Written by Peter McGough
14 May 2015


Juan Morel - Before He Was King of the New York Pro



Juan Morel, winner of last weekend’s (May 10) NY Pro, is almost unique in the upper echelons of today’s pro competitors. He is one of the few that has improved and grown consistently in the past few years and he still feels his 5’11” X-frame will allow him to make even more gains. The 33 year old first competed in 2007 as an amateur and in seven years his progress has been onward and upward as his physique has moved ominously forward like – as befits his Diesel nickname – a freight train. (He’s called Diesel because of his resemblance to movie star, Vin Diesel.)

 Consider his record at the past four New York Pros.

 2012: 4th -- 240 pounds

 2013: 3rd – 245 pounds

 2014: 2nd – 255 pounds

 2015 1st – 264 pounds

 That’s a phenomenal 24-pound gain of quality muscle in three years.


Juan Morel was born in Manhattan, the first son of Dominican Republic born parents Juan and Manuela. His birth date is April 2, 1982 (No April fool he? He knows a thing or two about timing.) Eventually younger brother Rafael joined the family, and they moved to the borderline between Queens and Brooklyn. The quartet was not alone. Juan’s mother had 17 sisters and three brothers; his father had eight brothers and one sister.

 As Juan recalls, “For many years we lived with some of my Mom’s sisters families, so it was like I had load of brothers and sisters. Had a great childhood. The whole family was very close – physically and emotionally – and at weekend we would get together and kick back.”

 The future IFBB pro’s first athletic pursuit was handball, which he played in tournaments until he was 22. At 19 he also took up boxing and at 5’11” and 165 pounds, “Never lost a fight and could score knockouts with both hands.” Hmm, a case of the old “Juan-Two” if ever we heard one.

 In the summer of 2004, aged 22, Juan decided to take up weight training in order to improve his boxing skills – particular power. But something about the weights and how his body was responding enthralled him. He looked at pictures of the likes of Ronnie Coleman, Kevin Levrone, Flex Wheeler and Chris Cormier and the thought surfaced, “Hmm, I’d love to look like that. I had no thought about competing at that time, I just wanted to see how big I could get.”

 Well he did get bigger, and encouraged by fellow gym members at age 25 he was faced with a crossroads decision: “Do I really want to continue boxing or do I want to see how the physique changes I had made would do in a bodybuilding contest?” It was a no brainer, and thus Juan Morel entered the 2007 NPC East Coast Championships, and at 198 very lean pounds, placed second in the light heavyweight division. A week later he entered the higher profile Eastern Championships and came down to earth with a bigger thud than Chris Christie in a botched up, bungee jump attempt, by finishing 16th.

 From there he went and won contests that qualified him for NPC national level contests were IFBB pro cards were available. His record at those events reads: 2010 North American, second heavyweight to Lee Banks who won the overall; 2010 NPC Nationals, second heavyweight to Fred Smalls; 2011 US Championships, second superheavyweight to Steve Kuclo. Having endured three seconds at his first three pro qualifiers, redemption came at the 2011 North Americans where he clinched the superheavyweight and overall titles and that damned elusive IFBB pro card.

By this time he was training at the Bev Francis Powerhouse Gym in Syosset, Long Island, also known as the East Coast Mecca, run by bodybuilding’s power couple Bev Francis and Steve Weinberger. That North American pro card win put him in the same league as his “brothers” sharing the same Dominican Republic heritage, Victor Martinez and Jon DeLaRosa, who also worked out of the Francis/ Weinberger emporium.

 He will tell you, “Our bond isn’t only the Dominican Republic connection -- Marco Rivera from Puerto Rico is also in our group. We just get on and like each other. I met Jon at the 2007 Eastern Championships and Victor a few weeks later. We started to hang out and became the close friends we are today.”

 In all, my years of interviewing pro bodybuilders (and Eugen Sandow can vouch for this) very few have discounted the notion that the Mr. Olympia title is within their grasp. Juan Morel is different and refreshingly candid. Hear him.

 “I don’t think I’ll ever be Mr. Olympia. Phil Heath is an incredible bodybuilder. I don’t ever see myself beating Phil Heath. Hell, he’s like almost perfect so he’d have to retire to even open the door a little. Never say never. I mean anything can happen, but I just don’t see it. My present ambition is to make top ten and then move into top five contention. If I make top five in a year or two then I’ll be looking to move up a place or two. But I have to make that top five before I think about finishing fourth or third. One step at a time is my route. I know my potential and I’m determined to fulfill it. However, I do think I can win a future Arnold Classic.”

 One has to absorb that while Juan Morel is 33 (which is relatively young for present day pros), in training years and development he is even younger. As stated earlier, his first ever bodybuilding contest was only seven years ago so he has years advantage on most of his contemporaries in tapping out on potential. Many are already maxed out; he isn’t. And he’s learning fast, making his own decisions, and has unusually taken charge of his own destiny – no guru for him as he explains.


“At the end of 2013 I had come to the point where I felt I knew my body better than anyone else. So from then on I decided to do my own prep; diet, training, last few days manipulation – the whole ball of wax. It’s a lot less stress working on your own. I was never one of those guys that blindly followed instruction. I read up all I could on nutrition and studied to gain a certificate. By last year I figured I knew my body better than anyone. I know what works for it and what doesn’t, especially on the nutrition side. I think once you soak up all your bodybuilding experience and absorb all you’ve done nobody knows better than you how your body feels or how it will respond. I think sending pics to an advisor doesn’t give the same impact as what I’m seeing in the gym mirror. We’re judged on the day in the flesh so to really see how a physique is responding it has to be seen in the flesh.

 “It may seem unusual in this day and age to do your own thing but look at the guys from the ‘90s; Dorian Yates did his own nutrition, same with Shawn Ray. Like Dorian said you should be ready for a show two weeks out then its cruise control.”


 Of his he NY Pro win he says, “This contest is like my Olympia. It’s a dream come true and even now [three days after the event] I'm still speechless and lost of words to be honest. This has been my biggest accomplishment in life, -- I’ve never felt like this before. When there was just me and Victor [Martinez] left standing I had no idea who would be called the winner. Victor looked incredible and he is someone I have a ton of love and respect for, so I won’t be saying I beat Victor – it’s more a case of me feeling I was judged on my improvements. I would like to thank my wife, Karen, for all her support, my mother and father, my Sponsors 1Up Nutrition, Steve Blechman and the Muscular Development team, my family and friends, Steve Weinberger and Bev Francis and whole East Coast Mecca gang, and a big thank you to all my fans.”

 As for the rest of 2014, Juan will compete at the Arnold Classic Brasil on May 29-31, and then on to the Olympia where he’s confident he will be even more improved. Whether or not he weighs in heavier in Vegas than New York the Morel household will take on an extra few pounds later in the year as Juan’s wife, Karen, is expecting a baby. To repeat Juan’s favorite catchphrase, “Now it’s a party!”