In 1971 Bill Pearl challenged all the top bodybuilders to compete against him. Sergio Oliva and Reg Park stepped up to the challenge but Arnold never showed. Bill won over Sergio and Park but do you think if Arnold had shown up, would he have won?
** Here are some comments by guests of this article...
Comments by Guest_Olegario…
“Easy call, Arnold. Better definition then Pearl and larger. Pearl beat Oliva only because it was NABBA. Reg Park was amazed by Oliva’s physique at the NABBA contest. Oliva in the early 70’s was fantastic. Back to Arnold in ’71. I believe that he was at his biggest ever that year.. I was at the ’74 Olympia and was amazed by Arnold’s size, shape and definition. I saw Oliva in ’75 and ’76, when he competed in the WBBG. He was huge but soft. I thought Nubret was better when he competed against Sergio. I got to see Oliva up close and he was huge but Arnold was better by then.”
Comments by Guest_Olegario…
“In 1976, I competed in the WBBG Teen Mr. America. I was a little thin due to also getting into wrestling shape for my freshman year of college. After the prejudging for the teens, I went to the back of the auditorium and watched the pros up on stage. Later that evening after having posed, I went to the back and Tony Emmott was there smoking a cigarette. I can remember the shock of seeing him smoking when he realized I was there. He apologized and stated he smoked to stay on his diet. We then talked for close to an hour. I can remember telling him that his legs and back were superior to the other contestants and that he should emphasize them when on stage with the others. He was very easy to talk to and very modest. I hope that he still remembers the conversation with the thin teenage bodybuilder at Dan Lurie’s contest. I know I still do.“
Comments by Guest_Olegario…
“My memory of the ’74 Olympia was the great difference between Arnold and Ferrigno. Arnold was thick, huge and cut. Ferrigno had lost quite a bit of weight to get cut and was nowhere as thick as Arnold. This was not even a contest between the two. The true contest was between Arnold and Franco. Franco was much more impressive in person then in pictures. He was super thick with, what was at the time, the widest back in bodybuilding. His arms were also much more impressive in person then the pictures. I became a Franco fan after that show. Oh, Bruno Sammartino who was one of the judges also left a lasting impression. He was huge!!
Back then, the contestants would dress in a suit as they arrived to compete, and if you sat outside of the theater in N.Y. as I would do, you would see Weider’s boys coming up with a large entourage behind them. Arnold always had a large contingent of fans who would be shouting his name as he walked along the sidewalk to the theater. Simpler times then and bodybuiding shows were still fun then, both for the fans and the bodybuiders.“
** Here is Bodybuilding Legend, Bill Pearl's account of the 1971 NABBA Professional Mr Universe.
Beyond the Universe – By Bill Pearl
What in the hell am I doing up here! I’ve been standing at attention for over an hour! The judges have us turning every-which-way-but-loose. The only thing that they haven’t had us do is to turn our backs to the audience, drop our posing briefs and show the cracks of our ass. Enough is enough! When am I going to learn? Forty-one years old and still letting others control my life! You would think I’d have learned something competing in these contests over the past 18 years and I have. Nothing has changed; nothing is going to change when it comes to judging physique contests.”
Those were a few of the thoughts running through my mind while standing onstage at the Victoria Palace in London, England, on Friday, September 17, 1971, for the prejudging of the Amateur and Professional N.A.B.B.A. Mr. Universe contests. The show was billed, “The Physique Contest of The Century.” Virtually every top bodybuilder in the world was competing; except Arnold Schwarzenegger, the reigning champion for the past three years.
Joe Weider and Arnold Schwarzenegger had goaded me into entering the contest. Weider began by publishing articles in his fitness magazines asserting that I was afraid to compete against the current crop of bodybuilders. Arnold chimed in with similar remarks. I could understand Arnold’s desire to compete against me. It made sense that he wanted my name added to his list. I was one of the few top bodybuilders he hadn’t defeated.
In truth, if Leo Stern, my coach and dear friend, hadn’t talked me into it, I wouldn’t have entered. I had retired from competition after winning the 1967 N.A.B.B.A. Professional Mr. Universe title. I couldn’t have cared less about what Joe or Arnold had to say.
(Pic above): Bill Pearl & Leo Stern
However, Leo took their snide remarks more personally. With every phone call it was, “Why are you letting these guys take shots at you? Get off your dead-ass and do something about it!”
With that in mind, I made it known in all major physique magazines that Bill Pearl would compete in the 1971 N.A.B.B.A. Professional Mr. Universe contest. This would definitely be the last chance for everyone to have a crack at me. That time had come. Standing onstage being compared to Sergio Oliva, Frank Zane, Reg Park, Tony Emmott, Kassem Yazbek, Roy Duval, Chris Dickerson and approximately one hundred twenty other great physiques from around the world, the audience murmured, “Where’s Arnold?”
[Pic below:] This is how Arnold looked in 1971 at the Mr Olympia, Paris.
Why hadn’t he competed? It was obvious he was in top physical condition. The following weekend he entered and won his second I.F.B.B. Mr. Olympia title in Paris, France. If my memory serves, only two contestants vied for the title. What I know for certain is that a few weeks prior to the N.A.B.B.A. Mr. Universe contest, Leo and I attended a warm-up posing exhibition given by Arnold in Santa Monica, California. Weider approached Leo to say, “What do you think?” Leo replied, “Arnold’s in great shape.” Weider went on, “He’s going to compete in the N.A.B.B.A. Mr. Universe in a couple of weeks.” Leo replied, “Pearl’s going to rip him a new one.”
Weider and Stern had known each other since the mid 1940s. It may have been that Joe’s respect for Leo’s judgment of physiques caused him to realize that Leo was serious with his comment. Possibly Weider decided it was too much of a risk to take the chance of Arnold being beaten in a physique contest by someone nearly old enough to be his father. At that time, Arnold was under contract to Weider. His magazine touted him as, “The World’s Greatest Bodybuilder.” Nearly every issue featured training articles, supposedly written by Arnold, along with endorsements, for everything Weider sold.
In retrospect, I believe Arnold would have competed if the decision had been left to him. He was one of the fiercest competitors I’ve seen on stage. His motto should have been, “win at all cost.” With all due respect, several years later, Arnold apologized for making the 1971 N.A.B.B.A. Mr. Universe challenge. He commented that he understood the burden he had placed on me at that stage of my life because he had reached that stage of his life.
To make the prejudging more interesting for the audience that year, one of the major competitors was so obviously bombed out of his head, he was having difficulty responding to the judges’ instructions. Sergio Oliva helped the entertainment by standing in the line-up loudly complaining that he was hungry, as his two-hour pump-up was causing him to deflate like a slow leak in the Hindenburg. To further add to the audience’s delight, Reg Park, a previous three-time winner, kept up a running word-battle with Oliva on how bad each of them thought the other looked. My main concern was getting offstage. After standing in a flexed position for over an hour, my calves had cramped so badly I wasn’t sure I could move. The cramping began during the comparison portion of the prejudging and we still had the overall posing and final comparisons to go through.
Before competition began, an incident occurred that might have had a slight difference in the outcome of the contest. A young Belgian boy, about eleven years old, had been brought backstage, to see and possibly meet some of the contestants. The father nudged the boy, his autograph book in hand, toward Sergio. BIG MISTAKE! The moment the boy got into his space, Sergio shouted something like, “Get the hell out of here! I don’t have time for autographs! See me after the show!” The outburst shocked the father and son to the point where you could actually see dismay on their faces.
Regaining his composure, the father began pushing the boy toward me. The boy walked over, his head down, autograph book at arm’s length, afraid to make eye contact. Having seen the crest fallen look on the child’s face, I signed my name and then picked him up and placed him on my shoulder as he flexed his skinny arm while his father snapped a photograph.
The next time I saw his father, he was looking at me while sitting at the judge’s table with a smile on his face, nodding his head up-and-down, mouthing the word, “Yes–yes–yes.”
The following day, Cecil Peck, the Master of Ceremonies, announced Bill Pearl as the overall winner of the 23rd annual N.A.B.B.A. Professional Mr. Universe contest. The audience roared its approval, but some of the major contestants apparently felt differently. Frank Zane, winner of the N.A.B.B.A. Amateur Mr. Universe, the year before, was obviously upset. He verbally showed it by claiming that the two of us hadn’t been properly compared, side-by-side. Sergio Oliva hadn’t let up, not because he was still hungry, but because he wouldn’t receive the $5,000.00 bonus promised to him by Arthur Jones, of Nautilus Gym Equipment, if he had won the contest. Reg Park was still slightly vocal commenting on the judging, saying something like, “Where did they find these guys?” Chris Dickerson, winner of the 1970 A.A.U. Mr. America title, remained a gentleman by standing in the background smiling at everyone without a bad word to say. He seemed to take my victory in stride.
I had coached Chris through several years of his bodybuilding career and I recall reading an article where he was quoted as saying, “You never want to get to the point where you think you know more, or are better than the person who taught you.” Chris eventually had his day. He went on to win more professional bodybuilding titles than anyone in the history of the sport.
The 1971 N.A.B.B.A. Professional Mr. Universe contest ended my almost twenty-year bodybuilding career. I had made the promise that if I got through it, I would be forever thankful.
My wife, Judy, and I, returned to our normal lives in Pasadena, California, working in our gym twelve to fifteen hours a day. The only fanfare was a nice write-up in the Pasadena Star News and the Members of the club surprised us with a party and a gift of a flintlock rifle, which I hung on our office wall. All requests for articles, exhibitions and seminars, were turned down. My competitive bodybuilding career had gone full circle from being elated at winning the 1953 A.A.U. Mr. America contest to wanting to forget the 1971 N.A.B.B.A. Mr. Universe contest. Competitive bodybuilding had changed into a sport that I no longer wanted to be a part of. With growing disappointment, I had watched the sport of fitness become a drug-based, dog-eat-dog business. I was one of the few competitors onstage that day that wasn’t taking any form of anabolic steroids.
STRENGTH OLDSCHOOL COMMENTS
** I find it interesting after reading Bill Pearl's article that he states that he was one of the few competitors not taking steroids.
I would like hear people's opinions on whether you think Pearl was steroid free or not?
But most importantly... What’s your opinion on who was better in 1971…Arnold or Bill Pearl?
[Pic above:] Arnold Schwarzenegger - 1971, Mr Olympia - Paris.