by Christian Duque
There’s something so damn cool about seeing two of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, side by side, pumping iron at the Mecca – Gold’s Gym Venice Beach. It’s almost like they don’t even have to say a single word. Just the fact that these two warriors came together to do something they both love like no other sport says it all.
Coleman came up the ranks by happenstance. Had it not been for Brian Dobson offering him a free gym membership and taking him under his wing, we may never have been blessed with the Coleman era. He was a blue collar policeman simply looking to do something he enjoyed. If you would have told The Big Nasty when he was a natty bodybuilder fresh off the college football field that he would become a major force in physique and strength-based communities, he probably would have looked around for the candid camera. He wasn’t a showstopper and he wasn’t someone looking for popcorn headlines. He was a guy from a Christian background that liked to train and loved football. When that road didn’t take him to the pro’s he was perfectly happy to work a police job and provide for his family.
Arnold was another guy who never in a million years thought he would be a Mr. Olympia, a movie star, or much less the governor of California. That’s where all the American movie stars lived. He was the son of a police officer in Austria and liked lifting weights.
Neither Arnold or Coleman were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Ronnie had Brian Dobson and Arnold had The Master Blaster Joe Weider. Joe discovered The Oak, brought him to America, and really believed in him. He had an ally, a backer, and a friend in Joe.
Without Brian Dobson there would be no Ronnie. And Ronnie will be the first to tell you that. That’s not to say Brian won him the Sandows, or Brian suffered in the trenches, or Brian is the one who had to drop to 3% body fat at 300 lbs of lean muscle. That’s just to say that without Brian and that strong support, Ronnie may never have followed the dream of diving head-first into a niche sport.
Without Joe, Arnold may have done a few contests in Europe, but those shows didn’t pay money. What Austrian police officer father would sign on to have his son get oiled-up and pose in his shorts on stage as a living? That road would see his offspring live under a bridge as some ward of the state. Joe wasn’t promising the young Austrian a life of poverty. He put him on the cover of his magazines and he gave him the chance to live in a part of the U.S. where he could rub shoulders with movie stars, rock legends, and real movers and shakers. Without Joe, there would be no Arnold.
The fact that Arnold won seven Sandows and Ronnie won eight just goes to show you what an ironclad work ethic can do – even in a sport that’s judged on a subjective criteria. Where one group of judges in one place could want one thing and another group of judges just a rock’s throw away might want something totally different. Even still, wherever Arnold or Ronnie went, no matter in front of what judges they posed – they won.
They were the best of the best. Their dominance was unquestioned and when they were on, it was always their show to lose. Nobody came close and everyone knew it. That’s not to say they didn’t have their trials and tribulations. Neither of them woke up one day and won it all. Arnold had to battle Frank Zane and lose early on. He also didn’t beat Sergio the first time they tussled. The same can be said for Coleman. Ronnie cut his teeth with very tough placings when he first got started and even though he made a name for himself as he rose through the ranks of the IFBB, it took time. The Big Nasty wasn’t an overnight sensation. In fact, it wasn’t until that 1998 Mr. Olympia where he edged out by Flex Wheeler that he could really say he was the best.
Coleman was one of those guys who was humble to the core. Even though people around him said he was the best, he would never act as such. At least not until it was official. And even after ‘98, I think he was still humble because maybe he thought it was a fluke. Maybe he’d only be a one-time winner? I think this may have been the case after Arnold’s first win, as well.
But the more they won and the more the gap between them and everyone else became that both of these legends really took off.
Take the movie Pumping Iron, for example. By the time this film came about, Arnold had already won a string of consecutive Sandows. His reign was so secure that he may have already grown bored with the sport. There was a good amount of acting on his part, trying to make it seem like maybe on some level Serge or Lou had a shot. Arnold was so full himself, in reality, because he knew how good he was and he knew he could best his competition with minimal effort.
Ronnie, although humble by nature, thought himself unbeatable most especially after 2003. What Coleman did that year buried everyone else. That was the mic drop heard worldwide. Even as everyone looked to see what Jay would bring after pushing the champ hard in 2001 and skipping the ‘02 contest, he totally dashed Cutler’s hopes in ‘03. I mean he just crushed everyone’s spirits with that package. This is why he laughed Jay’s challenge off in 2004 and jokingly told Triple H that Cutler was smoking crack. This is why in 2005 he took Jay even less seriously. And even when he lost the title in ‘06, if you look at Ronnie as he waited for the call he was tipped off was coming, he was in utter disbelief. Not only couldn’t he believe he was going to lose, he just couldn’t process it.
That’s not to say Jay wasn’t deserving. It’s not to say Ronnie was cocky, but he was an eight-time Mr. Olympia and he truly believed he’d get nine, if not ten.
If Arnold had never retired, he probably could have gotten ten, as well.
Nonetheless, these guys have 15 Sandows between them. That’s just mind-boggling when you stop to think about it. And what’s even crazier is just seeing these pumping iron, with all that history, and thinking about the millions of people they’ve inspired and the millions more they have yet to touch it’s pretty crazy. These guys are walking examples of what’s achievable if you truly believe in yourself and press on. It’s not some empty wishy washy Hallmark message. It’s as real as those two guys sharing a workout for all to see and training like it’s just the two of them. All the while every set of eyes was fixed on their every move. Just two guys – who happen to be living legends – sharing a workout, talking shop, and having some laughs.
It doesn’t get any better than that. This is what bodybuilding is all about, whether it’s a couple of workout buddies at the local gym or two of the biggest superstars in the sport at Mecca in Venice Beach!