Lee Haney shares the only other bodybuilding physique that truly impressed and threatened him.
Lee Haney is a true legend with eight Mr. Olympia wins. A world record only to be tied by Ronnie Coleman years later. During Haney’s time, there was barely anyone else who could be a threat to his superior physique. But was there any competitors who made Haney worry? Was there a bodybuilding physique that was so impressive it threatened Haney’s confidence in his own chances for victory? In our latest GI Exclusive interview, Lee Haney reveals the only other bodybuilding physique that truly impressed him.
It might be hard to believe, but for Lee Haney, there were barely any other bodybuilding competitors that threatened his reign as an eight time Mr. Olympia champion. Looking back that’s clear to see – but it’s even more impressive that Haney wasn’t even worried at the time. He was so confident in his physique that he didn’t worry about any other competitor. Well, except for one other bodybuilder.
During our video conversation, we wanted to know what was the most impressive physique (besides himself) that he ever saw during his competitive years. He takes a moment to think as there were hardly any competitors that gave him worry. Ultimately, he lands on Matt Mendenhall.
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By @this_is_bodybuilding Matt Mendenhall, the 9th inductee into the official @this_is_bodybuilding list of the Top 15 Best Legs of 1965-1990, entered his first NPC Nationals at 22 years of age in 1982. There was another 22 year old in that show. Both were 5'11" and both were over 230 pounds with stunning, heavily muscled X-frames. Matt finished a close 2nd to that other young man, whose name is Lee Haney. Remember that. The following year, Matt tried again, but finished 5th in a contest won by Bob Paris. In 1984 he placed 2nd again, this time behind 6'1", 240 pound Mike Christian. In 1985 he entered the USA's and won the Heavyweight Title, but was beaten out for the pro card by the Overall Winner, Light-Heavyweight David Hawk (back then only overall Mr. USA turned pro). In 1986 it was back to the Nationals where once again Matt placed 2nd behind an ultra shredded 6' Gary Strydom. By then it seemed Mendenhall was mentally defeated. He entered the Nationals again in 1987 and 1988 finishing 11th and 10th respectively. Then, after a break, he returned for one last try in 1991. He was his biggest ever at 255 pounds. It was quite possibly the single greatest NPC Nationals EVER! Matt finished 5th. This was the Top 7: 1. Kevin Levrone 2. Flex Wheeler 3. Paul DeMayo 4. Ronnie Coleman 5. Mendenhall 6. Bob Cicherillo and 7. Chris Cormier! Wow! Matt was the biggest, but he was holding some water in his back and it cost him. That year, 1991, Matt retired from the sport at 31 years old, having never won his pro card despite almost always being the favorite to win. That year, another 31 year old named Lee Haney retired…with 8 Sandow Trophies on his mantelpiece. #mattmendenhall #mendenhall #npc #nationals #mrusa #bestlegs #bodybuilder #bodybuilding #bethebiggerman #THISisbodybuilding
Image of Matt Mendenhall’s bodybuilding physique (above).
Mendenhall was a promising young athlete who ultimately never was able to bring his talent to fruition. This was largely due to a string of tragic bad luck including a car accident that essentially derailed his entire competitive career.
Before tragedy took Matt Mendenhall’s career away from him – Lee Haney saw the potential in Mendenhall’s physique. He found it so impressive that not only was Haney impressed but he also worried that he might not be able to beat Mendenhall should he reach his prime.
Ultimately there would never be a dangerous clash between these two genetic phenoms. Lee Haney would never have to face off against a prime version of Mendenhall. Instead, it stands as a strong what if in the history of pro bodybuilding. Could Mendenhall have derailed Haney’s eight Olympia win streak? We’ll never know.
Beyond Mendenhall, Lee Haney also reflects on a competitor that didn’t have the genetic superiority to threaten Haney but certainly had the hunger. Rich Gaspari is a competitor that Haney believes was able to push past his own genetic limitations due to pure passion for the sport. Of course, Gaspari was never able to earn a Mr. Olympia title. But the mere fact that he still sits in bodybuilding history showcases a man who was able to overcome the “rules” of genetics in bodybuilding. It’s something that Lee Haney appears to deeply respect.
You can watch Lee Haney’s full comments on Matt Mendenhall and Rich Gaspari in our latest GI Exclusive interview segment above.