Rich Gaspari rose to the top of the IFBB Pro League and defied odds with an indomitable work ethic. In a recent Straight Outta the Lair Podcast with Flex Lewis on October 16, 2023, Gaspari explained how he overcame genetic shortcomings to cement himself as a staple of 1980s bodybuilding.
It didn’t take long for fans to get behind “The Dragon Slayer” as a Men’s Open talent. Gaspari was known for his ability to get shredded year-round, boasting a blend of fullness and detail that few of his peers could stand against. As a result of his consistency, Gaspari routinely pushed into the first call-out at Mr. Olympias, the most prestigious show on the calendar.
Having trailblazed in the division with striated glutes, it appeared Rich Gaspari would win a Sandow trophy before calling it a career. However, he was denied multiple times by the former eight-time winner Lee Haney, who is tied with Ronnie Coleman for the most Mr. Olympia victories of all time.
While he didn’t lay claim to the sport’s highest honor, Gaspari still managed to build a respectable legacy and was the very first man to win the Arnold Classic title in 1989. Now, as a trainer and onlooker of the sport, he’s back to discuss his career’s greatest highlights with 212 icon Lewis.
“It Was His Era” — Rich Gaspari Discusses Rivalry with Lee Haney, Getting 2nd ‘3x in a Row’
With no shortage of confidence, Gaspari knew his career would flourish once he garnered the attention of Joe Weider (the co-creator of the IFBB Pro League and creator of the Ms. Olympia and Mr. Olympia contests). He also recounted his on-stage battles with rival Haney as “incredible” and called the former champion a genetic freak.
“Yes [I was training with Lee Haney at one point] that whole time I was training with Lee Haney. I was living in the Valley. He was seeing Joe Weider. I never got to meet Joe Weider. So, for me, it was like, as you know, I wanted to be able to meet Joe Weider. Joe Weider — you made it in bodybuilding when Joe Weider paid attention to you,” shared Rich Gaspari.
“A year later [me and Lee Haney became rivals]. Incredible battle [with Lee Haney]. Three years… three seconds in a row. You know, I always respected Lee — I mean — genetically, you see, he’s a freak. The small waist, the wide back. I look at pictures today, I’m like, I was so confident I could beat him but maybe you know what, maybe I couldn’t beat him. He was just so superior. It was his era.
He was the eight-time Mr. Olympia, it was the era of Lee Haney. Had I come in at another time, maybe the Samir time, I could have been a Mr. Olympia I think to myself, but it just wasn’t that. I always say, coming in second was probably one of the best things because it pushed me in life that you need to just keep like I said, moving forward and pushing yourself to be even better,” said Rich Gaspari.
Gaspari Talks Overcoming Genetics to Find Bodybuilding Success
Even though his genetics weren’t among the best, Gaspari weaponized his willpower and work ethic to reach the top of the sport.
“And you know… I believe being the bodybuilder I was, I was told I didn’t have the greatest genetics, but you know, I put everything together. When I went into a show it wasn’t just about coming in show with symmetry, it was coming in being striated, coming in to show with the best tan, coming in to the show with the best posing routine.
Even to my hair, I wanted to do every single thing, everything put together made me that great bodybuilder where a lot of bodybuilders… they have great genetics, but they don’t study nutrition. I studied nutrition like how to eat properly. I was gluten-free back in the day when people didn’t even know about gluten. I was doing that.”
While their physiques differ greatly, Rich Gaspari and Nick Walker have a lot in common. Similar to Gaspari, many have argued that Nick Walker doesn’t have the best genetics. He possesses massive arms, but some have drawn attention to “The Mutant’s” lack of aesthetics. With 2023 Mr. Olympia approaching, Walker addressed these critiques and has worked diligently to ensure his physique doesn’t look ‘boxy’ on stage.
Gaspari’s success proves that bodybuilders can still thrive even without the best genetics. Many look at these flaws as a disadvantage, but Gaspari used the shortcomings as fuel to build a one-of-a-kind physique.