- What do you think of the competition at the Ironman this year?
This looks to be one of the deepest line-ups in our 16-year history. For the first time in years, I don't think there's a clear cut favorite. I know most feel Gustavo Badell, coming off this third place finish at the 'Olympia last year, has to be considered the favorite, but I think there are three main favorites and one X factor.
- What do you think of some of the pros posting their pre-contest photos on the Internet?
I think the guys posting their pics is great. It gives us all a preview as to what to expect, and really builds the anticipation. Judging from the pics, Lee Priest looks insane. He is huge, thick and detailed. He's been second three times, and wants to win this thing finally. Melvin Anthony has been second twice and is coming off a big win at last year's NOC. He told me he feels great, and is confident about winning the contest. Don't forget Troy Alves. He was everyone's Rookie of the Year in 2003, then had an off-2004. But I talked with Troy yesterday and he is really feeling good about what he'll bring to the stage this year. I think he's going to be bigger than ever.
- How about the ones that have been quiet? Like King Kamali? Mark Dugdale? David Henry? Anything can happen?
Funny you ask about Kamali. I was saying the same thing the other day. Haven't heard a peep out of him, which is kinda like having Howard Dean go speechless for a week. I still say Kamali's all-time best was his pro debut at our show in 2001. His being this quiet can only mean two things: he either looks terrific, or he's not happy with his look this close to the show. I have a feeling his guru, Chad Nicholls, doesn't want his guys showing off their stuff prior to the contest. The other guys you mentioned -- Dugdale, Henry -- and don't forget Titus -- are very good bodybuilders. It's Dugdale's pro debut after winning the USA. Another interesting sidelight to this contest?
- This will be your 16th year as emcee of the Ironman Pro? Is each year different for you?
They are all different in some way. It seems just yesterday that we held our very first IRON MAN, and that was back in 1990, at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Shawn Ray won that one, with Mike Ashley second and Gary Strydom third. I think the current venue, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, is the best we've ever had. Great building, great city, with so much for the fans to do, not to mention the Fit Expo we're having with it. So Ron, make sure the rain stops by Friday!
- How do you prepare when you emcee a show? Do you have a script, learn the backgrounds of the competitors, or just by your wits?
I do my homework for every show I emcee; fortunately, I've been around the game so long I already know a lot of stuff about many of the competitors. But, for example, I'll talk to each competitor prior to the contest, and get some background stuff if I don't know much about them. As far as the wit stuff goes, some people think I'm witless. The only script I follow at the IRON MAN is the order of events. But, it takes everyone working together--the expediters, the promoters, the athletes, etc to make the show run smooth
- You come up with some interesting nicknames for the pros? Which ones in the past have you come up with?
Nicknames...hmm, let me think about a few over the years. There's Quadzilla for Paul DeMayo, Sultan of Symmetry for Flex Wheeler, The Building with Feet for Paul Dillett, Bulletproof for George Farah, Glutezilla for Tommi Thorvildsen, "Marvelous" Melvin Anthony, the Freakin' Rican for Badell, Half-Asian Creation for William Owens...have I bored you enough yet? You want a nickname?
- No, not me? Anyone get mad at their nickname?
I thought one of my best was for Eric Bui...called him "Chop Bui" but the thought it might sound a bit racial, so I don't refer to him as that anyone. Until now, anyway. The only time they get mad about their nickname is after a contest, when they don't finish as high as they think they should. Then, the nickname is a good place to start complaining about
- What about the press conference? It was great last year! What brought that up? Was there one before? Anything interesting about this yearís press conference?
I loved the press conference at the 1988 Olympia, held at the Universal Amphitheater. That was the first time that they had a weigh in at the press conference. That was Wayne DeMilia's creation, and was disappointed I haven't seen anything like that since. So, when John Balik made the commitment to have the 2004 IRON MAN at the Pasadena Civic, along with expo at the Pasadena Center, I told him I think we should give this a try to add to the excitement of the weekend. He agreed. The first one went off pretty well last year. There is a change this year, though. Instead of being in the Little Theatre Friday at 3 pm, it will be in the main expo hall at 4 pm. Last year Badell peeled off the sweats to give the fans a preview of how great he looked. If I can get you or Bill Comstock to do the same this year, it will be a success.
- How long have you been with Ironman Magazine? How did you get into writing for them?
I've been with IRON MAN ever since John Balik and Michael Neveux bought the magazine from Perry and Mabel Rader in 1986. I can't believe that it's almost 20 years since I boarded a plane with John for Miami to cover my first event for him --the 1986 Women's Nationals in Miami. Yes, Miami, my first time ever there. It was quite an experience. I got involved when I was writing for the Weider Magazine. I was published in Muscle & Fitness, Flex Magazine and Sport Fitness Magazine around 15-20 times as a freelance writer. On several of my articles, Michael Neveux was the photographer, particular for my article for the Sport Fitness Magazine. So we met, at Rickís Gym in Alhambra, to take some pictures for an article of mine. Around 1985. Around 1983-1986, I used to go to World Gym Santa Monica almost every day in the summers, and see Joe Gold. I was close to Joe Gold, and when he would leave the gym to go to lunch, I would watch it for him. That is how I met John Balik officially. John came to work out, and Joe Gold said to me ĎJohn just bought Ironman, why donít you go introduce himself, and see if you can work with himí. With Weider, as a freelance writer, I would not get work sometimes for months, and I wanted something more on a consistent basis. That Tuesday, I introduced myself to John, in September 1986. I gave him my number. The next day, John called me and asked if I wanted to go to Miami to cover the Womenís Nationals with him. I said yes. And the rest is history. I wrote my first News & Views for the January 1987 issue and have written every News & Views since.
- You have been an emcee to many bodybuilding shows. Close to 300. How did you get started?
I emceed my first contest when I promoted a show at Cal State L.A. in 1984. I taught there for many years in the Physical Education and Journalism Departments, and wanted to do something at school that would jazz things up a bit. This was not an NPC show, and was only limited to Cal State LA students. I had it at noon, in the student union ... it was free. I had Jon Aranita and Janice Ragain as my guest posers. John Brown's sister was there; John came up and took off his shirt. Two years later I moved it to the State Playhouse on a Saturday night, charged a small fee and donated the $ to the PE department. I ran that show for 11 years, until all of the part-timers lost our jobs due to the budget crunch. I put on another show at East LA College in 1997; Melvin donated his services as the guest poser and I raised $2,300 and bought a Smith Machine for the weight room. Of course, I emceed all of those shows. My first NPC contest was in Holland, Michigan in 1988. Dona Olivera's husband at the time promoted a show there and they brought me in. I emceed my first show for Jon Lindsay in either 1989 or 1990 at the World Gym Classic. My first pro show was the 1990 IRON MAN.
- Do you still teach in college? What is your degree in?
Yes, I still teach. I have my B.A. in Journalism/Radio/TV, my secondary credential in Journalism and my Masters in Physical Education. I taught at Cal State LA, both full-time and part-time, for many years; currently I teach Health and PE at Pasadena City College and East Los Angeles College. And unlike several of the bodybuilders who claim to have college degrees - mine are legitimate.
- When you write about a competitor, and you criticize them, does it ever come back to you? Do they get angry at you?
Do they get angry at me? Can Alicia Keys sing? If I had a dollar for everytime someone got pissed because my articles had some constructive criticism, I'd be wealthy
- Some people think you are arrogant? Are you?
Yes, I have heard that. Well, let's put it this way: you remember the great Jack Nicholson line in the flick, "A Few Good Men"--"You can't handle the truth"?...well, people can't handle the truth. I'm confident in my abilities, feel I do some things well and admit I don't do a lot of things well. I think I've mellowed a bit over the years but, yes, can see why people would think I'm arrogant before they really get to know me as a person. Even my girlfriend wrote me a letter before we ever went out, saying how cocky I was. That was funny, because she's still here years later.
- Who has been your favorite bodybuilders in the past 20 years?
Favorite bodybuilder? Tough question. There have been so many great ones. Since I came into the industry we've had Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, Ray, Wheeler, Levrone, Priest, Dexter, Labrada, Christian ... the list of great ones goes on and on. I've had a love-hate relationship with Shawn. Sometimes I want to choke him, other times I have really appreciated his persona. He can be a really funny guy. I first met him when he was a teen-ager. Saw him win the 1987 'Cal--actually, Chris Cormier won the Teen-Age category that night... a long, long time ago. By the way, did I mention Cutler as one of my faves? He is. A really dedicated guy with a great sense of humor when you get to know him. If The Big Nasty wasn't still around, Cutler would have three Olympia titles under his belt.
- You know many people. What happens if you find something out that would be great to write about - but would hurt the competitor a great deal?
That is the toughest part of this job. When you write a column like News and Views that I have for IRON MAN for the past 19 years, you get confronted with some negative stories. You are caught in a Catch-22; you want to do your job as a Journalist, but feel bad about hurting the person you're writing about. For example, I got no joy writing in my last column that Dave Palumbo got sentenced to 5 months in prison for selling GH to bodybuilders. But, I got an official press release from Dave's lawyer, Rick Collins, and it was done the best way I could. Even got a quote from Palumbo, who's a great guy
- So is there a fine line between real journalism and promoting a competitor? What is a real journalist?
A real journalist reports the news, good or bad. Bodybuilding is such a small community, with everyone knowing each other, it makes that job so much tougher. Bodybuilding is always getting slammed in the media, and that bothers me. Sure, some negative things go on, doesn't it in every profession? But, it does so much to help people in the lifes, help creating a worthy self-esteem that many didn't have as a result from a dysfunctional childhood, whatever. I also promote a contest, the Junior California. Most of the guest posers I get donate their services because I have a Collegiate division in my show and they want to give back to a contest they know doesn't make me very much $ at all. If I have to write some bad news about these people....you can see my point. A double edge sword. The biggest problem I've seen when it comes to being a "real" journalist is that we don't--yes, that includes me--always report fairly. Certain people have gotten big time favors from editors, writers, because they are friend with them.
- This year and last year, some pros have criticized the Ironman on some topics? What do you think of that?
Yes, we've been slammed--by Shawn and Bob Cicherillo for the most part, about not raising the prize money. Yes, it's been the same for 16 years. And, we WANT to raise it. That's exactly why John Balik put his financial ass on the line, with the Fix Expo. The hope was that if we can get more people to the entire event, that would lead to more tickets being bought to the contest, leading to more prize money, etc. But, the cost of doing this has been tremendous. I think John should be commended, not criticized on a website, for putting his $ where his mouth is with regards to the Fix Expo scenario. How many other "smaller" shows have an Expo? How many have a press conference? How many give each competitor at least two comps tickets, if not more? How many "smaller" shows are even still around? There must be a reason why they're not. How many smaller shows have people like Shawn, Ronnie, Jay Cutler, et al giving seminars? How many have the overall energy and excitement the current IM Pro has?
- How come the lighting at the Ironmanís evening show is one of the best in bodybuilding shows? Does it take much work to do that?
Because Michael Neveux is a genius when it comes to photography, lighting, etc. Hell, even I might look good on stage with him setting the lights. Well, okay, that's going waaay too far. But, you get my drift. That's another thing about our contest--you can't believe how many of them write to us, asking for our pictures from Neveux and Comstock. Ask Jay, Troy, Melvin, etc
- 2004 was a year of some major changes in professional bodybuilding? How did you feel about that, and what do you think of the future, 2005, 2006.
Yes, AMI took over the Weider mags and put on the Olympia. That's not an easy job. People who read my column, or go to graphicmuscle.com know I did not like the Challenge Round. But, they tried something different to spice up things, and I can appreciate that. We'll see how they do in 2005 with a year under their belt; the AMI people got a late start in the planning for the 2004 Olympia, so that has to be taken into consideration. I know the supplement companies have taken a major hit the past couple of years, and that affects promoters -- I'm not getting half of them back for my contest. I hope things change. We are a small industry and it doesn't take much for all of us to be affected. I think it is a mistake to think that bodybuilding could go mainstream. Just ask Vince McMcMahon. People at the top now need to realize it is what it is. A muscle show ó people are buying tickets to see freaks. Itís like opera. Only hardcore opera fans will go to the Met, no matter how many bells and whistles you try to add to the production.
- An NPC competitor said they heard you sing one day, and you sounded - interesting? I also hear you sing Elvis, and once did a duet with Kevin Levrone?
No, I look like Elvis. I crushed Kevin in a "sing-down" at the Arnold Classic three years ago. Of course, my mother judged it. Yes, i actually do--or have--sung. Had my own Oldies show years back, have done the Elvis thing a lot (including coming out of a casket at the 1993 NOC, singing Don't Be Smooth) and have sung at a few weddings over the years. I broke out the Elvis act at the 1990 IRON MAN, actually. Took me a while to get the tomato juice off my jump suit, but other than that went pretty well.
- Who are your favorite musical artists? To listen to, and to sing their tunes?
I like so many musical artists. Elvis, of course. Ray Charles, Stones, Beatles, Eagles, Oldies, Shania Twain (well, at least love looking at her), Tim McGraw, even some Rap, which I thought I'd never say. I like a wide variety of music; would have to list hundreds and hundreds to be accurate on this question. After seeing the 2005 Grammyís, you can add Jamie Foxx to my list. That cat gots some pipes.
- How old are you? I hear your birthday is coming up?
I'm turning.... ..well, let's just say my birthday is on Wednesday and I ain't getting any younger. Don't ask my age -- let's just say I was a waiter at The Last Supper.
- After the Ironman Pro show, you will be cohosting the Arnold Classic on PPV. Is that different than emceeing?
First of all, I didnít know I was cohosting it until I read it on Getbig.com, thanks for informing me. Yes, its much different than emceeing. You are not speaking to an audience of 4,000, you are speaking to people all over the world. When you emcee, you introduce the competitors, and then donít say anything while they are performing. When you are doing PPV, my job is to comment on their physiques as they perform, highlighting their strength and weaknesses. I will look at all of the competitors objectively; I think I am the most objective journalist in the industry; Iíve praised people I am not very fond of, and I have criticized those that I do like personally. There are other reporters within our industry who canít make the same claim of objectivity. There are certain writers out there who will only mention my name, when it's to rip me. There is never a postive word. I've never been like that, never will. A real reporter should be fair and balanced.
- What is the most frustrating part of emceeing?
When things go wrong during the contest, and you are standing there, and you feel naked on the podium when all the eyes are you. One year, I introduced Chris Cormier, and the music didnít go on, so I had to fill time, so what I did was go and started introducing celebrities in the audience so they can go and fix the music. One of the keys of being a good emcee is you need to fill and adjust when things donít go according to plan. At the 2003 Nationals, I was given to wrong results for the Womenís Middleweights, and I read off the wrong results. The judges realized their was a mistake, and I had to fix it very quickly. The key is when there is a mistake, people are human, is not to dwell on a mistake and move past it very quickly. Donít put emphasis on the mistake, move on to the next thing?
- Where were you born?
I was born in Quincy, Illinois, on February 16th. I moved to California when I was two years old. I went to Montebello High School in California.
- Are you religious?
My father was Jewish, he died when I was a senior in high school, and my mother was Catholic. As a kid, I grew up in Lincoln Heights, which was predominately Catholic. So I was raised Catholic, but I quit going to the church when I was 20 years old, but that doesnít mean that I am not a spiritual person. I am. I think people would be surprised to know on how much I am involved in giving to other people. One of the great things about my teaching career has been being able to teach to a lot of economically disadvantaged students because it gives you joy to see them go on to successful careers. I see former gang bangers that donít have a lot and are trying to make something of themselves. I also have donated time to the Special Olympics, I have donated time to the Inner City Games, I have worked with handicapped students, both physically and mentally. There is nothing like seeing them achieve some of their goals.
- Did you ever play sports when you grew up.
I loved sports as a kid; I played high school basketball; I was a 5í10Ē guard. I was a great shooter, but was short, slow and couldn't jump. Those attributes donít make for a standout players, so my success had to come from a different avenue. I wanted to be a sportscaster when I grew up, and eventually became a sports writer. My very first job as a pro was working in the sports department for the Los Angeles Times. The day I started for the Los Angeles Times was the day I was supposed to graduate from Cal State Long Beach. I was 23 years old, and I was working in the same department with stars like Jim Murray that I had read and idolized for years. When the job didnít become full time, I moved on and got a job as Assistant Sports Editor of the Alhambra Post-Advocate. In my first year, I won the best sports feature in the Copely Newspaper Chain. It felt great, I did the article on a dwarf who was playing pop warner football. The second year I won the award for best column. It was on a former local high school player who lost his leg in Vietnam. When that paper folded, I was hired as Sports Information Director at Cal State Los Angeles. I became a publicist, and they funded the position by having teach at the school. I taught both Journalism and Physical Education when I was there. I was the youngest full time faculty member at that time. I eventually went to graduate school and was named ĎOutstanding Graduate Studentí, had a 3.94 gpa.
- You are known as the Swami in Ironman Magazine with your predictions, and most of them are very accurate? What is your secret?
I am just lucky. There is no secret - the judges tell me a month before the show who is going to win. Just kidding. When you have been around the game for almost two decades, you have an inside look on who is on the top, sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong. I donít take the pick seriously - I do it to basically hype the event, be entertaining. What I found out during the years however, is that the competitors do take the pick seriously. Sometimes they actually think my pick has clout with the final decision. Oh, how I wish my pick had such power. They also seem to remember when your picks are wrong, but forger when they are right.