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  • 8 min read

by Christian Duque

Athleticon is the mega contest that was supposed to be the biggest thing since, well, the Mr. Olympia. Originally, it was set to be held in 2020, in Atlanta, GA. The plan was to offer a whole slew of events, much like the Arnold Classic, with bodybuilding being the main draw. I’m sure that wasn’t exactly how it was marketed, but of all the events presented at the Arnold, it’s safe to say bodybuilding is the crown jewel (same with Athleticon).

Initially, many fans believed that this contest would be the site of Phil Heath’s comeback. Heath, who is managed by Dany Garcia (ex-wife of The Rock) and head of Athleticon, had been hinting at the fact his bodybuilding career was nowhere near over. Other major legends like 2008 Mr. Olympia Dexter “The Blade” Jackson also considered competing at the event (see his Valuetainment interview). At the time, though, it was unclear if, then, reigning Mr. Olympia Brandon Curry would do the contest.

The event was marketed as being the first of its kind, offering huge prize money, and automatically taking its place alongside the Arnold and Olympia. Unfortunately, when Covid hit, all the contests found themselves in limbo. Hell, the Arnold Classic almost didn’t happen. The Olympia would change hotels, change dates, and then, ultimately, move cross country. And that was just 2020; we now know that the Olympia will be staying put in Florida. To date, there’s still no concrete date for the Arnold and there’s likely not going to be one anytime soon.

When Athleticon postponed their event for 2021, they picked the week of October 17th. That seemed like a safe date, provided the Arnold took place (February/March) and the Olympia went back to late September – or – kept it’s mid December 2020 date for 2021. When the Olympia announced that the new date for the 2021 event would coincide with Athleticon, the event then postponed its 2021 debut for April 2022, according to Fitness Volt, Ron Harris of Muscular Development, and Nick Strength And Power.

For what it’s worth, I think Athleticon, conceptually, set itself up for a fall. First of all, to say that a new contest (whoever is behind it) will parallel the Arnold and Olympia is utter insanity. Now, they never actually said that, but that was the general consensus in the fitness industry. The Arnold has been going strong since 1989 and bears the name of the most successful and recognizable bodybuilder in the world. No offense, but The Rock can’t hold a candle to Arnold. I mean, The Rock is larger than life, but Arnold has attained godlike status. I think more people know the name Arnold throughout the world than even Jesus. I’m not kidding – not in the least.

The Olympia, has been going strong since the 1960’s and is the single most important contest in all physique-based sports. Whoever wins the Olympia, whether in Bikini, Figure, Fitness, Wellness, MPD/WPD, Classic Physique, 212 Bodybuilding and/or Men’s / Women’s Open Bodybuilding – is the best in the world. For one full year, whichever man or woman wins that title, they’re the undisputed best.

For Athleticon – or any other new show – to reach that level their first year out of the gate is simply a recipe for disaster – even with Robin Chang at the helm. I honestly think they created such a huge amount of pressure on themselves that they made it impossible to simply get off the ground. Had they had more humble marketing and more attainable goals, they could have easily debuted with a small to medium production, offered good prize money, and an expo planned for conditions such as the ones we’re currently living in. The 2020 Olympia Expo was small, but it was real. Unlike the Arnold (which was fully virtual), the Olympia Expo, under the leadership of Dan Solomon, scaled down, but still offered people a real-time event where they could meet celebrities, buy supplements, and interact (albeit in limited form) with other bodybuilding fans, outside of the contest. Also, the expo was totally free, which showed a true commitment to customer service.

Moreover, from what I’ve heard, the prize money at Athleticon wasn’t really as big as many believed it would be. It certainly wasn’t more than the Olympia and possibly may have been comparable to that of ASC. Interestingly, many athletes told me, in confidence, that the contract was quite extensive as well and that had also turned many would-be competitors off.

Still, it was a tempting proposition to compete at the first-ever show of this magnitude. The production value would have certainly lived up to the hype and although the promoters had lofty goals they may not have been able to meet immediately, it’s pretty certain that they would have in the short-term future. The problem is, when you promise an expo that will surpass the ASC, FIBO, and BodyPower, you can’t exactly do what the Olympia did in Orlando, FL in 2020. This is why I think this event will be doomed – if and until – Covid is totally eliminated and we go back to a pre-March 2020 existence. Otherwise, there’s simply no way they’re going to be able to have that kind of an expo, even in states that have loosened restrictions (e.g. FL, TN, GA). The other concern is money coming in. Although The Rock is a megastar and the event would probably draw a who’s who of top fitness celebrities, how many big companies would be eager to buy six figure booths for a contest that’s postponed its debut two consecutive years? The fact 2020 was postponed for 2021 – and – 2021 was postponed for 2022, doesn’t exactly inspire a great deal of confidence.

I’m of the belief that it’s time for a complete marketing makeover. Athleticon is starting to be synonymous with the boy that cried wolf. Who’s to say come 2022 it won’t be postponed to 2023. At this point, I’d say the name has pretty much lost its value. I’d regroup, change the name, change the approach and work silently for the 2022 production. In fact, Nick Strength And Power pointed out that the Athleticon page hadn’t been updated since June 2020. If that’s true, that’s another sign that this event needs better leadership. Even if the event was postponed for 2021 in 2020, how is it possible that the page was essentially abandoned for eight months? How else would you describe a page not updated in eight months, than abandoned? I’m all ears for any potential rebuttals.

Some lessons are hard ones to learn. Look at ole Vince McMahon and his WBF. He gave the bodybuilders contracts, paid them huge amounts of money, and went bust after 2.5 years. The WBF magazine went away, bodybuilding never came back, and most of the guys ruined their careers because no one was waiting for them with open arms at the federation they’d left for greener pastures. Also, the fact that the Olympia picked the same date as Athleticon shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The Olympia is king, it could even be put on the same date as the ASC and the ASC would have to change dates. The Olympia is the King of the Jungle, it doesn’t plan its contest around any others. And listen folks, that was no coincidence. Did they do it on purpose? No, I don’t think they did, but when they picked the date, do I think they worried about the big, new show in Atlanta? Ha!!

You’re talking about a contest that’s over half a century old – what the hell do they care about some experimental show, run by an ex-wrestler, who potentially may have sought to replace the O say in 5 or 10 years? I don’t think this was personal, as everyone gets along really well; however, it may have been a reality check just the same. Had Athleticon not moved its date, it would have been crickets in Atlanta. I know that, you know that, and they certainly know that, too.

I, personally, would be pleasantly surprised if Athleticon happened in April 2022. At this point, I suspect they’re basically rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What do you think? Will we ever see this show happen?