Tony Pearson opens up about his relationship with Joe Weider, being banned from the IFBB Pro League, and later getting reinstated.

Tony Pearson is a pro bodybuilder known for his impressive physique in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even some Masters competitions to this day. He also went viral (pre-internet version of viral, anyway) for being the bodybuilder that looked like Michael Jackson. But what some may not know is the rollercoaster history and relationship Pearson had with Joe Weider. In our latest GI Exclusive, Tony Pearson speaks openly about his complicated relationship with Joe Weider and how he was banned (and later reinstated) from the IFBB Pro league.

In our previous interview segment with Tony Pearson, we discussed his traumatic upbringing and how he discovered bodybuilding as an escape from poverty and abuse. After confirming his passion and making some progress as an amateur bodybuilder – he decided to move to Los Angeles to take the next step towards pro status. When Pearson landed in LA, he barely had any money to his name. He made his way to Gold’s Gym and simply sat there watching legends train. He couldn’t even afford a pass to actually train there.

What Tony Pearson could afford was a weekly pass to the Venice Beach outdoor training pen. This was his outlet for improving and making gains towards becoming pro. Eventually, he earned his first major victory at the Mr. Venice Beach. Shortly after, Arnold Schwarzenegger approached Pearson while he was training. Schwarzenegger acknowledged his accomplishments and was impressed by Pearson’s work ethic. He claimed that Pearson had what it took to become a true champion.

How Tony Pearson Met Joe Weider

Tony Pearson was only 19 years old at this point. This was a dream come true. The biggest legend in bodybuilding just gave Pearson a critique – and it was one that offered a glimpse to a future as a champion. Not only that, but Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to connect Pearson with Joe Weider for a meeting. As any bodybuilder knows, Joe Weider at that time was the king of the sport. He could provide a “Weider Contract” – essentially providing a yearly salary as a career bodybuilder.

While nearly all bodybuilders knew of Joe Weider’s reputation, Tony Pearson didn’t know who he was at the time. But he met with Weider anyways – knowing that if it was set up by Schwarzenegger, it must be important. But upon arriving at the meeting, Joe Weider was unimpressed. He gave Pearson a quick look, was seemingly surprised that Schwarzenegger suggested Pearson, and then walked away asking one of his employees to write a short article on Pearson.

“It didn’t go very well with Joe. First thing he said was, ‘Arnold sent you here’ in that voice,” Tony Pearson stated in our interview. He impersonated a sarcastic or skeptical look when impersonating Joe Weider. He then continued:

“And he turned away and said Jack… write an article on this kid, Arnold sent him. And then he just walked away. So from that day forward, Joe and I never got along. He never accepted me. I spent my whole career trying to prove something.”

Vlad Yudin follows up by asking if he was specifically trying to prove something to Joe Weider. Tony Pearson confirms that yes – that moment hang onto his consciousness and motivated him to improve every step of the way.

Tony Pearson’s Ban From The IFBB Pro League

Later down the road, Tony Pearson was finding himself continuing to improve in the sport – but he was still unable to earn enough money to survive. He was offered a guest posing routine abroad – but the event was not sanctioned by the IFBB. Pearson found himself torn between loyalty and earning a living financially. He made the decision to guest pose. Shortly after that he was banned for life by the IFBB.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, this ultimately led to a successful path for Tony Pearson. He continued to compete in other leagues and also had free rein to guest pose in any league that wanted him – without worry of sanctions. He gained popularity and became a pro bodybuilder.

How Does Tony Pearson See Joe Weider’s Legacy?

After his success, it was suggested to him that he write a letter to Jim Manion and the IFBB Pro league – asking to be reinstated. He took the advice and the letter worked. Pearson found himself back in the IFBB and able to compete in the biggest league in the sport. Despite this, throughout his entire career, Tony Pearson never got on 100% good terms with Joe Weider up until his passing.

Looking back, Tony Pearson regrets nothing and holds nothing personal against Joe Weider. He is aware that beyond his personal relationship with him, Weider transformed bodybuilding into what it is today. Without him – there would be no size and scope behind the sport as there is now.

You can watch Tony Pearson’s full comments on Joe Weider and his rollercoaster ride through the IFBB Pro league in our latest GI Exclusive interview segment above!

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.