Hulks, Drugs and Fat: The End of the WBF

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Part one and two of this series detailed the creation of the World Bodybuilding Federation and the first ever WBF show in June 1991. Today’s third and final installment looks at how drug accusations, no-show Hulks and poor conditioning brought down the radical bodybuilding experiment.

A Short Success

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Vince’s Swagger was soon cut short

Just twelve days after the first ever WBF show, Vince McMahon received some very, very bad news. Dr. George T. Zahorian, ringside physician for Vince’s WWF, was found guilty on 12 of 14 counts of selling anabolic steroids to professional wrestlers, bodybuilders and even Vince himself. The elephant in the room, steroid use, was about to be addressed once more.

Under pressure from media and government officials Vince soon instituted a drug testing program for the World Wrestling Federation, which was perfectly reasonable. The problem was Vince also owned a bodybuilding federation, which many rightly suspected had steroid fuelled athletes. After all, it was bodybuilding!

People began to question whether or not the WBF would be next. The problem was that by the 1990s bodybuilding without steroids was no longer acceptable by the 1990s. Remember that Joe Weider’s IFBB had scrapped its short-lived drug testing policy in response to complaints of small and out of shape athletes.

Knowing he needed something to divert the media’s attention away from steroids, Vince went on the offensive. He needed something big, something unexpected and something green.

Hulking Up

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It was hoped the return of the Hulk would help the WBF

In the latter months of 1991, the bodybuilding world was being tempted about the prospect that Lou Ferrigno may return. Ferrigno had been one of the biggest bodybuilding stars of the 1970s, famously appearing alongside Arnold in the hit bodybuilding document Pumping Iron. More importantly, Ferrigno had starred as the Incredible Hulk in the hugely popular Incredible Hulk TV series that ran from 1978 to 1982.

Ferrigno had been one of the Weider ‘boys’ in the 1970s, so the general assumption was that he would compete once more with the IFBB. The only problem was that the Weider’s could not compete with Vince financially, a very desperate Vince looking to gain some good publicity for his WBF. By the end of 1991, Ferrigno had been signed up on a two-year deal with the WBF worth $900,000. The sum was astronomical in the field of bodybuilding and made Ferrigno the highest paid star in bodybuilding to date.

It wasn’t long before Ferrigno began to appear on every WBF pamphlet, poster and promo with the declaration that the Incredible Hulk would have a pose-down with WBF Champion Gary Strydom in front of 12,000 muscle heads in California. Unfortunately the pose-down would never happen.

Drugs once more 

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Considering the steroid controversy had broken in mid-1991, Vince had done very well in protecting his WBF Bodystars from media scrutiny. His success however would only last so long and in March 1992, McMahon finally relented and announced a new set of drug testing for the WBF. Conducted by renowned doctor Mauro Dipasquale, the testing program would be one of the most comprehensive testing programs in sports and would hopefully get the media and the US government off Vince’s back. Just to hammer home the point that the WBF was against drug use, the WBF TV show Bodybuilding Lifestyles began to run clips on the dangers of steroid use. The WBF would be clean and that would be its downfall.

When Lou Ferrigno got word that he would have to go on stage three months clean he dropped his interest. Ferrigno had been away from bodybuilding for nearly two decades and needless to say, expectations were high that the Incredible Hulk would have a physique to match his moniker. Capitalising on the WBF’s misfortune, the Weider’s offered Ferrigno the opportunity to guest pose at the 1992 Mr. Olympia, untested of course. Ferrigno took the opportunity with both hands and left the WBF lying in the lurch.

Quickly replacing his guest star Ferrigno, Vince announced that wrestler Lex Luger would guest pose at the event. While Luger had an impressive physique by any metric, he was no Incredible Hulk. The Luger announcement was met with derision by bodybuilding fans who had been promised, and wanted, a Ferrigno-Strydom pose down.

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Fans wanting a Hulk-Strydom showdown were soon disappointed

The decision to introduce drug testing had far reaching consequences extending beyond the Ferrigno fiasco. Morale quickly plummeted in the organization as Bodystars began to receive large fines and lengthy suspensions for failing drug tests. Bodystars began to lose size and definition causing many people to question the quality of the athletes on show. In the final weeks leading up to the show it’s rumoured Vince became so worried about the Bodystars conditioning that drug tests were cancelled.

To compound matters for McMahon days before the second WBF contest Lex Luger crashed his motorcycle and fractured his arm. Not only would some of Vince’s Bodystars be out of shape, his guest poser couldn’t appear. Few expected much from the show.

Crashing and Burning

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Presumably Vince’s face after the Second WBF Show

When the second ever WBF show went out to Pay-Per-View, the American public responded with a great big yawn. Out of forty million possible viewers, the Competition attracted roughly 3,000 buys. 3,000 buys was a figure so low that many cable outlets chalked it down as a zero.

Those who did purchase the Pay-Per-View witnessed a bizarre array of out of shape bodybuilders and long drawn out interludes. The decision to drug test athletes had taken its toll with Bodystar Mike Quinn appearing onstage clearly out of shape. Indeed, Mike Quinn’s conditioning had gone down in bodybuilding circles as one of the worst ever. To be fair, under the terms of his contract he was forced to appear onstage despite the fact that he was overweight. Quinn later blamed Dr. Dipasquale’s ‘Anabolic’ (Keto) diet for his poor conditioning.

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Sadly Quinn failed to show his best at the WBF show

Quinn wasn’t the only Bodystar to compete with questionable conditioning with Mike Christian and Eddie Robinson also went onstage in sub-par form.

Only Vince golden boy Gary Strydom went on stage in real bodybuilding shape and it was no surprise when he walked away with the first prize. Unfortunately few people seemed to care and Vince went back to the drawing board in a desperate bid to revive the interest in his dying bodybuilding brand.

Show dates were booked for the following year but few expected them to go through. The WBF Brand was dying and everyone knew it.

The End of the WBF

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Faced with the reality that people simply weren’t interested in his product Vince took the tough decision to put an end to the WBF and on July 15th, 1992 Vince swallowed his pride and rang the Weiders. Just over two years since Vince had challenged the Weiders at their own game, he was calling the bodybuilding moguls with a business proposition. Vince sought forgiveness for his Bodystars and also a platform for his failing supplement chain ICO-PRO. In the end the Weiders agreed that Bodystars returning to the IFBB would be subject to a once off fine of about $25,000 which seemed very reasonable considering the men’s perchance for revenge. Vince was also given page ads for the ICO-Pro supplement chain in the Weiders’ various magazines.

Returning to Normal

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Dorian helped welcome the ex-Bodystars back into the fold

On May 22nd, 1993 at the IFBB Night of Champion’s event at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre, Dorian Yates, the latest Weider star stood on stage dressed as a preacher surrounded by tombstones and coffins bearing the name of the WBF athletes. It was a throwback to the 1991 Night of Champion’s showing when IFBB stars had destroyed similar tombstones. This time however it was forgiveness not revenge that was on show. As Yates raised his massive hands to the heavens, the returning WBF bodybuilders pulled themselves from the coffins and embraced IFBB bodybuilders as the song ‘Welcome Back’ permeated throughout the stadium.

The WBF experiment, which lasted for less than two years and cost upwards of $15million, had ended and with that bodybuilding seemed to return to relative normality. Vince’s WBF may have failed but at the very least it did succeed in securing greater prize funds for the athletes, something today’s current crop of athletes are benefiting from. Sadly, the WBF’s attempts to use characters, wrestling style storylines and flashy videos have faded into bodybuilding obscurity.

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