This past weekend, I drove down to Teaneck, New Jersey to help cover the NPC Universe, known since 1993 until now as the Team Universe, for Muscular Development
; doing live play by play as well as some video interviews. This was the fourth time I have been to this particular contest. The first three times, in 2009, 2011, and 2013, I competed in it. Being in the audience instead of being in the contest itself felt a bit odd.
At the same time, it was incredibly inspiring. The Masters class at this show has grown tremendously over the past couple years. Last year, I competed in the Over 40 division and it was all one group. This year there were so many Masters that both the Over 35 and Over 40 categories were split into two weight classes , evenly based on a median weight once all the competitors had weighed in. The Over 50 only had one group with no weight limit, which wound up being 17 athletes ranging in weight from about 160 to 260 pounds.
The surprise of the Masters, and in fact the whole show, was Boston native Derek Upshaw, who at 6-0 and 250 sliced and diced pounds swept the Over 40 Heavyweight and Overall titles and earned an IFBB Pro card. Derek has been known in our area for years as a man with an amazing physique who simply didn't compete. He only started competing in 2012, and was very rough around the edges. In fact, last year he was in my Over 40 class and placed 7th (I was 5th) and also placed 3rd in the Open Heavyweights. Derek was drastically overdieted last year and was only 225 pounds. This time, he was so much thicker and fuller and with even better condition that he easily beat a few time-tested veterans who were favored to win. The best part is, Derek is one of the nicest and most humble guys you will ever meet. He plans to take some time now to add size before making his pro debut late next spring at the New York Pro - where he is determined to be 270 pounds in the same razor-sharp condition he was this weekend. Congratulations to Derek, and I couldn't be happier for him.
Another person I was happy for was Jill Livoti, who won the Women's Physique Over 40 as well as the Open A and Overall Masters and Open titles. Either class win would have earned her pro status. Jill is from my hometown of Waltham, MA and has been into bodybuilding and fitness almost as long as I have. In fact, she worked at a place called European Health Spa in West Newton, MA at the same time as me in 1989 and met my wife Janet at the same time as me when Janet joined there in the fall of that year. I complain at times that some of these Bikini girls turn pro often within a year of starting to work out, which isn't paying much in the way of dues. Jill has been working very hard for a very long time, so it was wonderful to see her rewarded and move on to the pro ranks. Since she lives in New York City now, she too will probably make her debut with Derek at the New York Pro next May.
And in a stunning upset, R.D. Caldwell from Ohio won the Open Men's Middleweight and Overall titles and pro status. I say 'upset' because this was only the third time since the contest began in 1993, known until this year as the Team Universe, that a Middleweight has won the Overall. The other two were Yohnnie Shambourger and Chris Faildo.
But just in general, seeing so many men and women who had poured their hearts and souls into looking their best for the Universe was a powerfully motivating and inspiring experience. Everyone there had been dieting strictly for many weeks, anywhere from 10 to 20, and adding in cardio on top of their weight workouts. It really made me miss being part of it, and although I continue to say I am retired, I can't lie. I do feel like I want to get up there again and give it my best. I say this knowing that the Masters division is only getting tougher and more brutally competitive by the year. In the Masters Heavyweight Over 40, for example, John Meadows could only muster fifth place, and sixth place in the Over 35 Heavies that he also entered. And John was easily the thickest man in the whole show, with a physique many have compared to two-time Arnold Classic champion Branch Warren. My good friend Dr. Puglia, who won the Over 40 Super Heavyweight class at last year's IFBB North American, was sixth in the Over 40 and seventh in the Over 35.
All I can say is, if I do intend to compete in this show again, I have my work cut out for me!
Congratulations to all the winners as well as each and every one of the hard-working athletes in all the divisions who competed this weekend in New Jersey. It was my honor to cover the event and I appreciate the boost of motivation!