who can lift the most reps or puke the hardest into a trash can. Guys who go for these theatrics might sell more downloads and maybe get a few more interviews, but what price do they pay in the process? What I can tell you for sure is that they often cut their careers significantly short.
There’s a reason why Hidetada could come out of retirement and bring back his signature look in just one prep. It’s because he’s never out of shape and it’s because he trained and ate sensibly. I’m so happy for his huge win and I have a feeling, like The Terminator, he’ll be back in 2024 to defend his 212 Masters Olympia title!! Good luck to anyone looking to dethrone him. You’ll need it!