As Lee Haney began his pro career in 1983, he was the promising new kid on the block (Read part one of Lee Haney – A New King Arrives here). The bodybuilding magazines were full of stories and interviews with the new World Champion who had come out of nowhere to shock the physique world with his incredible potential. At only 22 years old, Haney had steamrolled over the best bodybuilders in the country with his impressive win at the inaugural 1982 NPC Nationals before doing the same to the best amateur bodybuilders in the world when he won the Mr. Universe in Belgium only weeks later.
After his dominating victories in the amateur division, Lee was ready to mix it up with the best professionals in the IFBB. He entered the first pro show of the year, the 1983 World Pro Championships in Atlantic City, to see how he stacked up. As the 5’11”, 230 pound frame of Lee Haney took his place onstage with the other 15 professional bodybuilders in the line-up, his immense size and muscularity immediately stood out.
The 1983 IFBB Pro World Championships was a highly publicized event. It took place at the Playboy Resort and Casino in Atlantic City and was broadcast on ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports with none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself on hand to give his expert commentary.
The front runner for the contest was “The Magical Egyptian” Mohammed Makkawy. Makkawy had caused shock waves in the bodybuilding world months earlier at the 1982 Mr. Olympia contest in London when he displayed the most ripped physique onstage. Despite his incredible condition, Mohammed was unfairly placed in seventh, tied with the massive Bertil Fox. Many felt that Makkawy had taken the judges by surprise and was not given the credit he deserved. The judges were going to rectify that mistake in Atlantic City by rewarding him a well deserved first place victory.
Lee Haney definitely made his presence known by being compared to the top competitors in the line-up. At the exciting posedown in the finals, the top six bodybuilders took the stage and tried to upstage one another to the delight of the sold out crowd as the television cameras captured all the action. When Lee flexed his dominating physique, it became quickly apparent what a threat he was to the pro bodybuilding scene. He was easily the biggest man onstage, even out sizing his boyhood idol Robby Robinson. Lee ended up taking third place in the contest, behind the winner Makkawy and the Herculean Greg DeFerro in second. However, it had to feel immensely satisfying to make such an impact in his first professional contest and place ahead of one of the men he had grown up admiring in the magazines, Robby Robinson.
Only three months later, Lee competed in his second professional show. The Night of the Champions contest was the second biggest professional competition next to the Mr. Olympia. It was held each year in New York City in May beginning in 1978. Past winners included Robby Robinson, Chris Dickerson and Albert Beckles. Whoever won the Night of the Champions each year was considered one of the top professional bodybuilders in the world and usually a front runner for the Mr. Olympia contest later in the year.
Lee Haney quickly moved to the head of the twelve man line-up. Although Mohammed Makkawy was not competing (he was the featured guest poser at the show, hiding his diminished muscularity by using strobe lights during his posing routine), Greg DeFerro was onstage, looking for his first pro victory after his disappointing upset to Makkawy at the Pro World Championships. Greg was a Herculean bodybuilder, displaying big, thick muscles and hard conditioning. However, his waist was wide despite his low body fat. Compared to the rookie Haney, Greg looked blocky. Lee, on the other hand, had just as much mass and size as DeFerro but he also displayed the aesthetic ideal with a small waist and wide shoulders. The combination was too much and Lee Haney scored his first professional win at the Night of the Champions.
Having relocated from South Carolina to Southern California at the behest of Muscle and Fitness publisher Joe Weider, Lee and his wife Shirley (they were married shortly after his Night of the Champions victory) enjoyed the beautiful weather while Lee concentrated on improving his promising physique. With the Mr. Olympia contest only months away, Lee worked out hard at Worlds Gym in Santa Monica, California.
Surrounded by the best bodybuilders in the world, Haney trained his genetically gifted physique with the goal of making a huge impact in his first Mr. Olympia appearance. That summer, with four weeks left until the contest, Lee was ripped and ready weighing over 240 pounds. He attracted the attention of the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, a regular visitor at Worlds Gym. As the seven time Mr. Olympia winner watched Lee pose in front of the mirror, he was clearly impressed with his combination of size and definition. Arnold asked Lee how he was going to hold his contest ready condition another four weeks until the Mr. Olympia contest. Lee didn’t have an answer but he felt extremely confident after receiving such high praise from the King of Bodybuilding with only weeks left until the Mr. Olympia.
As the contest rapidly approached, Lee pushed himself harder to display his absolute best condition. He cut back his calories a little more and did extra work in the gym. He knew the competition would be tough and he wanted to be ready!
When Lee Haney arrived in Munich, Germany for the 1983 Mr. Olympia, he was mentally and physically peaked. However, he was a little disappointed and somewhat perplexed that his bodyweight had dropped over the last month of preparation to only 230 pounds. Gone was the spectacular physique that earned the praise of Arnold Schwarzenegger only weeks ago.
As expected, the 1983 Mr. Olympia contest was packed with talent. Three time Mr. Olympia winner, the legendary Frank Zane, was back in an attempt to reclaim the title. Mohammed Makkawy, the winner of the Pro World Championships earlier in the year, was also competing in his best shape ever. There was little chance that Makkawy would be ignored by the judges on this night. Samir Bannout, who had similarly shocked the judges last year at the 1982 Mr. Olympia, was also back for revenge.
The bodybuilder who was the star of the show, however, was the massive Bertil Fox. The incredibly thickly muscled British bodybuilder, a three time NABBA Mr. Universe champion, was competing in fantastic condition. Fox, displaying some of the thickest muscle mass ever seen on a competitive bodybuilder, quickly won over the German crowd with his spectacular arms, chest and back thickness. When he finished his routine with the popular crab most muscular pose, the German fans cheered so loud, they threatened to blow the roof off the place.
After the prejudging, the top finalists in the 1983 Mr. Olympia contest seemed to be Samir Bannout, Mohammed Makkawy, Frank Zane, Bertil Fox, Jusup Wilkosz and newcomer Lee Haney. Lee, the biggest competitor onstage at 5’11” and 230 pounds, was not at all intimidated competing in his first Mr. Olympia contest.
At the evening show, Lee posed confidently to the music of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. His smooth flowing routine highlighted his massive but aesthetic physique, emphasizing his wide shoulders, small waist and extreme muscularity. At the final posedown for the top six competitors, Lee stood out, towering above all the other bodybuilders except for the massive Wilkosz.
As promoter Albert Busek read the final placings, beginning with sixth place, the audience sat in rapt anticipation. After the German Giant Jusup Wilkosz was awarded sixth place, many of his German fans whistled in disappointment. In Europe, a whistle was equivalent to booing in the United States.
No one could predict what was coming next. “In fifth place”, Busek began, “Bertil Fox!”. The audience erupted in chaos! The German crowd, rabid fans of Mass and Beef, exploded in disagreement. Screams and whistles rained down upon the judges, echoing off the walls of the Olympiahalle. Bertil hesitantly stepped up onstage, shaking his head in disgust as he fed off the disapproval of the audience. “Brutal Bertil”, as he was referred to in the bodybuilding magazines, hit several most muscular poses to the delight of the audience, before exiting the stage.
Frank Zane, three time Mr. Olympia. was called out for the fourth place position. Zane, now 41 years old, was not at his best. A shoulder injury, incurred while falling off his bicycle earlier in the year, had prevented Zane from training with heavy weights during much of his preparation and his diminished muscle mass was the result. Frank, competing for the final time, accepted his award like a gentleman.
Lee Haney, the rookie Mr. Olympia competitor, who only one year earlier was unknown to most of the bodybuilding world, took third place in the 1983 Mr. Olympia contest. Lee spread his arms out wide in acceptance of his German sculpted trophy, presented by IFBB President Ben Weider.
As Lee stood off to the right of the stage, he quietly watched as the perfectly sculpted Mohammed Makkawy received second place followed by the announcement of the Lion of Lebanon, Samir Bannout in first place, the winner of the 1983 Mr. Olympia contest. An emotional Bannout kissed the coveted Sandow trophy as Joe Weider raised his arms in victory.
Haney reluctantly smiled as he watched the victor soak in the applause and adulation from the audience. Proud of his spectacular Mr. Olympia debut, Lee Haney could not stop himself from thinking how much different the result might have been if he had stepped onstage with the same physique that had impressed Arnold Schwarzenegger so much only weeks earlier. “Next year”, Lee said to himself, “next year”.
Read Part 3 of “Lee Haney – A New King Arrives” here!