Competition is one of the biggest growth-driving factors; in business and competitive bodybuilding. However, competitive bodybuilding is a subjective sport. Plus, most top-tier judges keep their positions on the panels for a long time. This is one of the reasons many Mr. Olympia champions have multi-year reigns.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that judges are prejudiced or have favorites, but the likelihood of them picking a new winner every year is low if the reigning champ can maintain his physique and he’s contesting against the same athletes.
There is a big difference between number one and number 10 bodybuilders on the Mr. Olympia stage, but the top two bodybuilders are usually very close, and the final decision is up to the judges.
A bodybuilder must knock out the Mr. Olympia champion to take over his throne. Suppose the champ’s most prominent rival has a similar shape, size, proportions, balance, separation, and conditioning as him. In that case, it’ll probably be the defending champ who’ll hoist the coveted Sandow trophy overhead when the dust settles.
Underrated Golden Era Bodybuilders That Helped Shaped Bodybuilding
A rivalry spices up competition and sells tickets. However, the world only remembers the winners. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, and Lee Haney. The number two guy usually gets buried in the annals of the sport.
Besides Olympia silver and bronze medalists, this article will list bodybuilders that lurked in the upper echelons of the pro bodybuilding circuit but never ended up on the podium.
In this article, we go over 10 underrated bodybuilders of the Golden Era that played a crucial role in the evolution of bodybuilding. The Golden Era of bodybuilding spans from 1960 to 1980, or 1982 to be very specific.
Arnold returned to the Mr. Olympia stage in 1980 after a four-year hiatus to win his seventh Olympia title. Columbu pulled an Arnie-style comeback in 1981 to win his second overall Olympia title. Chris Dickerson won the Mr. Olympia title in 1982, and in 1983 began the mass monster era and Lee Haney’s eight-year Olympia reign.
10 Forgotten Golden Era Bodybuilders
With the little history lesson out of the way, here are the 10 underrated Golden Era bodybuilders that you should know about:
Edward Charles Corney won the 1972 Mr. Universe title. He and several other bodybuilders on this list were featured in the cult-classic bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron (1977).
The Hawaii native competed in eight Mr. Olympia contests and finished second twice (1975 and 1977). He took runner-up to Arnie in 1975 and Frank Zane in 1977. His best show wins include the 1971 Mr. USA, 1972 Mr. America, and 1973 and 1974 Mr. World.
Corney began bodybuilding at the age of 27 in 1960 and competed in and won his debut bodybuilding show, the 1967 Mr. Fremont, at 33. Corney competed in bodybuilding shows into his 60s and won the 60+ division of the Masters Olympia twice. The International Federation of BodyBuilding (IFBB) inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2004.
Corney was one of the best posers of his era. Corney passed away in 2019 at the age of 85, but his legacy lives on as the Arnold Classic, considered the second biggest bodybuilding show, awards the Ed Corney Best Poser award each year.
Known as the “Black Panther,” Nubret was one of the most chiseled bodybuilders and had one of the most well-defined upper bodies of the Golden Era. His big, round, and full-muscle bellies left the fans in awe. His abs looked like they were engraved onto his midsection.
Nubret competed at the Mr. Olympia contest thrice. He secured a bronze medal at the 1972 and 1973 Olympia. However, his best finish came in 1975.
Although Pumping Iron touted Lou Ferrigno as The Governator’s biggest rival at the 1975 Mr. Olympia, Nubret seized the silver medal at the show. Nubret won five major bodybuilding titles in his illustrious career, including the 1976 Mr. Universe, 1977 Mr. Olympus, 1977 Mr. World, and 1981 and 1983 World Championship.
The French bodybuilder was also an actor, a self-published author, and promoted bodybuilding shows. Nubret was the head of the French and European IFBB shows from 1970 to 1975 and founded the World Amateur Body Building Association (WABBA) in 1975.
Albert “Al” Beckles is a former Mr. Universe and three-time Night of Champions winner, now known as the New York Pro Show. Beckles competed at the Mr. Olympia 13 times. He debuted at the Super Bowl of Bodybuilding in 1975 and secured a bronze medal behind Arnie and Corney. At the peak of his career, which lasted longer than usual, Beckles was known for his insane biceps peaks.
The 1991 Olympia was his final O appearance. Beckles’ career-best finish at the Olympia came in 1995 when he finished runner-up to Lee Haney; he was 55 years old. Beckles finished among the top five six times at the Olympia. He won the Niagara Falls Pro Invitational at 61.
Beckles started bodybuilding after migrating from Barbados to London. He joined the IFBB in 1971 and won the Mr. Universe overall in the same year. Beckles competed in more than 100 sanctioned bodybuilding contests, making him one of the most active participants in the sport’s history.
Ken Waller won the 1975 IFBB Mr. Universe. Waller was also featured in Pumping Iron, where he messes with fellow bodybuilder Mike Katz. Waller won the 1976 Mr. Olympia heavyweight division, whereas Katz finished second. Franco Columbu won the overall show.
Waller competed three more times at the Olympia in 1977, 1980, and 1981. Waller’s bodybuilding career’s major pro show wins include 1975 Mr. Universe, 1971 Mr. International, 1971 Mr. America, and 1970 Mr. World.
In arguably the most infamous scene in Pumping Iron, Waller hides Katz’s lucky t-shirt before the 1975 Mr. Universe to upset his chief opponent and throw off his concentration. His trick works, and he ends up winning the competition. However, it was later revealed that this scene was staged, and the documentary’s directors did it to spice up the storyline. “I would go to contests and get booed after that!” said Waller describing what the movie did to his reputation.
Dennis Tinerino was one of the most muscular bodybuilders of the Golden Era. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound bodybuilder towered over his competition on stage. Tinerino won the Mr. Universe title four times (1968, 1975, 1980, and 1981). He also won the Mr. America title in 1978 and Mr. World in 1971 in the tall man’s category.
Tinerino competed at the Mr. Olympia six times, with his best outing being the 1979 O, where he secured a silver medal in the heavyweight category behind Mike Mentzer.
Tinerino became an actor and played the role of Atlas in Schwarzenegger’s debut film, Hercules in New York (1970).
Tinerino arguably has the most thrilling life story of any bodybuilder. He turned to a life of crime and ran one of California’s biggest escort services. His arrest was broadcast on live TV. Tinerino’s lawyer managed to get his sentence reduced to a year in prison for pandering. He met a preacher in prison and became an international evangelist after serving his sentence.
Tinerino was diagnosed with cancer in 1990 and was given two weeks to live; however, the cancer went into remission. He encountered several near-fatal incidents, including surviving a plane crash, car crashes, and hitmen. He was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2006. Tinerino died of cancer in 2010.
Chester Yorton is the only bodybuilder besides Sergio Oliva to have defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bodybuilding competition. He achieved the feat at the 1966 Amateur Mr. Universe in London. The same year, he beat Frank Zane and Don Howorth to win the Mr. America title.
Yorton was in a life-threatening motor accident in high school and sustained several severe cuts and shattered bones in his pelvis, legs, and elbow. He started weight training for rehabilitation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Yorton was a proponent of drug-free bodybuilding, earning him the moniker “The Father of Natural Bodybuilding.” However, he is rarely a part of natural bodybuilding discussions, even in the drug-tested bodybuilding circuit. Yorton died of a heart attack in 2020, a few days after the death of his wife.
Boyer Coe was undoubtedly one of the most dense and proportionate bodybuilders of the Golden Era. He was the only bodybuilder who could stand up to the Austrian Oak in the arms department.
Coe competed at the Olympia six times. His best Olympia performance was his second-place finish behind Mike Mentzer in 1979 in the lightweight division. Coe last stepped on the Olympia stage in 1982, right at the toe end of the Golden Era. Some of his title wins include the 1981 IFBB Grand Prix, 1965 Mr. Texas, 1969 Junior Mr. America, 1970 Mr. World, and the 1973 Mr. Universe.
Coe’s last bodybuilding contest was the 1995 Masters Olympia, where he finished 10th. He had won a bronze medal at the previous year’s Master Olympia.
At 19 years old, Casey Viator became the youngest bodybuilder to win the Mr. America title. Viator competed in two Mr. Olympia contests. He placed 14th on his debut and seized the bronze medal in 1982 behind Dickerson and Zane.
Viator lost most of his pinky finger in a gym accident in 1973. It didn’t end there. Viator reacted negatively to an anti-tetanus injection in the hospital and almost died. This incident put Viator into depression, and he quit training and dieting as a result.
However, what happened next changed the course of his career trajectory. Later the same year, Viator was recruited for an in-the-gym experiment involving Arthur Jone’s newly devised High-Intensity Training technique. The study is popularly known as the Colorado Experiment, and Viator allegedly packed 63 pounds (28.5 kilograms) of muscle in 28 days.
Viator was an early adopter of the HIIT training principles and played a vital role in popularizing it. The bodybuilder passed away on his 62nd birthday due to a heart attack.
Don Howorth participated in gymnastics in high school and added weight training to his regimen to improve his performance. In 1956, Howorth met the legendary Steve Reeves and became keen on developing a shoulder-to-waist ratio like him.
After injuring his spinal discs at the age of 23 while working at Western Electric, Howorth was bedridden for six months and took a total of five years to recover. After recovering fully, Howorth joined Vince Gironda’s gym, where he packed on 60 pounds in four years.
Howorth began competing in the 1960s and was dubbed the “Duke of Delts” for his round and broad shoulders. He won several shows, including the 1967 IFBB Mr. America.
Just when most people believed that Howorth was set for big things in the sport, he appeared in an episode of Wild Wild West in 1968. He turned his back on competitive bodybuilding one year later to pursue a career in Hollywood.
The 5-foot-2 bodybuilder earned the nickname “The Giant Killer” for challenging athletes much taller than himself. Padilla participated in five Mr. Olympia competitions throughout his career. His best performances were the two fifth-place finishes at the 1979 and 1981 Olympia.
Padilla won the 1975 IFBB Mr. USA. He met Joe Weider backstage, who invited him to California and be a part of Pumping Iron. However, every scene showing Padilla was cut from the documentary after he tried to ditch Team USA at the 1975 Mr. Universe in South Africa and compete under the Portuguese flag. Padilla was denied a spot on Team USA as IFBB had fielded Ken Waller, Mike Katz, and Robby Robinson and kept him as a backup.
Padilla returned to the IFBB in 1976 but was defeated by Mohamed Makkawy of Egypt at the Mr. Universe. He won the IFBB Mr. America in 1977 and followed it with a Mr. Universe win in the lightweight category.
Although these 10 underrated Golden Era bodybuilders might not have a Sandow trophy gracing their trophy cabinets, their contribution to the sport is undeniable. With the introduction of the Classic Physique division, these Golden Era bodybuilders need to be brought back to the conversation when discussing bodybuilding aesthetics and the evolution of the division and the sport.
Who else should be a part of this list? Let me know in the comments below.