by Christian Duque
Will bodybuilding ever go what? Wrestling. I know the title of this article might cause some of our younger readers to scratch their head in confusion but not too long ago a man named Vince McMahon started a rival bodybuilding organization known as the World Bodybuilding Federation (or WBF). This organization rivaled the IFBB then run by Ben Weider.
Joe and his brother Ben pretty much discovered modern day bodybuilding. Joe ran the magazines and owned the Mr. Olympia while Ben presided over the federation. Back in those days there were congresses and meetings held at every level in all countries. The Weider’s had Napoleonic tendencies and sought to rule the sport from their offices. Their level of control was designed to promote the sport and its athletes while the power rested firmly in there hands.
There have been many articles, books, and even docudramas that have illustrated their hard work. Some have taken a romantic approach while others have vilified the Weider Brothers as little more than mobsters. It really depends on who you talk to and the stories can run the gamut. For the most part, I’d say they were shrewd businesspeople that also happened to love the sport. Without Joe Weider there would be no Arnold. There may not even be bodybuilding as we know it.
That being said, for all the opportunities that Joe and Ben offered, the athletes often got the short end of the stick. When you’re dealing with an empire such as theirs the athletes didn’t have much along the lines of recourse. Look at the The Myth Sergio Oliva. When he saw the proverbial writing on the wall with regards to his chances of winning the Olympia back, he basically had to flee to other federations. It’s like he had a little black cloud over his head in the IFBB and that wasn’t going to change. The problem is there was really nowhere else to go.
Sergio competed in lesser feds in smaller shows and made a fraction of what he did with the IFBB. Ultimately he retired and that was that. But by the late 1980’s WWF mogul Vince McMahon started to pick up on some of the athletes’ discontent in the IFBB. He was also privy to what Arnold had been able to achieve with a low budget film in the 70’s with Pumping Iron and the growing interest in some of the more celebrated rivalries of the day. He had already struck gold with wrestling and many of his wrestlers had the bodybuilder look. The only thing is, the bodybuilders were even bigger in terms of size. Plus Arnold’s movies were liquid gold.
Just one look at the Conan movies and Vince probably saw dollar signs. If he could get guys in the late 80’s and early 90’s that could be the new Arnold’s, new Lou’s, and new Franco’s, then he would hit yet another jackpot. But bodybuilding alone wasn’t going to do it. Just like wrestling alone would never have made him the millions that scripted matches with heels and heroes did for him with the WWF.
Bodybuilding has always had some little feuds and little spats here and there. Look at Phil and Kai elbowing each other at the 2014 Mr. Olympia. That always comes up, but when it was all said and done, that was just maybe 30 or 60 seconds of total stage time. And we’re talking about it in an article for Iron Magazine in 2024!
Imagine if instead of this isolated instance being 60 seconds at the culmination of a feud that lasted years it was at every show? Imagine if Kai had slapped the taste out of Phil’s mouth when he was announced the winner! Imagine if Phil swung on Kai but missed him and instead put Bob Cicherillo to sleep! And further imagine if it had all been scripted. Nonetheless there would have been pandemonium in Sin City. Maybe actors who looked like Las Vegas PD took to the stage and tried to lead both competitors away in cuffs, but then Jay Cutler jumped out of his seat along with Ed Corny and beat up the cops, giving Phil and Kai the chance to run out of the venue to a getaway car driven by Ron Harris.
I mean that would’ve been some bullshit, but it would have been a lot more fun than the judges lecturing Phil and Kai to get along. The point is, bodybuilding was boring then and it’s boring now, but the WBF was a blast to watch. They had a weekly tv show that had training but also had that signature WWF-inspired drama.
With the WBF a guy like the late great Mighty Mike Quinn could come alive. His antics weren’t reserved for print and guest posing appearances. Imagine if instead of verbal jabs or the now unheard of posedowns at the press conference, competitors broke paperweight chairs and tables on each other. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
And pretty much everyone that watches “pro wrestling” on tv knows it’s fake. Maybe the 5 and 6 years old don’t, but wrestling makes its money off the 20 and 30 year olds. It doesn’t matter that it’s scripted. Hardcore wrestling fans appreciate the time and effort that goes into creating characters. They like good physiques but they also like fat slobs. They respect the skill it takes in executing difficult moves that look real but which could really hurt someone if not carried out correctly. While the fighting is fake the potential for real injuries is ever apparent. These guys have tremendous skill and part of that skill requires them entertaining millions of fans every night. How much goes into making bodybuilding entertaining today?
So what killed the WBF? It wasn’t poor ratings that much I can assure you of. What did them in was the government’s witchhunt against anabolic steroids. If gear didn’t become a four letter word in the early 90’s who’s to say how many other top IFBB guys would have joined the likes of Gary Strydom, Mike Christian, and Danny Padilla? These guys were being paid huge contracts, they were getting treated like rockstars, and they were undeniably growing the sport. When the WBF folded, the idea of making bodybuilding fun like that died with it.
Maybe WWF style bodybuilding doesn’t do it for you, but I think it would be a blockbuster success if they tried it with pro bodybuilding today.
Imagine if Hadi and Derek came to blows over the Sandow and Hadi ran off with it! Derek would snatch the mic from Bob Chic and promise to get revenge. “Next time I see you Hadi, Derekmania is gonna run wild on you, brother!” Who wouldn’t want to see that?!?!
Meanwhile Hadi is backstage and Derek takes the Sandow home anyways. Next Olympia Hadi takes the stage waving the Iranian flag and Derek the American one. Hadi could be the reincarnation of The Iron Sheik and Derek could be that of Hulk Hogan. Maybe if he could do the WOOOOOOO he could be THE NATURE BOY RIC FLAIR. It’s funny, but it would be liquid gold. And it would be a heck of a lot more entertaining than what we have now.
Opponents might argue that it would make a parody of the sport. To that I’d call bullshit. This is a sport of guys in thongs juiced to the gills and covered in oil posing for panels of mostly old dudes. Give me a break!!
No sport is sacred. It’s athletic excellence and its entertainment. Besides, more money and more reach is what it’s all about. There’s no glory in being a niche sport that only sells out local high school auditoriums. Let’s take this sport to arenas and stadiums.
The WWF model is the big leagues and it’s FUN.
What’s wrong with FUN?
Not a damn thing!