In 1985, following that year’s NPC Nationals competition, NPC President Jim Manion declared the winner of that show “the best Nationals winner” ever. Taking into account the caliber of the previous winners of the NPC Nationals (Lee Haney, Bob Paris and Mike Christian), this was high praise indeed.
Mention the name Phil Williams today and most bodybuilding fans will not remember this very talented and gifted bodybuilder who seemed to fade from the scene shortly after making an impact. He is truly a case of “what might have been” in the world of bodybuilding.
Phil Williams was born in 1960 in Missouri. He began competing in bodybuilding competitions at the young age of 17 years old. His talent for the sport was evident in his very first show when he placed second overall in 1977 Mr. Missouri contest. This high placing qualified him for the Mr. Mid USA contest in Oklahoma City the following year and Phil won the Teenage Mr. Mid USA in 1978. With such early success, Phil decided to try his luck at the national level by competing in the Teenage Mr. America contest. Unfortunately, Phil’s luck ran out at this contest and he finished in 13th place.
Going back to the drawing board, Phil focused on the basic exercises and worked hard to improve his genetically gifted physique. In 1979, Phil won the Teenage Mr. Coastal USA in Atlanta, Georgia. This was a very notable win for Phil because he defeated future Mr. Olympia winner Lee Haney, who placed fourth. However, Lee got his revenge quickly when he defeated Phil at the AAU Teenage Mr. America only three months later. Lee won the Tall Class and Overall while Phil took fifth place in the Medium Class.
Phil came back to the Mr. Coastal USA one year later and was successful again in Atlanta. This time, he won the open division, taking the overall 1980 Mr. Coastal USA contest.
Phil took some time off from competition to improve his physique so he could make a greater impact when he next stepped onstage. Living in Sweden, Phil entered the 1983 Halmstead Open and won the overall, defeating Swedish champion Christer Eriksson in the process.
The next year, Phil stepped into the national limelight in a big way when he entered the 1984 NPC Mr. USA contest. Competing as a light heavyweight, Phil received his toughest competition from a young up-and-coming bodybuilder from Houston, Texas named Lee Labrada. After a dietary miscalculation, Labrada ended up in the wrong weight class, competing as a “light” light heavyweight after weighing in one pound too heavy for the middleweight class.
Phil dominated the competition, easily winning both his weight class and the overall. Lee Labrada was second in the light heavies, placing second to Phil. In the overall, Phil Williams defeated heavyweight winner Gary Strydom, middleweight winner Reza Ramaghi and lightweight winner Joseph Grossi.
Reviewing the contest for Flex Magazine, writer Rick Wayne gushed with enthusiasm over the discovery of this talented young bodybuilder Phil Williams. Combining shape, aesthetics, muscle mass and razor sharp conditioning along with “soap opera star good looks,” the normally jaded Wayne predicted superstar status for the new winner of the NPC USA Championships.
When the 1984 NPC Nationals took place in New Orleans, most bodybuilding experts expected the new NPC USA champion to be a top favorite in the light heavyweight class. Unfortunately, Phil Williams did not enter the NPC Nationals that year. Showing an intelligence and maturity that belied his young age, Williams took the long range approach to his physique development. He decided to work hard for another full year and win the NPC Nationals convincingly in 1985 instead of trying his luck again only months after winning the NPC USA.
The light heavyweight class at the 1984 NPC Nationals was won by Rich Gaspari. Rich won the class without receiving a single first place vote from the judges. However, the class was so stacked with talent (Moses Maldonado, Tom Terwilliger, J.J. Marsh) that the judges’ opinions were widely varied in their choice of the winner. In the end, Gaspari received the lowest overall point total, so he took first place in the light heavyweight class.
The following year, Phil Williams reappeared on the posing platform. Looking much fuller than when he won the 1984 NPC USA, Phil again dominated the light heavyweight class at the 1985 NPC Nationals. In the process of winning the class, he defeated some very good competitors, including the top contenders from last year (Terwilliger, Maldonado and Marsh). In the overall decision, Phil beat out heavyweight winner Ron Love, middleweight winner Lee Labrada, and lightweight winner Joseph Dawson to win the title of 1985 NPC Nationals champion.
The IFBB World Championships in Sweden were next on the agenda. Back in 1985, the only way to get a pro card was to place first in your weight class at the NPC Nationals and then win your weight class at the IFBB World Championships (Mr. Universe). To earn the right to be a professional, the IFBB felt that you had to be the best amateur in the world, not just the country.
Lee Labrada won the middleweight class, defeating a class of top international athletes that included El Shahat Mabrouk from Egypt, Francis Benfatto from France and Miroslav Jastrebski from Czechoslovakia. ESPN commentator, 1982 Mr. Olympia Chris Dickerson, was full of praise for Labrada, calling him one of the best physiques he has ever seen.
When Phil Williams lined up for the Light Heavyweight Class, his shape and symmetry helped to single him out from the other competitors. Unfortunately, he was holding some water, possibly from the long flight from the United States to Europe. The international competition featured some top level competitors such as Josef Gromulus from Germany, Patrick Nicholls from the Bahamas and Libor Minarik from Czechoslovakia. However, Phil’s superior shape and muscle mass looked like he would prevail and grab that coveted first place trophy.
His toughest competition came from Gromulus, the thickly muscled bodybuilder from Germany. Standing only 5’5” in height, Josef was packed with muscle with wide, thick lats, massive arms and huge legs. One year earlier, Gromulus was leading in the scoring over Rich Gaspari going into the posedown. Rich pulled out a victory by aggressively posing against his competition and earning just enough points from the judges to win his weight class.
This year, Josef was leaving nothing to chance. Still stinging from his narrow defeat by Gaspari, Gromulus came into the 1985 World Championships ripped to the bone. His thick muscle mass was accentuated by paper thin skin which revealed incredible conditioning and definition. Phil Williams may have had the edge on symmetry and shape compared to the blocky Gromulus, but Josef was shredded and hungry to win.
By the time the evening finals started, Phil had shed most of his subcutaneous water and was looking like the dominant physique that won the NPC Nationals only a week earlier. Phil performed a long, four-minute posing routine to the music of Lionel Richie and the song “You Are”. It was a smooth, flowing routine that emphasized Phil’s physical strong points including his massive arms and his wide, thick lats. Knowing that Gromulus was leading in points going into the night show, Phil felt confident as he wowed the crowd with his great routine.
During the critical posedown, Williams employed the same technique that secured the victory for Gaspari one year earlier. As Gromulus flexed his incredible arms to the delight of the European crowd, Phil stepped right in front of his rival, hitting a jaw dropping front lat spread that emphasized his superior shape and aesthetics. A surprised Gromulus responded by running to the front of the stage to trade poses with his American competitor.
As the final results were announced, Phil Williams was shocked to learn that he had placed second. Regaining his composure, Phil took his place on the runner up podium while an exuberant Josef Gromulus jumped up to the first place position, overjoyed that he had finally overcome the dominant Americans to win the World Championships.
After the disappointing Mr. Universe result, Phil took a long break from competing. Not able to compete as a professional bodybuilder, he sat out 1986. In May of that year, Lee Labrada won his first professional competition at the Night of the Champions contest in New York with Ron Love taking second place. Somewhere, Phil Williams had to be thinking that he had just defeated these two bodybuilders at the NPC Nationals only months earlier.
If Phil had petitioned the IFBB for professional status, as Ron Love had, it’s quite possible that it would have been him standing onstage as the winner of the Night of the Champions contest in 1986. Later that year, Rich Gaspari moved up to the runner-up position at the Mr. Olympia contest in Columbus, Ohio. Could Phil have been in that spot considering the quality of his physique and his dominating wins at the 1984 USA and the 1985 Nationals?
In 1987, Lee Haney continued his dominating ways by winning the Mr. Olympia for the fourth time. Rich Gaspari took second place again and Lee Labrada, making his Mr. Olympia debut, took a strong third place. The contest took place in Sweden, a home away from home for Phil and a place he was very familiar with.
Finally, in 1988, Phil Williams decided to make his return to the stage. Having been granted professional status, Phil competed in the IFBB Chicago Pro show in July of that year. The line-up was filled with top professional bodybuilders who were hoping to qualify for the Mr. Olympia contest. Gary Strydom, John Hnatyschak, Albert Beckles and Bob Paris were all in the Windy City hoping for a win.
Competing against bodybuilders such as Strydom, Hnatyschak and Paris, all former NPC National champions, was a true test for Phil. If he could defeat these accomplished bodybuilders, he would prove to himself that he had what it took to be one of the top professional bodybuilders on the planet. Strydom was looking incredible that night with amazing muscle thickness and size. His chest, delts and legs were freaky big and ripped and his most muscular poses sent powerful shock waves through the audience.
Phil Williams, as expected, didn’t disappoint. Displaying a ripped physique that highlighted his amazing shape and symmetry, Phil impressed the sold out crowd with his quality and polish. While he was going through his mandatory poses during the prejudging, Phil slowly flexed his ripped quads before hitting his overhead abdominal pose. The audience of hardcore bodybuilding fans showed their appreciation with one person yelling out, “Even his knees are ripped!” Strydom had the brutal mass and thickness but Phil was ready to pull off an upset with his symmetrical perfection.
When the competitors hit the mandatory poses from the back, Phil clinched the victory. As impressive and mind blowing as Strydom was from the front, he was decidedly disappointing from the rear. His back lacked both thickness and width, an area that Phil Williams excelled in. Phil’s back was like the hood of a cobra, with Franco Columbu-like thickness and width combined with extreme muscularity and definition.
At the end of the night, Phil Williams pulled off an upset, defeating pre-contest favorite Gary Strydom and winning his first professional contest in his pro debut. Strydom was expected to push Lee Haney for the Mr. Olympia title that year and this Chicago Pro Show was supposed to be an easy warm-up on his way to the Big Show. After his unexpected loss to an unknown bodybuilder making his pro debut, Strydom revamped his contest strategy and lost lots of weight in the next couple of months in order to compete ripped to the bone at the Mr. Olympia.
As for Phil Williams, much was expected of this top champion at the 1988 Mr. Olympia in Los Angeles. Could Phil defeat such top contenders as Rich Gaspari, Lee Labrada, Berry de Mey and Gary Strydom at the Mr. Olympia? Bodybuilding enthusiasts thrilled to the thought of this potential dark horse upsetting the pre-contest favorites on the biggest bodybuilding contest of the year.
Unfortunately, Phil decided to skip that year’s Mr. Olympia contest. Adopting his strategy of striking once and then retreating to rest his body and prepare for the next victory, Phil stated that he needed rest after pushing himself so hard to win the Chicago Pro show. Bodybuilding fans would be denied the chance to see Phil Williams battling it out with the other top pro bodybuilders at the 1988 Mr. Olympia contest.
Phil continued to compete as a professional bodybuilder over the next seven years but he never again attained the peak condition that brought him his victories earlier in his career. The bodybuilding world will always wonder “What If” in regards to Phil Williams. What if he went on to compete in the 1986 Night of the Champions against Lee Labrada and Ron Love? What if he competed in the Mr. Olympia that year against Lee Haney, Rich Gaspari and Mike Christian? What if he had continued on to the Mr. Olympia in 1988 after defeating Gary Strydom at the Chicago Pro Show that year?
We can only speculate on the answers, but the amazing physique displayed by Phil Williams in the 1980’s makes the mind wonder “What If?”