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Joe Weider is a man as synonymous with competitive bodybuilding as Vince McMahon is with professional wrestling. The two men really aren't that different, both are self-made millionaires --and carnies at heart. Both are in the business of pushing Herculean physiques. In 1939, Weider self published the debut issue of a newsletter called Your Physique. Three decades later, renamed Muscle Builder, Weider was about to ride his brand of personal fitness literature to fame and fortune. According to Irvin Muchnick, in the early years, Weider knew that the core audience for his bodybuilding magazines was homosexuals, and he wasn't above using an occasional sexually suggestive headline if it meant a boost in sales. In 1983, Muscle Builder again had a change of name, this time to Muscle & Fitness, and the publication remains popular to this day.
In 1990, Vince McMahon had recently cut the ribbon on the new Titan Towers in Stamford, Connecticut, a state of the art, 9 million dollar facility that included television production facilities that were the envy of many in the business of television. In Woodland Hills, California, Joe Weider and his partner --and brother --Ben Weider controlled a bodybuilding and publishing empire from posh offices of their own. According to Muchnick, the first thing one sees when entering the offices is a bronze statue of Joe Weider's head attached to the frame of a massive bodybuilder. Joe Weider --or The Master Blaster as the then sixty-eight year old had nicknamed himself-- is an avid self promoter, with his magazines serving at times as an unofficial tribute to himself. Photos of celebrities with "The Master Blaster" and often inane articles about Joe were a typical part of the Muscle & Fitness experience. At one point, 224 references to Joe Weider were made in a single issue of the magazine. Joe Weider, like Vince McMahon, even went so far as to step on to the stage and compete in his own Mr. Olympia competition at one point. Also like Vince McMahon, Joe Weider is a polarizing figure, considered an icon and the savior of bodybuilding by some, and a conman who slings worthless supplements by others.
Ben Weider co-founded the IFBB with Joe in the late 1940's, and took the Presidential role in the 1980's as the more diplomatic of the two. His slogan --parroted by some and mocked by most --is "bodybuilding is important for nation building", and he has recited it frequently in his decades long quest to get competitive bodybuilding sanctioned as an Olympic sport.
Much like the National Wrestling Alliance controlled wrestling in America before Vince McMahon's radical vision shifted the landscape of the industry, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) controlled bodybuilding in America in the 1940's, and the centerpiece of the AAU was their annual Mr. America contest. Ben and Joe Weider had a different vision of what physique athletics should be in America, and formed the IFBB, starting a promotional war of sorts when the IFBB held their own Mr. America for the first time in 1949. The AAU countered by blackballing anyone who ever accepted payment from the IFBB from competing in future AAU events, but in the end it was the Weider brothers who prevailed.
If professional wrestling is a niche sport, professional bodybuilding is a sport that appeals to so few that a word doesn't even exist to describe it. In 1990, the only television coverage of bodybuilding to speak of was a show called American Muscle that ran roughly once a month on ESPN --at 3am. Despite this, Joe Weider boasted to be in charge of an empire that grossed over 100 million dollars per year. At that point, Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation was grossing 150 million dollars per year.
But Vince McMahon was never content simply being a wrestling promoter. Before finding his calling with the World Wrestling Federation, Vince McMahon had promoted hockey, rock concerts and stunt shows, and he always kept his eyes open for the next big challenge. He had tried his hand at promoting a boxing match and producing the film No Holds Barred in the late 1980's. Each produced tepid results. But McMahon's cut throat mentality and fearlessness of failure were what his former competitors credited for his success.
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In the summer of 1990, the president of Titan Sports Inc. Vince McMahon Jr. announced the launch of a magazine titled Bodybuilding Lifestyles. As an amateur bodybuilder and training partner of Hulk Hogan, McMahon was enamored with the bodybuilding lifestyle and through his World Wrestling Federation pushed awe-inspiring physiques above all else. Vince McMahon’s physique had been changing drastically in recent years as he experimented with steroids and moved closer to the body type of the professional wrestlers whom he employed. In the 1980's, when McMahon and his aids would gather to screen the NWA's pay-per-views, McMahon would often disappear to another room during unimportant matches with a set of dumbbells before returning several moments later sweaty and no longer wearing a shirt according Muchnick.
As further proof of his growing obsession with the bodybuilding industry, Vince McMahon had invested heavily in a fitness nutritional system called the Integrated Conditioning Program --ICO-PRO for short --that had been making rounds in a promotional booth at Weider events throughout the early part of the year.
Nobody in the bodybuilding world quite trusted Vince McMahon --rightfully so --as he steadfastly continued to deny any intention of starting his own bodybuilding league. In late July of 1990, an announcement was made that would raise even more eyebrows.
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Tom Platz was a golden boy of the bodybuilding profession. Blonde with good looks and his famous thirty-seven inch thighs, Platz had made himself rich in years past through competitive bodybuilding, amassing most of his small fortune endorsing products and lending his California image to advertisers of the next big thing in bodybuilding. As a bodybuilder himself, he represented the old school, with bulging --though not particularly proportional-- features.
When the World Wrestling Federation approached Tom Platz about a position with their new magazine Bodybuilding Lifestyles and the World Bodybuilding Federation, Platz was said to be thrilled, understandably so. When the formal announcement was made, heads turned in the bodybuilding world.
Vince McMahon and Tom Platz continued to insist that the magazine would be the extent of Titan Sports involvement in the bodybuilding industry.
Joe Weider played it cool, but he never liked Vince McMahon. In the 1980's, he thought that McMahon was trying to recruit his bodybuilders to make stars out of in the surging WWF. And now, he feared that McMahon might be trying to wedge himself in to the prosperous supplement market at best, or trying to topple the Weider empire at worst. As it turned out, McMahon was plotting both. Weider had no idea that McMahon's henchman had been on covert operations since the spring, secretly taking photos in the shadows at Weider's events.
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Spectators sat restless in the Arie Crown Theatre while sponsors gave their pitches as the 1990 Mr. Olympia was coming to an end. What everyone was confronted with next was a total shock, even to Joe Weider and the competing athletes themselves. The $5,000 that Vince McMahon spent to secure a promotional booth for Bodybuilding Lifestyles at the event also bought Tom Platz, the magazine's spokesman, the stage for a moment to promote the publication in front of the 4,600 bodybuilding fans in attendance . Platz began to speak: "I have a very important announcement to make. We at Titan Sports are proud to announce the formation of the World Bodybuilding Federation. And we are going to kick the IFBB's ass!". The lobby doors opened, and beautiful women wearing sashes embedded with the Bodybuilding Lifestyles logo filed into the theatre handing out slickly presented advertising for the WBF. These fliers announced the formation of the World Bodybuilding Federation, and claimed that the upstart would change the face of the bodybuilding world forever with "dramatic new events and the richest prize money in the history of the sport". While this invasion was going on, McMahon's people were covertly slipping lucrative contracts under the hotel room doors the Olympia contestants. It was vintage Vince McMahon, and his plan was to take bodybuilding mainstream in the same way he had taken wrestling mainstream in the 80's --by crushing his opponents with better production, and by stealing their most marketable talent with more lucrative contracts and promises of the platform to make them stars. He would make Lee Haney's $70,000 first place prize --enormous money by IFBB standards --seem like pocket change.
McMahon's press release stated that the WBF was "bodybuilding the way it was meant to be", which many assumed to mean no drug testing. The Weider's had been intense on drug testing in 1990, with twenty percent of Olympia competitors being disqualified for failed drug tests that weekend. In a final touch, the WBF contingent brought along even more beautiful women with them, who mingled with the Olympia talent and flirtatiously posed for photographs with the men who weren't used to such treatment. It was a perceived taste of the lifestyle that the WBF would offer.
"I'm not angry, you can quote me" Ben Weider stated when the night finally came to an end according to Muchnick. Weider proved his lack of anger by using the same tactic that the AAU used to combat the Weider's fifty years before, effectively blackballing anyone who signed with the WBF from ever returning to compete for the IBFF. Basically, if the WBF failed, those who accepted a contract from Vince McMahon would never work in American bodybuilding again. Tom Platz, once a Weider darling, was banned from the International Federation of Bodybuilding for life.
For the duration of 1990, bodybuilders who Vince McMahon saw as potential candidates for the WBF were flown to Stamford, Connecticut first class, picked up in limos, put up in five-star hotels and treated like royalty. The WWF had a certain idea of the type of bodybuilder that they wanted, and the company was picky about who they chose to sign. Charisma and marketability would be as instrumental as physical form. The bodybuilding world was torn on McMahon's WBF. Some were thrilled that Weider's stranglehold on American bodybuilding was being threatened and that perhaps with McMahon's marketing machine that bodybuilding could go mainstream, while others feared that McMahon would disgrace bodybuilding with the campy style he brought to professional wrestling.
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By January 30th of 1991, the months of questions as to who would defect to the World Bodybuilding Federation had come to a boil. At a press conference that afternoon at The Plaza Hotel in New York, those questions would finally be answered. Adorned in neon green jackets, black tank tops and small tight shorts, the thirteen bodybuilders Titan Sports Inc. now had under contract strutted in unison to the stage. These men were Aaron Baker, Mike Quinn, Troy Zuccolotto, Danny Padilla, Tony Pearson, Jim Quinn, Berry Demey, Eddie Robinson, Mike Christian, Vince Comeford, David Dearth, Johnnie Morant, and the biggest acquisition, Gary Strydom. The men were dubbed the WBF BodyStars. Ten of the thirteen men were IFBB's pros raided from Weider, with Aaron Baker, Jim Quinn and former Mr. Universe Troy Zuccolotto being the exceptions.
Gary Strydom was clearly the one that Vince McMahon was most excited about, with movie star looks, a freakish physique and a marketable overall package, he was being positioned as the face of the WBF. The two-year contracts offered were believed to have started at $200,000 per year and gone as high as $350,000-$400,000 per year for Strydom. Almost no one in the IFBB at the time was said to be making more than $50,000 per year, and the WBF money was nearly impossible to turn down, but most of Weider's top ranked bodybuilders stayed loyal, mostly due to fear of being left out in the cold in the WBF turned out to be a bust. Vince Taylor, Shawn Ray, Dorian Yates and Mr. Olympia Lee Haney were amongst those who remained loyal to Weider, not willing to take the potential gamble.
Vince McMahon strutted to the stage at the press conference. and announced the first ever WBF event would take place on June 15th at Donald Trump's Taj Mahal hotel and casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Many of the WBF's new stars cut promos for the press, already developing alter-ego characters comparable to pro-wrestlers in McMahon's sister company the WWF. Tom Platz took the stage and told the press that there would come a day when a WBF star would be on an airplane, and Magic Johnson would lean across the aisle and say "I saw you on television last night". Vince McMahon reportedly had bigger plans for his thirteen new stars than simply competition posing. He wanted to turn these young athletes into crossover stars who would be free of the burden and stigma attached to McMahon's professional wrestlers. He wanted to produce a show that would see these bodybuilders in skits and action features, and then cash in on his new larger than life characters. Platz spoke of the excitement that the WBF would add to bodybuilding competitions with theatrical values and overblown characters. Platz added that when it came to major talent acquisitions, the WBF was just getting started. It was an afternoon that sent tremors throughout the bodybuilding world, with Joe Weider signing his stars to contracts immediately --something that he had historically never done.
Though Weider continued to deny that the WBF was a threat, the war was on. Weider was rumored to have talks with World Championship Wrestling about co-promoting a series of pay-per-views, and he openly questioned the integrity of the outcomes of events put on by a wrestling promoter. Ironically, Weider had all but admitted to unjustly awarding Arnold Schwarzenegger the Olympia crown years earlier because Arnold's image on the cover of his magazines would outsell that of the man who most felt was the rightful winner. As Weider continued to downplay the significance of the WBF, the prize money for his events quietly began to go up, with the next Olympia having the first ever $100,000 prize.
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On May 18th of 1991, Joe Weider's IFBB presented The Night of Champions XIII. As the show began, the lights in the theatre faded to black. On stage were thirteen tombstones, each inscribed with the name of one of the thirteen individuals who had defected to the World Bodybuilding Federation. As dramatic music played, IFBB bodybuilders destroyed the tombstones onstage, breaking them to pieces. From the crowd, newly signed WBF bodybuilder Mike Quinn shouted "You wouldn't be doing that if I were on that stage".
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As June 15th in Atlantic City continued to draw closer, Vince McMahon and his staff were frantically trying to ensure that the WBF’s debut event would be the most spectacular bodybuilding show ever promoted. Mainstream television personality Regis Philbin was brought on board to host the first ever World Bodybuilding Federation pay-per-view --and his services didn’t come cheap.
Vince McMahon pushed the event and his “BodyStars” heavily on World Wrestling Federation, with interview and workout segments appearing on WWF Challenge, WWF Superstars and Prime Time Wrestling. A special showdown on the hit syndicated game show Family Feud was also arranged between the stars of the World Wrestling Federation and the World Bodybuilding Federation. The week-long, five episode stretch saw captain Gary Strydom, Eddie Robinson, Jim Quinn, Danny Padilla and Cameo Kneuer facing off with Brian Knobs, Jimmy Hart, The Mountie, Sensational Sherri and Bobby Heenan in a span of television still remembered today by many for all of the wrong reasons.
While McMahon was investing time and money heavily into the World Bodybuilding Federation, the stars of his World Wrestling Federation were growing frustrated. According to a former referee with the WWF, morale sunk as wrestlers saw their payoffs decreasing and money taken out of their pockets in order to “finance that stupid venture”.
Titan Sports officials weren’t entirely sure just what was going to be done with the first annual World Bodybuilding Federation Championship. Interest from pay-per-view providers was low despite the favorable relationship that they maintained with the WWF thanks to Vince McMahon’s brand of wrestling entertainment making many within the pay-per-view industry rich. Titan decision makers were probably concerned as well as to whether a bodybuilding event broadcast live on pay-per-view could simply break even. Once all things were considered, it appeared as though the first World Bodybuilding Federation Championship would either be released straight to video, or run as an inexpensive Hot Ticket pay-per-view, retailing for somewhere between $4.99-9.99.
To compound matters, Vince McMahon wasn’t having the success in marketing his new BodyStars that he had hoped. The USA Network hadn’t bitten on his idea of a weekly variety show featuring skits and action minis, and he was left with the cold reality that instead of a muscle media entertainment empire, he would simply have to try to promote bodybuilding as a sellable form of sports entertainment.
Vince McMahon knew wrestling, and knew that he would promote bodybuilders as over-the-top, in your face characters like the wrestling stars of the WWF. A long time top official of the WBF --who was thrown out of Weider events several times in the previous months once detected --claimed that he and Vince McMahon were hard at work in these early months of the WBF coming up with a hook for each of the thirteen bodybuilders. “We came up with characters for the guys just like they were wrestlers” he stated. Tom Platz’s comments at the January press conference about the WBF not turning in to professional wrestling were repeated sarcastically in certain bodybuilding circles.
As the event drew closer, videos were being rush produced for the introduction of the new character of each bodybuilder to the audience watching live in Atlantic City and at home. Rumors of a “wildman”, a “surfer dude” and a “secret agent” reverberated through the bodybuilding center of the universe, coastal California.
Vince McMahon appointed himself --along with the WWF’s Bobby “The Brain” Heenan --as the co-hosts of the first ever World Bodybuilding Federation event.
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One day before the Taj Mahal would play host to the inaugural WBF Championship, President of WWF Television Nelson Sweglar saw McMahon's vision for the first time, watching the rehearsals for the following day’s event. Looking around at the garish scene, he immediately knew that the WBF would never be a success. Sweglar was powerless to do anything but sit back and watch the fireworks.
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It’s difficult to find many people to talk to about the first World Bodybuilding Federation Championship. The event sold poorly on pay-per-view, and the video release moved so few copies that it is now valued as a collector’s item.
Those who did see the show will tell you that Vince McMahon lived up to his word that afternoon. The World Bodybuilding Federation was an entirely new form of bodybuilding entertainment. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.
When curious and excited bodybuilding enthusiasts first passed through the doors of Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal casino on June 15th, the IFBB’s Mr. Olympia and the modest Arie Crown Theatre must have seemed a little less impressive. When the lights came on and Vince McMahon, Regis Philbin and Bobby Heenan welcomed a niche group of muscle fanatics to the most extravagant and expensive showcase their sport had ever known, even the biggest detractors must have temporarily cracked a smile, hoping that this would be the start of the biggest exposure professional bodybuilding had ever seen.
When the music hit for the first contestant, the events that followed would drive a divide in the bodybuilding community as wide as Berry Demey’s back. The enormous backdrop of the stage came to life --lights flashed, smoke screens worked overtime, and pyrotechnics whirled as each competitor was introduced to the crowd. More so than ever before, bodybuilding was now a spectator sport.
Each bodybuilder was given a character to portray. Eddie Robinson and heavy favorite Gary Strydom were the only two who were exempt from being tagged with a nickname. Each bodybuilder had a lengthy video that played before their first appearance, explaining their theme and character. Tony Pearson became “The Jet Man”. Johnnie Morrant was dubbed “The Executioner” and walked through fog and flashing lights menacingly with a dual sided axe. “The Future” Jim Quinn had a space helmet and sunglasses. “Dark Journey” was a chiseled bodybuilder who portrayed a Phantom of the Opera theme.
The final bodybuilder to be introduced to the crowd was Gary Strydom. The opinion that the entire WBF was fixed for McMahon’s highest paid star wasn’t weakened when approximately forty minutes into the WBF Championship, the phrase “You’ve seen the rest, now get ready for the best” echoed through the Taj Mahal Casino as Strydom walked to the stage for the first time.
The competition took part in three rounds. The third round --dubbed the Entertainment Round --was what Vince McMahon was hoping would set The World Bodybuilding Federation apart from Weider’s IFBB. Unfortunately, for many bodybuilding purists, watching Danny Padilla acting out Jack and the Beanstalk in a pre-taped video, and then watching the giant actually chase the muscleman onto the Taj Mahal stage wasn’t exactly representative of “bodybuilding the way it was meant to be” as McMahon’s early promotional fliers had promised. One particularly long routine in the 1992 entertainment round saw a video shown of Berry Demey playing roulette in a tux in the Trump Casino as a beautiful woman watched on. After a few moments of flirtatious banter, the woman handed Demey the key to her room. Eventually Demey knocked on the door to her room and she began undressing him as they sipped champagne in the video. The woman, now nude under the covers and smiling, protested as Demey threw his clothes back on so he could head back down to the competition. As the clip came to an end, Demey strutted out onto the stage wearing the same outfit that he wore in the video. After a little more posing, Demey left the stage and the video began again, with the bodybuilder winding up back in the woman’s bed.
As in previous rounds, Gary Strydom was the last bodybuilder to perform in the Entertainment Round. Adorned in a top hat with a cane, Strydom strutted around with a beautiful woman on each arm.
As World Bodybuilding Federation head judge and former Mr. Universe Don Draper --dubbed “The Blonde Bomber” -- consulted with his fellow judges as to which star would take the largest share the largest portion of the shows record $275,000 total prize money, a group of mildly coordinated dancing children branded the WBF Dancers performed for third time that evening.
As expected, Gary Strydom was handed the first-place trophy and announced as the first ever WBF Champion. Rounding out the top five were Mike Christian (2nd), Berry Demey (3rd), Jim Quinn (4th)and Eddie Robinson (5th).
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The World Bodybuilding Federation’s premiere event had further divided the bodybuilding community. Many called the show better than the 1991 Mr. Olympia and credited McMahon for taking care of his talent far better than Joe Weider ever did, while others were outraged at what a circus Vince McMahon was turning their sport into.
Worse, a curiosity in the outcome of the WBF Championship was making rounds. Apparently, when looking at the salary structure of the bodybuilders in the World Bodybuilding Federation, the top paid star Gary Strydom took first place. The second highest paid star in the WBF took second place, the third highest paid star took third place, the forth took forth, and the fifth highest paid placed fifth at the Atlantic City event. Many pointed to this as proof that Vince McMahon was trying to fix bodybuilding just as he was professional wrestling, though few would argue that Gary Strydom --who showed up at the Taj Mahal in the best shape of his career -- was head and shoulders above the rest of the pack that afternoon. Controversy over pre-judging for the competition ensued as well. With the pre-judging closed to the public and the press, some believed that it never even occurred, a rumor proven inaccurate several months later.
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Twelve days after what many considered to be a successful debut for the World Bodybuilding Federation, Vince McMahon received some bad news. Dr. George T. Zahorian was found guilty on 12 of 14 counts of selling anabolic steroids to four professional wrestlers (including McMahon himself) and one bodybuilder, and was sentenced to three years in prison. Zahorian --a long time wrestling fan --served as a state appointed ringside physician for the WWF in the state of Pennsylvania and had been distributing steroids to WWF wrestlers since 1981.
With Zahorian now behind bars, the heat was on Vince McMahon as the government was taking a lot of interest in the examining a man who had so many ties to Zahorian --and now two businesses built on freakish physiques.
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At a press conference on July 16th of 1991 in New York, Vince McMahon formally announced that the World Wrestling Federation would institute a stringent drug testing policy as part of a new anti-drug program. In November of 1991, the drug testing program was finally instituted in full.
McMahon was not quick to transfer the new policy to his World Bodybuilding Federation, perhaps knowing that a lack of drug testing was the biggest competitive edge that he currently had over Weider with hardcore bodybuilding fans. Performance enhancing drug abuse had always been a fixture of bodybuilding, and if the battle between the World Bodybuilding Federation and the International Federation of Bodybuilding proved anything, it was that without steroids, the bodies valued by muscle fanatics simply aren’t possible.
In 1991, tired of losing talent to the WBF, the Weider’s quietly dropped their drug testing policy.
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Aside from Arnold Schwarzenegger, no bigger star was ever created through the pages of Joe Weider’s magazine empire than Lou Ferrigno. A former Mr. Universe and Mr. America winner as well as an Olympia hopeful in the 1970‘s, Ferrigno achieved worldwide recognition through his role as The Incredible Hulk on a television show of the same name from 1978 until 1982.
In the fall of 1991, Ferrigno was ready to come out of retirement and return to the bodybuilding scene. Many thought that Ferrigno wouldn’t even consider the World Bodybuilding Federation due to his history with the Weiders, but things turned personal between Vince McMahon and Joe Weider as a bidding war ensued over the services of one of the most famous bodybuilders in history.
Given the salary structure of the IFBB, Joe Weider never really stood a chance. After a seventeen year absence from competitive bodybuilding, Lou Ferrigno was offered a $900,000 two-year deal with the World Bodybuilding Federation, making him in the highest paid competitor in the history of professional bodybuilding.
The promotional gears started turning immediately. It would be the biggest showdown that competitive bodybuilding had ever seen. The returning legend Lou Ferrigno would go pose-for-pose, muscle-for-muscle with the face of the WBF and current champion Gary Strydom, and it would go down in a 12,000 seat arena in Long Beach, California.
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As 1992 began, Vince McMahon was still feeling the federal government breathing down his neck as he continued to take measures to clean up his World Wrestling Federation. Meanwhile, he allowed his World Bodybuilding Federation talent a free ride from drug testing. This wouldn’t last long however.
The biggest concern for Vince McMahon aside from steroids as January passed involved not the WBF, but his wrestling empire. Vince McMahon had been licking his chops over the prospects of signing a young star named Larry Phofl since 1988, and now, the future star who went by the ring name Lex Luger was willing and ready to sign on to Titan Sports. Bored of Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling after treading water for the better part of five years, Phofl negotiated his release from WCW. Unfortunately, the terms of his release prevented him from wrestling for Vince McMahon until 1993.
Vince McMahon, recognizing the value of cross promotion, made the decision to use Lex Luger primarily for his World Bodybuilding Federation to avoid even more legal troubles --hopefully drawing wrestling fans over to the WBF in the process. Unfortunately for the owner of Titan Sports, the legal troubles came anyway, as Turner brass felt Phofl working for any McMahon organization violated the no-compete clause and promptly got their legal team involved.
Ideas were thrown around to cross promote the World Wrestling Federation and the World Bodybuilding Federation even more, with discussions of The Ultimate Warrior, Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal participating in some form with the WBF.
At the WWF’s Wrestlemania VIII, Lex Luger appeared live via-satellite from his home in Atlanta, Georgia. Luger played the part of the arrogant heel, running down not only the talent in the World Wrestling Federation, but the “nobodies” in the World Bodybuilding Federation as well. Luger called the WBF Championship a closed party, and wondered how a best body competition could ever be held without Lex Luger taking part.
While riding out his no-compete clause, Luger would serve as the co-host of a new show on the USA Network spotlighting the WBF stars. Luger would play the part of a jerk who stepped on other people’s toes in the gym and refused to offer a spot to those working out around him. Debuting on April 2nd, WBF BodyStars featured workout footage and personality profiles of McMahon’s contracted stars along with constant pushing of the ICO-PRO product --which thus far had been an investment displaying crawling returns. Luger’s co-host would be Cameo Kneuer, a sexed up blonde who’s curves the average fan of the World Wrestling Federation wanted to see much more than the pecs and delts of Berry Demey.
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In March of 1992, Vince McMahon officially announced an extreme new set of drug testing guidelines for the WBF at a sit down meeting with his bodybuilders under contract. The company doing the testing would be Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc. These guidelines were perhaps the most stringent ever introduced into bodybuilding, and tested with much more scrutiny than those introduced by the IFBB two years prior, testing for virtually everything. A renowned doctor by the name of Mauro Dipasquale was brought in to implement what both he and McMahon claimed to be “the most rigorous drug testing program in sports”. Dipasquale was known at the time for pushing diets similar to today’s low carb diets as a replacement for steroid use. Ironically, the side effects of his diet weren’t all that healthy either, as they frequently led to the life threatening condition ketoacidosis.
McMahon threatened to and did drug test his bodybuilders hard and frequently for the three months leading up to his second World Bodybuilding Federation Championship. Such a thing had never been done to this extent, and it may have been the death blow to what started as a promising run for the World Bodybuilding Federation. Around this time, Bodybuilding Lifestyles also began running a series of stories on the dangers of steroid use.
Lou Ferrigno abandoned the WBF several weeks after the drug testing began, leaving the second annual WBF Championship without arguable its biggest drawing storyline. Though he never admitted it, everyone in the bodybuilding world assumed that Ferrigno left the WBF because he didn’t want to appear on stage after being drug tested for three months, as a drug free physique could potentially ruin his reputation. Just as McMahon had the competitive advantage due to a lack of drug testing in 1990 and 1991, the Weider’s now enjoyed the same luxury with McMahon clamping down on drug abuse as the fear of prison hung over him like a shadow. Without a fine or any ill will from Joe or Ben Weider, Lou Ferrigno was given a special invitation to appear at the IFBB’s Mr. Olympia 1992 event. Ferrigno never looked back.
Without a crossover star to sell the upcoming 1992 WBF Championship on pay-per-view, Vince McMahon turned to Lex Luger --a man who meant nothing to the bodybuilding world. Luger would guest pose at the event, and Titan Sports would pray that his presence could make up for Ferrigno’s absence at the box office.
Morale in the World Bodybuilding Federation began to nosedive with strict drug testing and constant infighting. Getting off of drugs wasn’t easy, especially when the heavy rumor circulating was that Gary Strydom wasn’t drug tested as heavily as the rest of the roster --a rumor made most vocal by Mike Quinn and Mike Christian. Christian had been fined $25,000 for failing a drug test, and had become addicted to heroine in his time with the company. Aaron Baker was rumored to have never gotten off of steroids, rather simply accepting a fine of two months salary and a six week suspension that coincidentally and conveniently ended just before the pay-per-view. Gary Strydom was ready to quit the World Bodybuilding Federation before being talked in to staying to defend his WBF Championship by Vince McMahon personally. Rumors of heavy use of Human Growth Hormone in the World Bodybuilding Federation ranks swirled through the bodybuilding scene.
In the final two weeks before the Second Annual World Bodybuilding Federation Championship, many believe that no drug testing was done, as almost every bodybuilder --Mike Quinn and Gary Strydom in particular --made drastic improvements in their form.
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Only days before the second World Bodybuilding Federation Championship, Larry Phofl crashes his motorcycle, severely fracturing his arm. Those at the scene say that the accident probably should have resulted in much worse for the wrestler known as Lex Luger. In the world of professional wrestling, Phofl was often criticized for his cardboard personality and vapid charisma. As a World Bodybuilding Federation star, McMahon saw Luger as a man who’s charisma the BodyStars could learn something from. This was certainly more of a statement on the personas of McMahon’s bodybuilders than any improvement from Phofl, and when the announcement was made that Luger wouldn’t be able to pose for the show, it was simply a matter of already-bad getting worse.
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Forty million Americans were capable of receiving pay-per-view programming in 1992. When the smoke cleared and the numbers were compiled, the second annual World Bodybuilding Federation Championship drew a mere 3,000 buys. In San Diego County --an area of sunny Southern California that McMahon was banking on most heavily to support his new venture --only 30 households ordered the event. The buy-rate for the show was so small that most cable outlets simply considered it to be a zero.
The good news was that only 3,000 people had to witness “Pregnant” Mike Quinn breaking out of jail in a video in the Entertainment round and then showing up in stage in a prisoners uniform. Quinn looked around nervously on stage --and then he danced. He danced for far too long. And then the police showed up on stage and chased him away.
Mike Quinn was given the nickname by many in the bodybuilding scene at the time for showing up in the worst competition shape that perhaps anyone ever had at a major show, appearing around 25 pounds overweight. Quinn himself at one point claimed that part of his contract forced him to consume whatever Vince McMahon’s personal, high priced dietician demanded, even if it was the high fat diet Quinn claimed he was instructed to go on in 1992. Quinn wasn’t alone. Mike Christian came in at under 200 pounds and looked physically ill. (Almost immediately after the show, Christian checked himself into rehab) In fact, almost every bodybuilder on the stage looked terrible by bodybuilding standards, and nowhere near their shape twelve months before at the first World Bodybuilding Federation Championship. The reason for this was obvious.
Eddie Robinson, Mike Quinn and Mike Christian had competed in the 1990 IFBB Mr. Olympia --an event held when Ben and Joe Weider were drug testing the most heavily. One look at their competition shape in the 1990 Mr. Olympia and the 1992 WBF Championship made it abundantly clear that McMahon’s drug testing policies were the toughest that the sport had ever seen.
With the government looking over his shoulder, McMahon even went so far as to have Dr. Dipasquale appear on the pay-per-view in one of the intermission spots filled by the WBF dancers twelve months before. Dipasquale explained that he had developed a set of testing guidelines even more intensive than those used by the International Olympic Committee, and named all of the illegal performance enhancers that he could detect. Judging from the form of the stars of the World Bodybuilding Federation that afternoon, the Dr. wasn’t exaggerating.
For the second consecutive year, Gary Strydom was crowned The World Bodybuilding Federation Champion --this time to little fanfare. At least this year the top five didn’t finish in an order corresponding to their salary. Berry Demey and Eddie Robinson placed in the top five once again, with David Dearth --who posed with a flaming guitar earlier in the night --and Aaron Baker rounding out the top five. It didn’t really matter though. From the technical difficulties that plagued the event to the bad shape of the competitors, Vince McMahon was obviously losing interest in the World Bodybuilding Federation.
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July 15th, 1992 - A phone rang in the Weider offices. On the other end was Vince McMahon. Two years ago, the ruthless head of Titan Sports Inc. had told the Weiders at Olympia Weekend --their own answer to Wrestlemania --that he and his forces were going to kick the ass of the company the prolific brothers had made it their life’s work to promote. On this particular Wednesday morning two years later, McMahon’s tune was different. He sheepishly proclaimed Ben and Joe Weider the fathers of bodybuilding. At the time the Weider’s were pushing a breakthrough regime involving synthetic calve implants --Vince McMahon should have known better than to try to con a conman. But Ben and Joe Weider listened politely as the head of the World Bodybuilding Federation announced that he was shutting down the WBF and ceasing production of Bodybuilding Lifestyles after the September issue. In the past a promoter as savvy as Joe Weider would have doubted McMahon. After seeing the most recent pay-per-view offering from the group however, McMahon was likely just telling the Weider brothers what they already knew.
When all was said and done, the second annual WBF Championship went into the record books as the lowest grossing event in the history of American pay-per-view broadcasting. WBF BodyStars on the USA Network had never left the ground for Titan Sports. What was supposed to be a platform to take professional bodybuilding mainstream turned into a money pit. Vince McMahon was so unsuccessful in selling advertising time that he had to buy the timeslot from the USA Network and run WBF BodyStars as an infomercial. Bodybuilding Lifestyles --which later became WBF Magazine --sold poorly compared to Weider’s proven successes like FLEX and Muscle & Fitness. After announcing the disbanding of the World Bodybuilding Federation, Vince McMahon offered to allow his bodybuilders to work elsewhere, including Joe Weider’s IFBB. Perhaps this was a goodwill gesture, but most likely McMahon was simply trying to get out of the six-figure contracts with his talent that extended until the end of 1992.
With every aspect of his bodybuilding enterprise bleeding massive amounts of money, Vince McMahon tried to counteract the losses through ICO-PRO. After investing millions in the development and production of the nutritional system, unsold ICO-PRO still packed warehouses. McMahon poured even more money into promoting the supplement, and most believe that the reason that Vince McMahon called Ben and Joe Weider that morning was to ensure that he could continue advertising his product in the pages of their magazines. Titan Sports continued to finance the production of WBF BodyStars on the USA Network for several more months merely as a promotional platform for ICO-PRO, and to give Lex Luger something to do to justify his large contract at a time when he was physically and contractually unable to lock up in a WWF ring. Eddie Robinson --a bodybuilder that McMahon took a liking too, perhaps due to his constantly towing the company line in the bodybuilding world --was kept under contract for two more years at his full WBF salary of $225,000 per year to endorse ICO-PRO. Of course with the expenses of an overpaid endorser, weekly television production and print advertising, ICO-PRO only served to lose even more money for the World Wrestling Federation.
The final Titan Sports television appearance made by the stars of the World Bodybuilding Federation saw five bodybuilders challenge five stars from the World Wrestling Federation in a tug of war on the beach. The tug of war was a legitimate, unscripted competition at the beginning. Both sides were told to actually attempt to win. The bodybuilders --who possessed strength but little athleticism or coordination -- were embarrassed by the stars of the WWF. In a planned moment, the bad guys of the WWF --including Ric Flair, Ted Dibiase and The Berzerker -- simply let go of the rope, causing the bodybuilders to fall forward in a pile like fools. This would be the last television exposure that Vince McMahon would ever give his WBF BodyStars.
As 1992 wound down, Vince McMahon simply stopped using his contracted bodybuilders. Perhaps with the possibility of a long stint in prison a reality and Titan Sports no longer looking like an indestructible force, McMahon simply had bigger things to concern himself with. Within the bodybuilding community, words like abandonment were being tossed around to explain McMahon’s actions after playing a part in convincing his talent to betray the IFBB --an organization that Joe Weider was now offering to reaccept the WBF bodybuilders into for a mere $25,000 fine. (Weider would later settle on 10% of a bodybuilders former yearly WBF salary as the penalty). McMahon flirted with the notion of turning Gary Strydom into a wrestler, but the idea was dismissed shortly thereafter.
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In the end, The World Bodybuilding Federation lost $15 million dollars from January of 1991 until being formally dissolved in July of 1992. After pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into contracts, elaborate sets, television production, mini-movies and promotion, the outcome of the experiment spoke loud and clear. Bodybuilding was never meant to be a spectator sport. It was a lesson that Vince McMahon learned the hard way. If his own personal freedom had not been in the hands of the United States government, it might have stung a little more.
Ironically, the founder of the World Bodybuilding Federation would soon invest $5 million more dollars in legal fees for a case related to the same illegal substance that allowed the WBF to be competitive with Joe Weider in the first place.
As opposed to the WBF, no one would ever argue that McMahon’s legal fees were not money well spent. Thanks to his lawyers --and a coincidental tip his wife Linda received at a dinner party warning her that the government was hot to Zahorian --Vince McMahon would eventually be found guilty only of overestimating the public’s interest in bodybuilding.
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May 22nd, 1993 - When the stage lights faded on at the Night of Champions XV at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre, Dorian Yates stood in the center of the stage dressed as a preacher. Caskets surrounded him bearing the names of the WBF athletes that had last appeared on tombstones at the same annual event two years prior. As Yates elevated his arms to the heavens, the returning bodybuilders from the WBF raised from the dead and pulled themselves out from the coffins. On stage to greet them where those who had remained loyal to the IFBB. The two sides embraced in an emotional moment as the lyrics of the song “Welcome Back” reverberated through the theatre.
That night, it was as if the World Bodybuilding Federation and Vince McMahon’s plans to destroy the Weider empire had never even occurred.
The lonely looking ICO-PRO banner waving in the distance on the far side of the stage that evening was the only reminder that it wasn’t all a dream.