Tony Pearson, a 1980s bodybuilding standout has witnessed dramatic changes in the Open class over the years. Speaking with Dennis James and Chris Cormier, Pearson discussed the sport’s evolution from the Golden Era and training with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In addition, he named Kai Greene and Derek Lunsford as two of his favorite physiques.
“When Arnold said to me one day, that same day, ‘You’re going to be a great champion some day, you know,’ – that stuck in my head,” said Tony Pearson.
Pearson established himself as a preeminent force in the bodybuilding world with spectacular muscle balance, detail, and stage presence. While he never succeeded in winning a Mr. Olympia title, Pearson took center stage in countless battles against powerful names in the Open, such as eight-time Olympia winner Lee Haney, Samir Bannout, and Mohamed Makkawy. He’s won several pro contests and claimed gold at the NABBA Pro Mr. Universe in 1980.
While Dorian Yates ushered in an era of mass monsters in the 90s, many fans believe the Open class is now changing its form. At the 2022 Olympia last December, shape, balanced proportions, and symmetry were key factors in Hadi Choopan‘s title-winning performance. Meanwhile, a pair of aesthetic bodybuilders, Samson Dauda and Andrew Jacked took first and third at the Arnold Classic last month.
In a recent The Menace Podcast, Pearson talked about how the Men’s Open division has changed, the importance of posing, and training with bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Tony Pearson Compares Golden Era to Men’s Open Today, Says Success Is ‘Not About Size,’ But ‘The Art & Presentation’
“For me, it’s not about size. You know what I mean. I just saw the art form of it. I mean, Frank Zane is more that I could see that I wanted to be like and Robby Robinson – a mixture of Zane and Robby Robinson blended together. The small waist and the broad shoulders mean so much to me. Like Steeve Reeves, Bob Paris, Samir Bannout – those lines – it’s all about the lines. It’s the art and the presentation.”
“I was so small backstage [when I competed], it’s all an illusion.”
“I just think people look at it different nowadays. Now, if you win a contest or you let’s say you spring up and then you fade away and then there’s more information everyday like this, I think it’s easy to forget. It’s a lot easier to remember when we all looked forward to that one magazine per month,” said Chris Cormier.“I think the attitude behind it is different. We got so much coming [in] every day.”“Listen, I can still remember the people that competed at the Olympia in the 80s, in the 90s… if you asked me about the Olympia lineup 10 years ago, I might miss five, six, seven, eight people! Because I don’t remember,” added Dennis James.
Pearson Names Derek Lunsford and Kai Greene as Favorite Physiques of Modern Era: “It’s a Whole Different World”
“For me, it’s a whole different world, I came from a different world. The American guy, okay, I like his [Derek Lunsford] physique. This is why I don’t judge because I sit there and say to vote for the guy that looks like me.”
“Kai Greene. Kai had it all there. Posing, he’s very unique. Really shredded, had all the body parts, to me, everything was there. The taper was there. The flare was there. You know what I’m saying. That’s how I would score people. I’m looking for the Classic look. He did very well. Personally, I thought he should have won [Mr. Olympia]. I always looked forward to his routines because he always put on good performances.”
Pearson Talks Posing in Sauna and Being Mentored by Schwarzenegger
Pearson shared that Schwarzenegger took notice of his physique while training on a beach in Santa Monica. Eventually, Schwarzenegger introduced Pearson to the co-founder of the IFBB, Joe Weider.
“It was a long journey to get to where I’m at. You know, Arnold discovered me at the beach one day, he came over and says, ‘I’ve been watching you for months,’ he goes, ‘Let’s go through the workout.’ He trained my chest and my triceps. Yes, he did [mentored me]. He was the first guy that sent me to go see Joe Weider.”“I had no titles. Just a kid on the beach. But still squatting 10 sets of 10 on the hot temperature out on the beach. I think he watched me for a few months to see if I had the heart to do it. It was about surviving the heat out in Santa Monica so. Yeah, he sent me to Joe Weider, and that’s how it all started.”
“Yes. Every day you practice. I would go sit in the sauna and pose in there. I figured if I can endure the heat in there posing, I’m okay on stage. I’m good on stage. Back in those days, in the lineup, when you’re not a big guy, you got to flex the whole time. Abs, position,” said Tony Pearson. “There could be two or three hours where we had to stand there and flex the whole time. It [prejudging] could go on for two or three hours, because they compare you to this guy and this guy and this guy – you got 15 or 20 competitors, there’s a lot of comparisons going on here.”
You catch watch the full video below, courtesy of the Muscle and Fitness YouTube channel: