by Christian Duque
This is a question that seems to be resonating with quite a number of fitness industry pundits and influencers, as of late, but why now? For starters, 2019 was the second year that The Arnold Classic didn’t offer the division, and there’s been no talk of bringing it back to Columbus, OH. Also, 2019 was the first year the division wasn’t led by its 7x Olympia Showdown Champion, The Welsh Dragon, James “Flex” Lewis.
2019 also saw the absence of one of the division’s hardest working athletes, The Boston Mass, Jose Raymond. In addition to missing two of its most iconic athletes, the industry press spent the whole year hyping up only one of its athlete and when that athlete didn’t win, that became bigger news than the news of a new 212 champion.
When Derek Lunsford took the stage, he looked good, but he lacked the flawlessness everyone was expecting. In fact, he looked like he was holding water. A virtually unknown pro, in Kamal El Gargani, handily defeated Lunsford, who’s nearly half his age. Shaun Clarida, another virtually ignored bodybuilder, was battling Lunford hard, nearly relegating the young champion to 3rd place.
The 2012 Olympia Showdown also had another problem. When Iranian bodybuilding sensation Hadi Choopan, finally was granted a visa to enter the United States to compete, he opted to compete in the Open Division, as opposed to the 212.
One last factor that’s caused many to talk, is that in 2020, the Olympia changed hands, as AMI sold the contest, as well as its media outlets, to Jake Wood, owner of Wings of Strength and Digital Muscle. With everything taken into account, quite a few pundits have raised the point that the 212 Division’s days may be numbered. I, however, strongly disagree. Not only is the division alive and well, but it will grow, and perhaps we’ll even see it return to The Arnold Classic.
I see a lot of similarities between Women’s Bodybuilding and 212 Bodybuilding. When one media pundit or influencer presents a point, it’s either that one person’s viewpoint – or – others piggyback on that one person’s perspective, and a snowball effect ensues.
For some reason, both Women’s Bodybuilding and, now, 212 Bodybuilding are on the receiving end of a less than favorable snowball effect. With Women’s Bodybuilding, it was first removed from The Arnold, then it was removed from the Olympia, and for all intents and purposes, its days were numbered. Much like Women’s Bodybuilding, many of the talking heads are saying that 212 Bodybuilding isn’t as popular with the fans, that it doesn’t sell enough tickets, and that its 2yr absence from The Arnold, will have an impact on its future. This also happens to a division once it’s biggest star leaves (or retires). We saw this play out with Women’s Physique and DLB, Women’s Bodybuilding and Iris Kyle, and the 212 and Flex Lewis. But are these divisions less popular – or- is it that industry didn’t market them correctly?
Take Women’s Bodybuilding, for example. Look at the huge success that was and is enjoyed by Wings of Strength. Look at what they’ve achieved in just over five years. They set up a series of world class events, they created a media empire, and they even had a World Championship that gave muscular women not only a wonderful stage to compete on, but a huge payday, and a decked out Jeep!! Further and to point out the obvious, WOS is not a charity; if anything, WOS is an empire. So how did they do it?
One key component to their success is an obvious one, hard work. You can’t build anything substantial without rolling your sleeves up and really walking the walk. Another component is having great athletes and great fans. The final component is knowing how to market your product. If you have great athletes, first class events, and you know your audience, then you’re going to have a blockbuster.
I don’t think 212 bodybuilding has been marketed correctly. In fact, I know it hasn’t. There’s no way a division which has athletes on this level, with fans who celebrate their work in the gym, on stage, and on social media platforms, could ever get pulled from the second biggest bodybuilding show on Earth.
If Joe Weider were alive, not only would the 212 never have been removed from The Arnold, but the only question would be, how many contests would be racing to add them. From what I hear, the division will have a place at Athleticon, the totally new event everyone is talking about. If that’s true, and knowing how deep their pockets are, it should make the fans wonder why (A) it’s no longer offered in Columbus, and (B) why on Earth anyone’s doubting the division’s future.
Sadly, Joe Weider is no longer with us, but Jake Wood is. I know the 2020 Olympia Weekend will be unlike any other and I’m confident that that will include some fresh, new ideas for putting the 212 Division on the map. Again, the Olympia is the Super Bowl of Bodybuilding and it might take Jake, Dan, and their new team to show everyone else how it’s done.
New additions to the Division, like George “Da Bull” Petersen and Keone Pearson, will also bring considerable more attention. Meanwhile, The Lion of Libya, Kamal El Gargani, will do his best to successfully defend his title against the new additions and vetaran contenders like Shaun Clarida, who will most likely take their most aggressive shot at winning. There’s also media favorite, Derek Lunsford, who quite frankly could have won in 2019, but saw himself sabotaged just hours out. While issues dealing with condition are incredibly common in bodybuilding, to lose a title over a couple minor miscalculations, is quite a bitter pill to swallow. Imagine how restless he must be, to finally win that title!!
Adding even more fuel to the 212 fire, is the fact that The Boston Mass, Jose Raymond, has expressed interest in a comeback. If that were to happen, the 212 stage will be an all about battle, which would also include other formidable contenders like Charles “The Tank” Dixon, Guy Cisternino, and even highly decorated former titleholders like David Henry.
No one can tell me the fans aren’t stoked to see the aforementioned battle – and save for there being a preliminary poll to each ticket purchase – I’d call anyone out that said otherwise. Anyone who says bodybuilding is the major draw of a contest, but from the other side of their mouth says that 212 Bodybuilding isn’t popular, is clearly full of it. What’s 212? It’s bodybuilding! Not only that, but I’ve seen more contests than I can count on both hands, where the 212 bodybuilders are more dry, more ripped, and more freaky than the open guys. Not only does 212 bodybuilding hold its own, but it may have carried Open Bodybuilding at some contests, too.
I am a firm believer that The 212 is alive and well. And while I understand that 7x Olympia Showdown Champion James “Flex” Lewis has moved on to Open Bodybuilding, I think his role with The 212 should be considerably more pronounced than it has been. Even though he’s no longer competing in said division, I still think he’s its most recognizable ambassador – and I think he always will be. That being said, I understand and respect him greatly for pulling back, giving the other guys a chance to win, and maybe going somewhere where he’d again be the underdog, where maybe he could still prove something.
No one was going to beat Lewis in the 212 – and – rest assured, no one ran him out. He could have won 8, 9, 10 – as many as he wanted. That’s nothing against the insanely-hardworking and hungry 212 athletes, but it’s just an honest, unfiltered assessment of Lewis’ dominance. With that being said, I think he can lend his name and influence to help grow the division, without stepping on any toes, and without overshadowing the current titleholder. The 212 will always need Flex Lewis.