Johnnie O. Jackson shares the hardcore truth about Men’s Physique “black sheep” status and how jokes do more harm than good.

Professional bodybuilding is far different today than it was decades past. This is most noticeable in the number of divisions that exist today. At one point, there was only Men’s and Women’s bodybuilding. Now we have over 10 divisions ranging from smaller physique sizes like Bikini and Men’s Physique through to larger sizes such as Classic Physique and Men’s Open.

New divisions bring in new perceptions which invite fans and athletes alike to compare physiques across divisions. Men’s Physique in particular is often the brunt of jokes due to their board shorts and smaller size. In our latest Hardcore Truth, Johnnie O. Jackson goes into detail on why this sort of “competition” between divisions is damaging for the sport. And dismissive jokes against other divisions should not take place – particularly by pro bodybuilders.

Fans, the media, and athletes alike have all taken part in comparing different bodybuilding divisions to each other. Some are fair comparisons while others can be more diminishing to the athletes who compete in targeted divisions. Women’s Bodybuilding nearly disappeared complete for most of the last decade – no longer present at the Arnold Classic or Olympia weekend. This decline was surrounded across many negative comments (even made by pro athletes) about the lack of desire to see women at that size and physique.

Men’s Open is also often a target of ridicule. This is largely because the division is seen as “easier” – mostly due to their smaller size and lack of leg development. Men’s Physique is the only division in the sport to cover the upper legs with “board shorts.” This means the judges simply don’t judge that area of the body – meaning they require less work and attention than other divisions. Antoine Vaillant, in particular, received a lot of attention for an on-stage joke he made at the expense of Men’s Physique a few years ago. 

The reason rivalries and jokes between bodybuilding divisions should stop

Johnnie O. Jackson has had his eyes opened recently on how this sort of banter actually does harm to the sport of bodybuilding. Jackson once though these kinds of jokes or spirited criticism was just banter. But he is started to realize that what pro bodybuilders say influence the narrative for fans of the sport. For example, promoters often state that Men’s Physique and Bikini actually bring in more money to events (due to there being more registered athletes and more family, friends, and fans who come to watch the events). Yet, those division receive much less prize money than categories such as Classic Physique or Men’s Open.

Part of the reason for this is due to the audience viewership between NPC and IFBB Pro. Bikini and Men’s Physique often have huge attendance in the amateur NPC league – but it trickles off in the pro shows. Is this because of the larger narrative at play here? Is the negative perception sometimes attached to these divisions hearting the pro competitions?

We can’t draw a direct comparison. But Johnnie O. Jackson understands that pro bodybuilders, especially pro Men’s Open bodybuilders, have a big platform to influence fans. Jackson wants to promote unity across the entire sport. A Men’s Open bodybuilder should see a Men’s Physique bodybuilder as a brother in iron. Not as a separate athlete in different sports. Jackson believes even light hearted comments and jokes – when persistent enough over the whole sport – can hold back the success of such divisions.

Johnnie O. Jackson goes into detail about a personal story he experienced just recently during the 2022 Arnold Classic. It was a conversation between a larger Men’s Open bodybuilder and a smaller Men’s Physique bodybuilder. They were both friends. But the larger bodybuilder made friendly jokes about how small, weak, and easy his Men’s Physique friend has it over someone larger like himself.

Jackson used this as a teachable moment. He went into “dad mode” as he puts it and interrupted the friend letting him know that jokes like that are not helpful to the health of the sport overall.

You can watch Johnnie O. Jackson tell the full story along with his complete comments about rivalries between divisions in our latest Hardcore Truth episode above. Make sure to come by every Thursday for new episodes each week!

Derek Dufour
Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.