Muscle Sport Magazine

The Unrealized Potential of Mike Mentzer

By Nick Miller – I want to begin my series on classic bodybuilders with a piece on the Mentzer brothers, Mike and Ray, but with a specific focus on Mike’s career. Both Mike and Ray were Mr. America winners; first Mike won the IFBB Mr. America in 1976 and later Ray would win the AAU Mr. America in 1979. Both brothers were very accomplished bodybuilders and lived very similar lifestyles; unfortunately, they would both die in 2001 within two days of each other. Mike dies first at the age of 49 (heart complications) on June 10th, 2001, and Ray passed away two days later at the age of 47 (Berger’s Disease) on June 12th, 2001.


Of the two brothers, Mike’s professional career would quickly outpace Ray’s. As far as classic bodybuilders go, Mike probably had the most unrealized potential and controversy surrounding his career. He notoriously disliked both Arnold Schwarzenegger and the IFBB establishment, insisting until the day he died that IFBB competitions were rigged, particularly the 1980 Mr. Olympia which I will address later in this article.



Mike began his pro career in 1978 after winning the Mr. Universe contest in Acapulco, Mexico where he defeated bodybuilders like Tom Platz, Carlos Rodriguez and Jusup Wilkosz. But more importantly this Mr. Universe win became a very important moment in bodybuilding history because at this contest Mike was awarded the first ever perfect score in bodybuilding (a score of 300). So, in theory Mike was a perfect bodybuilder by the IFBB’s standards, so if he achieved a perfect score at the Olympia he should win, right? Wrong.


In 1979, Mike competed at his first Mr. Olympia contest. Not only did he win the heavyweight division (over 200 pounds) at his Olympia debut, defeating bodybuilding legends like Dennis Tinerino, Roy Callender and Roger Walker, but he also duplicated his perfect score from the previous year’s Mr. Universe! But to the surprise of almost everyone, Mike was defeated by Frank Zane, who won the lightweight division (under 200 pounds) for the overall title of Mr. Olympia. Interestingly, the IFBB would stop doing the over and under 200-pound categories after the 1979 Olympia decision. So immediately, Mike had become skeptical of the IFBB’s judging criteria if he couldn’t win the Olympia after receiving a perfect score. And the following years’ Olympia would be no exception to Mike’s skepticism.



So, this brings us to the infamous 1980 Mr. Olympia where the great Schwarzenegger made his much-anticipated return to the stage after a five-year hiatus making movies in Hollywood. Now, it’s important to note that from 1976-to-1979, Schwarzenegger and his partner Jim Lorimer promoted and ran the Mr. Olympia in Columbus, Ohio. So, The Austrian Oak was returning to compete in a show he had been running himself for four years prior. So, you can imagine why Mike would be skeptical about Schwarzenegger winning that year.



Of course, history shows Schwarzenegger would in fact win the 1980 Mr. Olympia and Mike – who had won the heavyweight division the previous year with a perfect score – would drop all the way down to tying for fourth place with Boyer Coe. This decision lead to Mike’s retirement from bodybuilding at the early age of 29 after only two years of competing in the IFBB, claiming the contest was rigged and had no interest in competing anymore.



Which brings me to the point of this article. I believe had Mike not retired in 1980, he could’ve became a multiple Mr. Olympia winner. The following year in 1981, Franco Columbu would make a comeback and controversially win that year’s Olympia with arguably his weakest physique ever. In 1982, Chris Dickerson won the Olympia against a very weak lineup; some would say Chris is the least impressive of all the Olympia winners. And, of course, in 1983 we had Samir Bannout win the Olympia. So, from 1981-to-1983, no one was a “reigning” Mr. Olympia, nor was really a strong Olympia winner. It’s my contention that Mike could have won all three of those Olympias had he not retired and continued to compete. I believe Mike Mentzer had one of the greatest classic physiques in bodybuilding history and had so much potential that was wasted because of his early retirement.


If you enjoyed this article, make sure you subscribe to my channel Nick’s Strength and Power to watch the videos I’ve done about all the competitions and competitors mentioned in this article.

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