Whoever said that 'bodybuilding is a sport of one,' clearly had no idea what they were talking about. Much like a boxer relies on his corner, a bodybuilder depends on his team. This unit usually consists of a trainer, a nutritionist, and a supplement expert. As the physiques in our sport have evolved, so too have the people that work with these elite level athletes. Today's best contest prep professionals have earned the title of 'guru' because they've assumed these various roles and consolidated them into a single job.
Gurus espouse a variety of approaches, from those who babysit their clients to those who require seasoned, disciplined, athletes who follow directions and protocols to the letter. While there are a great many bodybuilding federations on the scene, from backyard venues to has-been Universe titles, the gurus that make the most impact are the ones who prep clients for the biggest stages in the world; those of the NPC & IFBB. These individuals have built reputations with the elite of the elite in bodybuilding and the physique-based sports. But the question on everyone's mind is always the same - who's the best? Every year the best bodybuilders in the world converge on the Mr. Olympia stage to pick the world's best physique. As always, AMI/Weider has its finger on the sport's pulse. This year, not only will they crown the next Olympia champ; they’ll also crown the world's #1 guru.
On Saturday, September 19th at 3pm at the Olympia Expo, history will be as the first "Battle of the Gurus" is presented to the bodybuilding public. This will be a round table discussion, moderated by IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Dennis "The Menace" James, featuring three distinguished challengers-- Hany "The Pro Creator" Rambod, George "The Pro Maker" Farah, & Chad Nicholls. The panelists will be presented with questions from the audience and each will answer to the best of their abilities. These won't be cookie-cutter questions; in fact, no one will know what the fans will ask. And for the record, the original plan was to include a fourth panelist-- Chris "The Technician Aceto." Mr. Aceto is known to have had a twenty year rivalry with Mr. Nicholls and recently, has had an interesting run-in of sorts with Mr. Farah. Nonetheless, Mr. Aceto declined an invitation that many other gurus would've jumped at. When I followed-up via text, he simply replied with "I'm not interested." [ed.note: Chris Aceto asserts that his “I’m not interested” remark was directed at Christian Duque’s request for a quote.]
Nonetheless, and more importantly, the star power on this round table is enough to make any bodybuilding fan's head spin. This is why when my friend Robin Chang asked me to help promote the event, I was like "where do I sign up?" There's so much historical and contemporary significance in the contributions these men have made to our sport that I think this article alone will be an eye-opening experience for some. In fact, up until everyone was online and cell phones became our social media ball and chain, people honestly didn't recognize how important the guys behind these great athletes were. For example, when I do a Google search, I can find a ton of photos of George and/or Hany with their respective contemporary clients, but that's not the case with Chad Nicholls. Whereas younger fans may be more acquainted with Farah & Rambod because of the wired nature of the last 5-10yrs, the same can't be said about Nicholls. While Ronnie Coleman, Lenda Murray, & Kim Chizevsky remain popular as ever, there simply isn't the amount of photos or videos from back in the old days available to view. Why would anyone in the 90's take a series of 15 second videos or take a dozen selfies at any given show? What would've been the purpose? Nonetheless, more people are getting keen on who Chad Nicholls is and after September 19th, I suspect a whole new generation's jaws will collectively drop.
Just to give you an idea how brilliant Mr. Nicholls is, he is largely responsible for giving the world one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. In 1997, Ronnie Coleman had placed a respectable 9th at the Olympia, but once he hooked up with Chad, his physique went to another level. The following year, Coleman would win his first (of eight) Sandows, tying Lee Haney's record, and becoming one of the best bodybuilders of all time. The Coleman-Nicholls association was worth its weight in gold; the guru had the knowledge and the athlete implemented that knowledge into all aspects of his prep without any second-guessing or half-assing it. A similar recipe for success was had with Ms. Olympias Kim Chizevky (Chad's wife) and Lenda Murray. To date, the sport of Women's Bodybuilding remains bitterly divided. Despite Lenda's record was broken by 10x Ms. Olympia Iris Kyle, many diehards claim Murray's reign defined the sport, arguing her look was beyond flawless. Moreover, whether it was the Men or the Women, a growing segment of the bodybuilding crowd also stresses the hardcore climate of the 90's. Most diehard fans hold any era in bodybuilding up against the 90's. When it comes to that decade, it was all about Chad!! All in all, Mr. Nicholls has 17 Olympia & 9 Arnold Classic titles with ten legendary champions (according to Flex Online). There's no question he's earned his seat at the round table, and as I'm sure his colleagues will quickly concede, he's coming to win.
But don't get me started on famous clients, because these three experts seem to have an abundance of them. As we leave the 90's for the 2000's & beyond, the rivalries become far more intense, largely due to new technologies. The new decade brought about online radio shows, streaming video and social networking sites that gave the fans virtually nonstop updates. Things have even changed in terms of both the frequency and the manner in which people communicate with one another. Back in the old days people might argue over placings right after the fact, and maybe some of the bickering would carry on to the parking lot, but the next day it was on to the next show. Thanks to the internet, the arguing can go on forever. All-out-wars can erupt out of relative calm. All it takes is a Tweet, a photo on IG, or a Facebook status update from a top athlete or guru. It seems as if there's always hundreds, if not thousands, of people on standby all throughout social media and the message boards, just waiting for that spark to spring into action. But keep in mind that division drums up drama and drama generates buzz. When there's buzz, there's entertainment. It's an undeniable recipe for success.
And of course that brings us to the most heated rivalry since Ronnie & Jay. No other rivalry has polarized more fans than that between 4x Mr. Olympia Phil Heath (prepped by Hany Rambod) and 3x Mr. Olympia Runner-up and 2x Arnold Classic Champion Kai Greene (prepped by George Farah). The rivalry has gotten so bad that, at last year’s Olympia, the two champions nearly came to blows. Both have pushed their physiques to the absolute limits. Both men listen, almost religiously, to their gurus, but in the end only one man's hand can be raised as the victor.
This rivalry between Heath & Greene has spilled over to the gurus. With the experts, it isn't about face-offs or stare-downs; it's about victories. It's about pro cards, placings, and... it's about the Olympia. In bodybuilding, EVERYTHING comes down to the Olympia. You can win every show in every country, make the cover of every magazine while cashing the biggest checks, but if you haven't won a Sandow you simply haven't made it. I think it would be naive to dispute whether Kai's defeat isn't taken as a personal defeat for George as well. I don't feel the guru can emotionally make the disconnect. There's no way there isn't a rivalry there. I don't think such an argument is even possible. I feel the judging between Rambod & Farah will be as complicated as that between their two star clients.
Hany Rambod has earned the nickname of "The Pro Creator," helping countless athletes earn IFBB Pro status. He's created a dynamic supplement line that works directly with his approach to training and diet. In fact, Rambod has created his own training approach in FST-7. From everything I've ever heard, Hany leaves no stone unturned, everything has to be perfect; otherwise it's back to the drawing boards. And while I have a truckload of respect for his many achievements, from working with Justin Compton (who could possibly win next year's Arnold Classic) to Phil's four commanding victories, the biggest triumph for me was when Jay Cutler made history in 2009, reclaiming his Olympia title. This feat had never been done before and quite frankly, I think it was an even bigger win than Jay's victory over Ronnie in 2006. In my humble opinion, 2009 sealed the deal for me. I don't know what Chad or George have up their sleeve, but Hany will be a tough one to beat, both on paper and in person.
Then again, you'd have to be a fool to count out George Farah. "The Pro Maker" has the distinction of being a much celebrated IFBB Pro Bodybuilder in his own right. Farah is the man behind Kai Greene and the one & only Dana Linn Bailey. "DLB" is a living, breathing revolution on two legs. Her very presence has breathed so much life in the Women's physique-based sports, inspiring women of all walks of life to become card-carrying members of the NPC. Bailey made the big-time when she won the first Ms. Physique Olympia. Her star continued to soar as she worked with supplement giant MHP, then left them to work on her own brand(s). Today, Bailey made headlines again, being the first muscular woman to sign a deal with Muscular Development Magazine. None of this would have been possible without George Farah. [ed. note: Kai Greene won 2 Arnold Classic titles with Oscar Ardon as his coach.]
All in all, we could sit here for days arguing which resume is the most impressive. In the end, the world's best guru will soon be crowned. Much like the Mr. Olympia puts to rest who's the best bodybuilder in the world, the first Battle of Gurus will crown the undisputed best of the best. For more information, please join the discussion at BattleOfTheGurus.com.