by Christian Duque
7x Mr. Olympia Phil Heath is back! Sort of. The famed bodybuilding champion who defeated Jay Cutler and contained the likes Kai Greene and Big Ramy, is back at the 2023 Olympia Weekend. Only he won’t be competing, he’ll be hosting the Pay Per View. I’m not certain how many numbers this production gets, as those stats are probably top secret, but I can tell you that Jake Wood and his team invest all kinds of money into bringing the Superbowl of Bodybuilding to any and all that pay for this amazing package deal.
This is a lot more than simply a bodybuilding show. Anyone who’s ever been to the O can attest to this. You’ve got the weigh-ins, the famed (or infamous depending on you) press conference, the prejudging and the finals. The finals, or night show, is also where the best athletes in the world present their individual routines. And while all divisions present their own distinct look, if we’re talking sheer entertainment value, then I have to say fitness takes the cake. I mean you get to see acrobatics, gymnastics, muscle and a real spin on things from each competitor. Every single routine highlights an individuality that really allows the competitor to express themselves. The purely physique-based divisions also get to put in their fine touches. Some bodybuilders have their own signature poses. Take Jay’s quad stomp for example. He should trademark that thing, but no one can nail it with the same justice as him. Modern day bodybuilders have their own signature moves and it’s a night show where that all comes out.
And who can forget Bob Cicherillo – the self proclaimed voice of bodybuilding. When he’s up there MCing he keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. Especially for that nailbiter moment when you have the Top 2 standing there, waiting for the next name to be called. Bob really works up the audience and creates tremendous buzz. He’s well aware that during those few seconds that seem like an eternity, he’s got the whole sport of bodybuilding on pause. Everyone has their posts ready, whether they’re going to sound off on the message boards, hit publish on a YouTube video, or simply start screaming in the venue. For those in the actual hall, you can literally hear a pin drop, but the fun is just as exhilarating at home.
Bodybuilding has always been an international sport. We don’t see it as much since the Olympia has remained stateside but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s constantly more and more shows being added worldwide to the IFBB Pro League roster. In fact, they just added another show in Italy that became the absolute last chance for Pro’s to qualify for the 2023 Olympia Weekend.
But for as much as the sport is international, very few people possess the ability to trek to the United States to watch the O. I mean you have competitors who can ‘t get a visa to compete so it stands to reason that aficionados would be equally hard-pressed to find a way to get here legally. Then of course you have costs to consider. There’s airfare, hotel, food and souvenirs. When it’s all said and done, the trip could easily cost thousands of dollars and while one member of a family might be heavily into bodybuilding, it might be a hard sell to convince everyone in a household that flying across the world to see a bunch of guys posing on stage is the ideal family vacation.
So if international fans can’t get a visa and can’t afford a trip to Orlando, FL, in December 2023, what are they to do? Should they just settle for whatever low res clips they can find on YouTube? Should they hope to find a bodybuilding magazine two months down the road where they can see some junky photos? Or will they buy the PPV and make it a weekend of bodybuilding?
The same way there’s folks who will spend two or three days on end watching football or playing video games so too will hardcore bodybuilding fans probably secret themselves in their man caves, with plenty of food and drinks, and not come out till new Olympia champions are crowned in the ten or so divisions. There’s fans that embark on the Olympia marathon with phones connected, laptops at their side, and social media apps galore! They will watch the PPV, talk crap, and have some laughs all while maybe leaving the couch once or twice to take a leak. That’s the paradise that the Olympia PPV affords so many fans around the world. And who’s going to be hosting the epic package? None other than 7x Mr. Olympia Phil Heath.
Phil has really evolved since the days when he got off the stage after winning a Sandow just to insult Luimarco. Although Phil still has me blocked on Twitter, that app’s changed names, and no one really uses it in bodybuilding. Then again, a lot of people have me blocked (e.g. Nick Walker). Some of the biggest, strongest, and most jacked bodybuilders on the planet have the undeniable flaw of having onion skin. And I’m not referring to their level of condition, rather, to their inability to process any sort of criticism. Even though they’re professional athletes in a subjective, opinion-driven sport, they just can’t seem to accept the fact that they don’t always look impeccable. There’s times they look like crap and for those of us who don’t candy-coat critiques they’re all too eager to silence us. I guess if they don’t see or hear the criticisms, then maybe they’re not there. It’s one thing to be positive, but it’s quite another to be delusional. That being said, que sera sera. That’s old news.
The Phil Heath of today is a different guy. He’s a guy that a lot more people like and I applaud that. As a journalist, I don’t take getting blocked personally. It’s just how the cookie crumbles. It does warrant mention simply because I think it’s important to put your cards on the table when you purport to provide sound commentary.
The task of doing commentary on a bodybuilding show should go to a guy like Phil. It should go to someone who was either a competitor at the most elite levels – or – coached athletes who compete as such. I never liked having guys like The Rock, Triple H, or Mark Wahlberg host bodybuilding events. They all lift and they all eat clean, but have they ever competed at the Mr. Olympia? Have they even done a pro bodybuilding show? If the answer is no, then there’s only so much they can say.
You want a host or commentator that knows what the judges are looking for and who understands what these men and women are going through. There’s a ton of pressure. There may be bad blood or may there may not be. Take Phil and Kai elbowing at the 2014 Mr. Olympia. There was so much that went into that to dismiss it just as “roid rage” or poor sportsmanship would be a categorical miss. There was so much that went into Phil taking offense at Kai’s antics, meanwhile, there was a great deal of frustration that went into Kai, seemingly, coming up short year after year. Phil as a commentator can speak to what it feels to take 2nd to Jay. Maybe when he took 2nd, even though they were buds, maybe he had some internal doubts as to whether or not he’d ever be able to topple him. Heath also knows what it feels like to be on top. He knows all too well that when you’re top you don’t appreciate rivals saying they can take you out. If another 2014 slugfest took place, say in 2023, Phil could provide a level of commentary that The Rock or Wahlberg couldn’t. They don’t know what it feels like to be a runner-up looking for respect or a guy on top demanding it, at least not in bodybuilding. Phil Heath could write a book on it.
In addition to his ability to provide a multi-faceted approach to understanding bodybuilding, Phil can also be a personable character and offer other perspectives – from his college education to playing NCAA basketball and just living life. I’m very happy to see The Gift doing commentary and being a driving force of the Olympia Weekend production. I encourage everyone to seriously consider buying the PPV if they’re unable to make it out to Orlando, FL in just shy of two months. This year’s contest will surely be one for the record books. It’s going to be an all out battle to see who will be #1. There can only be one! Who will it be?!?!