by Christian Duque
The passing of Gustavo Badell sent shockwaves throughout the world of bodybuilding and fitness. He was one of the greatest champions of the recent past and one whose name comes up often as a guy who was so close to winning a Sandow that he could taste it. Not only did he take second runner up two consecutive years at the most important competition in bodybuilding, but he also beat the G.O.A.T. in what was known as the challenge round.
Recently, I wrote about the Challenge Round for Iron Magazine and why I feel it should be resurrected. This was one of the most novel ways of bringing fan participation into the judging of what is called the Super Bowl of Bodybuilding. But unlike the current People’s Champion award, the Challenge Round was actually part of the overall judging! Here competitors went head to head on two different poses, and the audience decided.
What’s more is that Gustavo was able to beat Ronnie in his prime – and Ronnie hated it!! The fact that he lost to Badell at the O really stung. I mean this wasn’t like when he lost a Gunter at the GNC Show Of Strength in 2002. That was some bullshit off the grid show that Ronnie probably should never have competed at in the first place. Gustavo beat Ronnie at the Olympia. He beat him in his house, in his prime!! I don’t mean to know the GNC event, but you just can’t compare that loss to one at the Olympia.
What was worse for Ronnie – and Jay – was that by 2006 many people believed that it would be Badell and not Cutler, who would eventually become the next Mr. Olympia after Coleman. You can only imagine Jay’s disappointment that not only was he not beating Ronnie but that Gustavo was seen as the next Mr. Olympia. He had an unbeatable guy over him and this rising superstar on his heels. But even after 2006, The Freakin Rican played one more key role.
We simply cannot forget the fact that Badell nearly held back Phil Heath in 2008 at the prestigious IronMan championships, the fourth most important show in bodybuilding. At that time everybody was talking about Phil as the next Mr. Olympia. In fact, Jay hand-picked him from the crowd as his successor. So as Heath was blowing up everywhere, he goes to the IronMan and faces off against fierce resistance from Gustavo.
I met Phil in Kalamazoo Michigan just a few weeks after the IronMan, and he told me that Gustavo gave him the fight of his life. That’s just how good The Freakin Rican was. It is so important that people never play down the fact that this was one of the preeminent Bodybuilding Superstars of the 2000s.
Gustavo was a true legend, and unlike so many social media champions of today, he kept the talk to a minimum. His work ethic in the gym was second to none, and he knew how to diet for a competition. When Gustavo took the stage at a contest, he came in razor-sharp condition and posed like the bodybuilders from the golden era.
Was he an entertainer? Yes and no. He knew how to work the audience during the posedown, but when it came down to the mandatories, he was very much a professional. He wasn’t concerned with theatrics, and he certainly didn’t pose for the cameras. He posed for the judges. He knew what they were looking for, and he knew how to hide his weaknesses. He was as much an artist as he was a strategist. He had a huge amount of respect for the stage, and the fans knew it. This is why he did so well in the challenge round. Because the fans knew that this was an old school bodybuilder in the modern era
What is mind boggling to me is the fact that over the last few years, Gustavo had downsized considerably. He was off of everything and he looked very healthy. But that just goes to show you that after years and years of abuse it can still catch up to you. While I am not privy to the cause of death, I can tell you that anyone that dies at 50, who looks as healthy as Guztavo did, raises is a number of red flags. I’m not saying that his death was related to anabolic steroids, diuretics, or any of the other exotic supplements that bodybuilders at elite levels take, but I would not be surprised if these compounds contributed to his untimely and very early demise.
We have got to start being more sensitive to the realities that the biggest stars in bodybuilding lead very unhealthy lifestyles. The diets may be healthy and the training may be healthy, but the exogenous synthetic hormones that are taken are not. It’s one thing to run TRT or HRT levels, but when a human being has the hormone levels of beef cattle or race horses, we have a problem.
I can tell you that I will mourn the passing of Gustavo Badell, and that I will always remember his many achievements and the great inspiration he provided to countless individuals, myself included. I would hope that no one forget about him, and that we continue to celebrate him into the future. That having been said , it deeply saddens me to lose another great bodybuilder at a very young age.
50 is nothing. 50 in my opinion is extremely young and he could’ve easily had another 20, 30, or more years ahead of him. This is a real tragedy