Tony Pearson explains why he accepted the opportunity to work with Vince McMahon and his World Bodybuilding Federation… and how that put him in dire straits with the IFBB Pro.

In the first episode of the multipart video series, A Conversation With Tony Pearson, director Vlad Yudin sits down with former pro bodybuilder Tony Pearson to discuss various aspects of bodybuilding. This extended conversation delves deeply into Tony Pearson’s thoughts on the sport, his career, and his views on the evolution of bodybuilding. Notably, Tony Pearson goes into detail about his experience with Vince McMahon’s World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF) and how that sent his IFBB Pro career off the rails.

Tony Pearson, known as “The Michael Jackson of Bodybuilding” for his aesthetic physique and showmanship, is a former professional bodybuilder who made a significant impact on the sport during the 1970s and 1980s. With numerous titles to his name, including the Mr. America and Mr. Universe titles, Pearson is celebrated for his symmetrical and artistic physique. His career spanned several decades, and he remains a respected figure in the bodybuilding community.

Tony Pearson was also the subject of a feature film documentary about his life and comeback into bodybuilding. Titled, DRIVEN, the film intimately explores the traumatic childhood and eventual bodybuilding triumphs that put Pearson into legendary category.

WATCH: Tony Pearson’s life story documentary, DRIVEN, is now available on digital – stream it here!

The Best Era in Bodybuilding

Does every generation believe that their era is the best compared to modern bodybuilding? Tony Pearson agrees with the notion, particularly favoring the 70s and 80s, the era that inspired him and through which he built his career.

He acknowledges that while each generation has its own unique appeal, his personal connection to the 70s and 80s makes them his favorite. He recognizes that times change, and each era has its distinctive trends and styles.

Is there a definitive answer to which era of bodybuilding (or any sport) is best? While there may be some that stand out objectively more than others – Tony Pearson leans towards his own personal affection for his era of bodybuilding without criticizing the more modern changes to the sport and athlete physiques.

Lee Haney’s Opinion on Modern Bodybuilding

Vlad Yudin brings up a recent quote from 8x Mr. Olympia champion Lee Haney. In a recent social media post, Hany complained about modern physiques, referring to it as the new “Frankenstein era” of bodybuilding.

Tony Pearson sees the trend towards “mass monster” physiques as a phase in the sport’s evolution. He acknowledges that the pursuit of size has been influenced by champions like Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman. However, he believes this trend will not be permanent and respects Haney’s opinion as a former champion. Nonetheless, he emphasizes that Haney’s view is not definitive for the sport’s future.

While it seems like the trajectory of bodybuilding has been and will continue to evolve ever upwards to bigger and heavier physiques – Tony Pearson seems to look at it as a cycle. Perhaps the cycles are simply multi-decade long arcs that will eventually circle back to smaller more aesthetic physiques.

Lee Haney’s Retirement

Tony Pearson suggests that Haney’s decision to retire might have been influenced by the emergence of a new era represented by Dorian Yates. However, he also notes that Haney had expressed a desire to settle down after a long competitive career.

Personally, Tony Pearson recalls feeling nervous when he first saw Yates, recognizing the shift towards larger physiques. Despite pressure to increase his size, Pearson chose to maintain his aesthetic approach, valuing beauty over sheer mass.

Vince McMahon’s Bodybuilding Federation

Tony Pearson discusses the controversy surrounding his decision to join McMahon’s wrestling league, noting that the IFBB was upset. However, he defends his choice, explaining that he did not have a contract with Weider and therefore saw no issue in competing elsewhere.

Throughout his career, Pearson participated in various federations, driven by a need to sustain his career and passion for bodybuilding. Tony Pearson didn’t see his decision to try Vince McMahon’s WBF as a betrayal. He was simply aware that his successes in the IFBB Pro league were not enough to sustain a life as a full time bodybuilder. So he took opportunities that he could.

He did not expect the decision to lead to a ban from the IFBB Pro league (which was later reversed decades later).

Returning to the IFBB Pro league in 1994

Despite the drama and controversy that came with Tony Pearson’s ban from the IFBB Pro league – he was later re-instated to compete in 1994. So he returned to the league that burned him to compete in another show.

Tony Pearson recalls feeling well-prepared and in great condition for the competition. Despite his physical readiness, he felt politically uneasy about returning to the IFBB due to past conflicts. Nonetheless, his love for the sport motivated him to compete again.

Favorite Modern Bodybuilder

Vlad Yudin asks Tony Pearson who he considers to be his favorite modern bodybuilder currently competing. Pearson names Keone Pearson as a bodybuilder he admires, praising his physique for its modern twist on classic aesthetics. He compares Keone’s arms to those of Robby Robinson, emphasizing his appreciation for well-developed arms in bodybuilding.

Tony Pearson also expresses less enthusiasm for the bulky size of the Men’s Open class but acknowledges enjoying Big Ramy’s physique and posing skills, likening Ramy’s command of the stage to that of Ronnie Coleman.

Can Bodybuilding Appeal to Mainstream Audiences

Vlad Yudin asks if bodybuilding should have a responsibility to evolve towards physiques that general audiences would enjoy and see as attainable. Or is it more important for the athletes and the judges to favor mass monster super-human physiques – emphasizing the extreme limits and desires that come with most pro sports?

Bodybuilding has been notoriously known for being a niche sport. Despite once being broadcast on NBC and ESPN – the sport has not settled into online PPVs rather than broader network cable or streaming services. The reason for this is largely seen as being caused by rampant steroid use in the sport – as well as physiques that simply look too monstrous for the general public to find entertaining.

Would a concerted effort towards more “pleasing physiques” bring more popularity to the sport? Or would that deny the integrity of the pro athleticism involved?

Tony Pearson emphasizes that the primary goal should be meeting the standards set by the judges. He reflects on how bodybuilding once appealed more to general audiences, partly due to its occasional TV broadcasts, which helped inspire him.

However, as the sport has evolved, it has become less about mainstream appeal and more focused on excellence in transforming the human physique. Pearson argues that maintaining the sport’s integrity is crucial, even if it means less general appeal.

Wrap Up

In this first episode of A Conversation With Tony Pearson, Vlad Yudin and Pearson provide insightful reflections on his career and the evolution of bodybuilding. His respect for the artistry of the sport, coupled with his commitment to maintaining an aesthetic physique, underscores his lasting impact on bodybuilding. As the series continues, viewers can look forward to more in-depth discussions with this legendary figure.

You can watch the full episode above! And don’t forget to check back every week for new installments of this limited digital interview series.

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.