Occasionally, you'll hear a comment about how contests held after the Olympia can be considered anti-climatic, but with the Olympic Weekend held in September, there are still three full months where contests can be promoted. And when IFBB pro events are held with qualification for the 2016 Olympia at stake, you can bet there will be aspiring competitors looking to punch an early ticket to the event that is the goal of virtually every entrant in the pro Physique division. This year, The Europa Phoenix Pro (October 10), the Ultimate Warriors (November 7) and Ferrigno Legacy (November 20) events offer that opportunity, and with Susan Smith as a glowing example as the winner in Phoenix, post Olympia contest winners will most assuredly fill the bill as eminently qualified Olympians. The Ultimate Warriors was about to produce yet another!
It was a year ago this month that Jon Lindsay inaugurated the first Ultimate Warriors contest at the Scottish Rite Event Center in San Diego and this year promoters Tamer Elguindy and Shirley Moran continued the tradition. The event welcomed a full slate of NPC events as well as the IFBB Pro Women's Physique division competition. That first WPD contest got off to a great start with Colorado's Heather Grace winning over a field of 10 WPD contestants. This year the event - held on November 7th and once again hosted at the Scottish Rite Event Center - featured a contingency of 15 contestants from nine states and two foreign countries, and the quality of the group displayed a wide variety in its physicality with an eventual top-five that was first rate.
Jessica Gaines : A Queen among Queens!
It would be unfair to say that every contest uncovers an 'IT' girl from the field, but when they appear, there is no mistaking the effect they have on a judging panel and audience. Most times the allure is intangible... a certain something that sets that competitor apart from the rest with a combination of qualities that produces magic. And so it was with Texan Jessica Gaines.
If Jessica Gaines had blown into San Diego with her eye on auditioning for the role of Queen Nefertiti - she nailed it. But on this particular weekend, her stage time had nothing to do with a movie role. More to the specifics of the Ultimate Warriors event, Gaines' 'audition' came more in the way of the time she spent convincing a judging panel that her look as a pro Physique competitor had been fully cultivated to a level that was ready for a spot on the Physique Olympia stage. Mission accomplished. From Copperas Cove in the heart of central Texas, Jessica Gaines was on fire the moment she took her appointed spot in the prejudging lineup. She was hotter than an Arizona highway in the summertime, and as the prejudging progressed from the first call-out where she was placed in the middle of a group of five aspiring Warriors her future seemed sealed. She exuded an air of sophistication, regal in her stage persona. Indeed queenly. Her desire to finish atop this group of challengers may well have stemmed from her runner-up placing from nearly a month earlier at the Phoenix Pro where this Ultimate Warriors event offered her the opportunity to complete unfinished business. And that end she did.To her credit, she was razor sharp in her conditioning (not always easy with a month between competitions), and letter perfect in the presentation of her compulsory displays. But where she really put distance between herself and the rest of the field was with her posing performance. It lit up the crowd. And when she went a little jiggy halfway through her alloted time, the already lit up crowd went nuts. She owned the place.
At 5-5, and spreading an American Pharaoh-like 133 pounds of musculature throughout her physique, this was her breakout moment. Turning pro in winning her class at the 2013 NPC Junior USA, her pro debut came at the 2014 Europa Supershow in Dallas where she placed seventh. Her finish was respectable, and in three more contests that year, along with five additional shows so far in 2015 before the Ultimate Warriors, she had been a model of consistency and with one exception always placing between fifth and seventh. But those efforts offered little evidence of what she was about to become. Her victory at this Ultimate Warriors event was emphatic and well-deserved. Queen Nefertiti indeed. Doubt it? Check out her profile in a quarter turn at her next contest - the 2016 Physique Olympia. As a perk to her crowning moment, she accepted a check for $2,000 in prize money.
Running second to Jessica Gaines was Oklahoma's Melissa Pearo. With three previous competitions in 2015, her second-place finish at this event is her best result to date...and well-deserved. At 5-5, and weighing just five pounds less than Gaines, Pearo distributed 128 pounds to show a beautifully balanced structure. Turning pro in 2007, Pearo has not been well-known on the contest trail and her pro debut as a Figure competitor went largely unnoticed when she placed 11th at the 2007 Europa Supershow in Dallas. But her transition to the Physique division has been a good move and her body has responded well to the added muscle. At 128 pounds she shows sleek lines that are displayed well due to her Figure experience that lends itself to nice carriage, countenance and stage presence. Making good improvements in minor areas such as skintone/color, she proved that sometimes it's the little things that can make a considerable difference, especially when all the important elements are in order. The proof can be seen from her 6th-place finish at the Phoenix Pro on October 10th and rocketing to the runner-up spot just short of a month later. No doubt Pearo can approach the 2016 calendar season with confidence as she edges ever closer to an Olympia qualifying spot. Along with the 4 points she earned in the Qualifying Series race, she also accepted a check for $1,000 in second-place prize money.
Not every contest features a contestant that has truly endearing qualities, but we would be remiss in not recognizing Jennifer Jacques Conn. As the 'little engine that could' in this event, Conn was a 5-0, 115-pound dynamo that was more than ready to mix it up with her taller, heavier WPD sisters. As the contest's smallest contestant, Conn brought a complete mini-package that was along the lines of a Swiss pocket knife......she had a little bit of everything, and that quality made her competitive in this field. A former Figure competitor from nearby Riverside, California, Conn earned her pro status at the 2013 NPC USA placing second in her Physique class. With just two previous 2014 pro Physique division encounters on her contest resume where a 13th-place pro debut at the San Jose Pro and a tie for 16th at the Ferrigno Legacy left little to predict her success at this event, her blissful display of joy in her placing was understandable....and if nothing else she may now stand a bit taller than her 60 inches of total height! For her effort she also cheerfully accepted a check for $500 in third-place prize money.
From Rome, Italy, Ester Parisi made a strong showing in the fourth place spot. Making her pro debut at this event, Parisi was well-prepared with great conditioning that best displayed her well-balanced 5-4 1/2, 140-pound frame. In addition, her final point tally showed she was just four points behind third-placer Jennifer Jacques Conn. Having competed as a Figure competitor at the 2009 Arnold Amateur Classic, Parisi made the transition to the Physique division and has had considerable international amateur experience after winning her class at the Italian Championships in 2012, and more recently placing second at the Arnold Amateur Classic along with a victory at the Amateur Olympia Europe both in 2014. Picking up 2 points in the Olympia Qualification Series race for her fourth-place finish, Parisi possesses all the physical tools to be a top three placer at any of the upcoming WPD contests in 2016.
Chicago's Marcie Simmons claimed the fifth-place spot and the final trophy position. At 5-5 and weighing a finely constructed 137 pounds, Simmons missed getting the optimal opportunity to be seen at her best - for two reasons. First, she was at the end of the initial alphabetical lineup along with Stacy Wig where the lighting was not optimal. And second, she lacked enough oil to better highlight the muscle groups that were comparable with those who finished in higher placings. On the upside, these elements are easily remedied, and her overall physique carries an arsenal of structural qualities and muscle shapes to always keep her competitive in high placings. Competing in just her third pro event, her movement in the placings has jumped from a 15th finish at the Wings Chicago Pro and 8th in her pro debut at the New York Pro. So the 2014 NPC National overall Physique champion is on the right track with this fifth-place finish. The upcoming 2016 contest season can and should be a successful one for this talented competitor.
Most competitors would say that finishing 13th is unlucky. The number itself screams of bad fortune. But not for Arizona's Christine Sabo. No indeed. It was a month ago Sabo finished 9th at the Phoenix Pro, but tore down the building with a free wheeling posing performance that brought the audience to their feet. It was one of those must-see moments. Well, she got her chance again in San Diego, and once again she rocked the house leaving the crowd wanting more. It was purely electric, and when coming from the 13th spot in the final tallies, performances of this caliber are very rare. Then, again, Christine Sabo is a rare breed. With vast experience as a national level bodybuilder since 2002 and local competitions many years before that, you had to be taken aback by the obvious love she holds for her sport. Promoter Jon Lindsay quickly responded to the mega-audience adulation in rewarding her with a $500 check as the evening's 'Best Poser'. Clearly, Christine Sabo could take that few minutes of magic on the road!
1- Jessica Gaines, Texas 6
2- Melissa Pearo, Oklahoma 12
3- Jennifer Jacques Conn, California 16
4- Ester Parisi, Italy 20
5- Marcie Simmons, 25
6- Danielle Mastromatteo, California 31
7- Angel Saucier, Oregon 35
8- Moira McCormack, California 41
9- Marcy McCaskey, Oregon 45
10- Marika Johansson Gethin, Sweden 50
11- Roxie Beckles, California 55
12- Cameo Braun, Florida 61
13- Christine Sabo, Arizona 65
14- Stacy Wig, Maryland 71
15- Ann Gannon, Washington 74
Photos courtesy of MuscleContest.com