By John Hansen
Legendary bodybuilding champion Kevin Levrone made headlines recently when he announced that he will compete this September at the Mr. Olympia contest. At 51 years old, the former bodybuilding superstar hasn’t competed in 13 years! The last time he hopped on stage was all the way back in 2003 when he took 6th at the Mr. Olympia. His comeback proclamation has energized the bodybuilding community with speculation of how the Maryland Muscle Machine will stack up against the current crop of bodybuilding’s elite.
This announcement comes at a time when the Mr. Olympia contest could really use an infusion of excitement to add some anticipation for the sport’s biggest night. In 2015, an off-peak Phil Heath managed to retain the title despite not bringing the dominant physique that he has displayed in the past. Even more disappointing, Heath was not challenged for the title by any of the young, hungry contenders who should have taken advantage of an opportunity to possibly defeat the champ when he was clearly not at his best.
Levrone, one of the world’s top professional bodybuilders during the 90’s and early 2000’s, was always a showman onstage. He loved performing and he was a crowd favorite, going pose for pose with men named Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman. His physique at its peak was incredible, displaying amazing delts and arms as well as great aesthetics and shape. Kevin was always at the top of any contest he competed in. When he was at his best, he had one of the greatest bodybuilding physiques ever. A true legend in his time.
As we contemplate Kevin stepping onstage again at the 2016 Mr. Olympia and challenging Phil Heath for the title, our idealistic minds immediately flashback to those glory years of Kevin competing in the 1990’s. Dismissing the fact that 20 years have passed since Levrone was at the top of his game, our romantic notion of a 1998 Levrone posing down against a 2016 Phil Heath gets us excited and amped! Make my reservations for Las Vegas in September, I want to see this epic showdown in person!!
A Dose of Reality
Bodybuilding history is full of disappointing comebacks. We’ve witnessed several legends of the sport coming back, only to display subpar physiques that never lived up to their legendary status. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the undisputed King of Bodybuilding during his celebrated reign, created one of the most controversial Mr. Olympia dramas ever when he competed at less than his best and defeated the sport’s top contenders at the 1980 Mr. Olympia. Franco Columbu, the winner of the Mr. Olympia in 1976, did the same when he won the Mr. Olympia title in 1981 to a chorus of boos from the audience. Franco’s legs were way out of proportion to his muscular upper body but that didn’t stop him from winning another title and snatching the Sandow trophy from top contenders Tom Platz, Danny Padilla and Roy Callendar.
Arnold and Franco, despite displaying physiques that were not reminiscent of their prime, were still relatively young when they made their comebacks. Arnold was only 33 years old and Franco was approaching his 40th birthday when they won their final Mr. Olympia contests. Kevin Levrone will be 51 years old this year. Although he looks remarkably young, the fact remains that Kevin is still well into his middle age years. He was in his late 30’s when he decided to call it a career in 2003. How good can he possibly look 13 years later now that he is in his 50’s?
Weighing the Possibility
There are several facts that are going to excite bodybuilding fans about the possibility of Levrone pulling off the upset of the century. First of all, Kevin has always been a fast “responder” to the various supplements used by professional bodybuilders. During the end of his competitive career, Kevin would “clean out” and take off months from training during his off season. With only three months left until the Mr. Olympia, Levrone would step on the gas pedal and go full bore into his training program. In a period of 12 short weeks, Kevin would accomplish a complete metamorphosis of his physique, gaining nearly 40 pounds of muscle and typically end up placing in the top two or three at the Mr. Olympia with very limited preparation time.
Second, Kevin has not competed for a long time so he shouldn’t have any injuries to deal with. If he is rested and pain free, he should be able to get back into heavy training again with no issues or problems. However, his body is older now and it may not respond to his training like it did 15-20 years ago. When Arnold tried to get in shape in only 8 weeks for the 1980 Mr. Olympia, he ended up injuring his shoulder and had to get a cortisone injection before the contest. The water retention he incurred as a side effect from the pain killer drastically affected his condition and Arnold was holding water during the prejudging.
The last factor is the motivation that Kevin will have to compete in the Mr. Olympia. If Levrone feels like he has something to prove, he could accomplish the impossible and take his physique to new levels. There is nothing as powerful as the human mind. With his remarkable genetics and his fast response to the supplements, Kevin could potentially shock the world if he feels like he has to prove to everyone that he is the best.
One thing is certain. The fans of bodybuilding will be extremely excited and pumped up for Kevin Levrone to step onstage at the 2016 Mr. Olympia contest. If Kevin can pull off the impossible and challenge Heath for the title, it will be an event that will live forever in bodybuilding history.
However, history has shown us that bodybuilding comebacks are a perilous road at best, full of disappointment and sadness. It’s a rare occurrence when the celebrated physique of our youth can return in full bloom like it did so many years ago. Arnold in 1980, Franco in 1981, Sergio in 1984, Ronnie in 2007, Cutler in 2013. When a bodybuilder we grew up admiring and idolizing returns to the stage looking like the same bodybuilder that we loved and adored, it makes us feel better about ourselves. But Father Time is brutal. He takes no prisoners and creates havoc with our physical condition, no matter how much we try to fight it. We all have our time in the sun. If Kevin has one more good day left in him it would give our sport a day it will never forget. A comeback for the ages.
A three-time Natural Mr. Universe and the first Natural Mr. Olympia champion, John is the author of the book Natural Bodybuilding (2005, Human Kinetics). A 14 year columnist for Ironman Magazine, John is the founder of FloridaPhysique.com where he covers the NPC Florida Bodybuilding scene and interviews legendary bodybuilders. John is also the promoter of the NPC Natural Suncoast Classic and offers consultations on training, nutrition and posing – in person and online.